Tanabata 2000 Images

Photos by Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara
[Many thanks to the staff and children at Fukui Nursery School for allowing their Tanabata festivities to be photographed.]

July 7, 2000

Like Christmas in the West, Tanabata celebrations have evolved throughout the centuries and have become one of the most memorable events for Japanese children. Modern Japan celebrates Tanabata using solar reckoning, July 7th. Traditional lunar reckoning would place Tanabata on the 6th of August (7th day of the 7th month) this year. Incorporating a variety of celestial and seasonal symbols, the following photos may provide some idea of the joy of the festival.

Paper wishes (some taking the form of childrens' dreams), streamers representing the Milky Way, and images of summer fruit tied to bamboo reach to the sky at Fukui Nursery School in Kochi, Japan.

Incorporating another symbol for modern Japanese culture, the streamers above are composed of literally thousands of paper cranes. Symbolizing "peace" in post-War Japan, these decorations have become a part of the iconography found in many areas of Japan at Tanabata. Ironically, this year's lunar Tanabata (August 6) coincides with the aniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. The streamers shown here adorn the Obiyamachi Shopping area of Kochi, Japan.

Many businesses still sport traditional bamboo decorated by the paper wishes and symbols made by children. A somewhat ironic juxtaposition of traditional Tanabata symbols and modern Japan.

Paper wishes, summer vegetables, and animals woven from dry straw are displayed in the Uonotana shopping area of Kochi, Japan. Ironically, the dried rice plants that might be the basis of such weaving are generally not available until the end of rice harvest, a time coinciding more closely with Tanabata reckoned using traditional lunar methods. The prayer for a clear night and no rain seems somewhat inappropriate when in July, rice plants needing all the rain they can get are at least a month away from harvest.

A Tanabata "Set" made especially for children. Included are varieties of paper for wishes and origami figures, a star representing Orihime (Vega), a streamer representing the milky way, images of summer vegatables, and strings to tie objects to bamboo. Personifications of Orihime and Kengyuu appear separated in this arrangement. The banana like object is not such a fruit at all but rather the symbolic boatman of the moon, somewhat less full than a quarter moon of the lunar 7th day would actually be. Note also the traditional rabbit seen "in the moon" by many Asian cultures.

This year, Tanabata was celebrated almost exactly one month before its traditional lunar 7th day of the 7th month. This can be seen in the tiny near quarter moon behind bamboo and Tanabata wishes.

At Fukui Nursery School, children with Kappa masks (see explanation in our article on Tanabata) and dressed in traditional Yukata and Jinbei dance within the heavenly circle (marked in white). One Kappa appears to flee the scene.

Young girls at Fukui Nursery School offer a dance to the moon.

Wearing traditional Yukata, the dance celebrates the boatman of the moon and his role in uniting Orihime with Kengyuu.

Later in the evening, boys at Fukui Nursery School wear traditional Jinbei and dance like "thunder". The mixing of symbols related to vitality and power with the wish that it not rain are performed again within the heavenly circle.

Night brings on parents of children at Fukui Nursery school who lay out a milky way of fireworks spanning the heavenly circle. Like a sparkle of stars or heavenly magpies, smoke appears to bridge the river; looks of awe and shouts of wonder and delight can be heard all around.

A suika (watermelon) is carved to represent a Kappa. In an uncanny resemblance to Western Halloween, mist surrounds the moon, and the candle lit Kappa smiles menacingly on children below.

Tanabata Article

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Steven L. Renshaw