On the seventh day of the seventh month (which is July or August in different cities, depending on the calendar they choose to follow), Japan celebrates Tanabata. Like many traditions, the tale at the root of this festival comes from China. In the story, the Cowherd and the Weaver fall in love; but in doing so, they neglect their duties. As punishment they are separated in the heavens by the Milky Way, and only once a year are they allowed to meet.
In Japan, bamboo trees are erected, and tanzaku (wishes written on colourful paper) are hung from the branches. Sometimes origami and other paper ornaments are added. My students in Tatebayashi celebrate the holiday in school on July 7th and write down their own wishes, and on August 7th (in accordance to the old lunar calendar) the city holds its own festival on the main road through town.
So last Sunday Paul and I and two new ALTs, Katie and Kayla, went to the Tanabata festival! It was a little low-key for the usual Tatebayashi festivals, but it was fun nonetheless. Different schools and neighbourhoods made their own Tanabata kazari (the floaty-things), decorated with wishes and ornaments.
The food was the usual fare – karaage (fried chicken), yakisoba (fried soba noodles), ikayaki and takoyaki (fried squid and octopus), okonomiyaki (literally means “fried stuff you like,” it’s sometimes called a Japanese pizza or a savoury pancake, it has things like meat or seafood in the batter – my favourite is mochi cheese!), kakigori (shaved ice), cotton candy, and even food as simple as fruit- or cucumber-on-a-stick. There were lots of games for the kids, too, like at the fun little catch-your-own-goldfish stand (poor goldfish) or the catch-stuff-as-it-floats-by stand (there are actual, proper names for them, I’m sure, haha.)
Some cute lil octopus sausages on a stick:
A stand where you could catch little fish, or snag a toy:
A lot of girls also wore yukatas (summer kimonos)! Even a few of the dogs were dolled up.
And, ah, yes. The line of calpis bottles. Try saying “calpis” really fast. They love calpis here. There’s a calpis factory at the edge of town. Tatebayashi loves calpis.
And that’s that! I especially enjoyed Tanabata in July this year because I got to help my special needs kids decorate their tree! I wasn’t sure what their wishes were, but they made some lovely origami swans and frogs. (No pics, unfortunately!)
And now for a glorious six-day weekend! Yay obon!