Today is August 17th; it is also the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the Japanese lunisolar calendar. That means that it is time for the Japanese Tanabata festival.
All the way back in March I was watching Polar Bear’s Café episode 13, in which the characters celebrate the Tanabata festival and I thought it was the greatest. The simple, but beautiful celebration represented in the episode is something I wish that I could celebrate.
The episode begins with Panda following a trail of bamboo leaves, which he begins to eat as he moves along. When he reaches their source he finds that it is Polar Bear and Ms. Sasako carrying large bamboo branches for their Tanabata celebration at the Café.
Panda has never been to a Tanabata and knows nothing about it and so it is explained to him, though not quite successfully, by Penguin, that Tanabata is the celebration of two lovers in the sky.
The festival was introduced to Japan in 755 and originally was celebrated in China. It is inspired by the Chinese Folktale “the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.” The most well known version of this story is that Sky King, Tentei, had a daughter named Orihime who weaved beautiful clothes at the bank of the Amanogawa river, which is the milky way. Orihime believed that so long as she continued weave she would never find love and so, because her father loved her, Tentei introduced her to Hikoboshi the Cowherd and the two fell in love and were married. Unfortunately, once the two were married they no longer worked and so Tentei could not enjoy his daughters clothes and Hikoboshi’s cows wandered throughout the heavens. In his anger, Tentei separated the two of them by placing the milky way river between them so they could no longer meet. After some time, however, Tentei was moved by Orihime’s tears and made it so that they could meet every year on seventh day of the seventh month so long as she worked hard at her weaving. Since there is no bridge across the river, a flock of Magpies gathered and made a bridge for them, but this means that the two lovers cannot meet if it rains and must wait another year before they can see each other.
This is beautiful! Why have I not heard this story before? I need to read more Japanese and Chinese folktales.
Panda, Sasako and Polar Bear are hard at work in the Café, preparing the decorations for the Tanabata Festival that evening. It isn’t going to rain. Panda is making Origami Panda’s to decorate the Bamboo tree, but there are seven traditional decorations that each have symbolic meaning.
Paper strips, on which people write out wishes that will bring good futures or thank you notes.
Paper Cranes, Origami cranes are something more widely known about, if you fold a thousand you will be granted a wish by the gods.
A Kinuchaki Purse, a traditional Japanese handbag and using it as a decoration is good for your business.
A Tomai Net: another paper decoration, which is good for fishing
A paper Trash bag or Kuzukago, which is a decoration for cleanliness
And Lastly streamers, which I didn’t find any luck attached to.
In the episode the focus is on the Paper strips for wishes. Panda agonizes over what to wish for until the very last second. The wishes are all awesome and incredibly sweet at times.
Tortoise wishes to ride a bike, Sloth wishes to win a race, Polar Bear wishes that Global Warming will stop and Penguin wishes that Ms. Penko will confess to him, because he is to scared to confess to her. I love Ms. Sasako’s wish, because she wishes that the Café will have another good and prosperous year.
The crux of the episode is the wish that Mr. Handa makes. Mr. Handa is unmarried and lonely. He’s never even had a girl friend and he has recently developed feelings for Sasako, which are currently unrequited. His wish, which he places on the tree as she watches, is to get a girl friend. I really hope he does. Panda does too, because in the final moments of the episode he finally makes a wish and his wish is for Mr. Handa’s wish to come true.
At midnight or possibly the next day they will either set the tree afloat on the river or it will be burned. It depends entirely upon the local custom regarding Obon, which is the Buddhist custom to honor the ancestors. Here, though, the episode ends on the wonderfully sweet note, the clear and beautiful evening of the Tanabata festival. It’s the perfect picture, one that captures the essence of this traditional Tanabata song.
The Bamboo leaves
Shaking away in the
The stars twinkle
On the gold and silver
Grains of sand.
The five-color paper
I have already written.
The stars twinkle,
They watch us from
On this Tanabata I wish for my families prosperity and well being as they slowly become to old to continue working as hard as they did in their youth. I want them to have a stable and comfortable living.
What do you wish for?
Until Next Time, Always Make Your Heart Rainbow!