Tanabata

07Jul13

July 7th is Tanabata (七夕) in Japan.  Tanabata celebrates the annual meeting of the celestial lovers Orihime (the star Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair), who are only allowed to meet once a year.  Here’s their story, as told by that never-exhausted fount of knowledge, Wikipedia:

Orihime (織姫 Weaving Princess), daughter of the Tentei (天帝 Sky King, or the universe itself), wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (天の川 Milky Way, lit. “heavenly river”). Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, Orihime was sad that because of her hard work she could never meet and fall in love with anyone. Concerned about his daughter, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (彦星 Cow Herder Star) who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. When the two met, they fell instantly in love with each other and married shortly thereafter. However, once married, Orihime no longer would weave cloth for Tentei and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa and forbade them to meet. Orihime became despondent at the loss of her husband and asked her father to let them meet again. Tentei was moved by his daughter’s tears and allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if she worked hard and finished her weaving. The first time they tried to meet, however, they found that they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet.

There are several Tanabata customs in Japan, but the most visible are the bamboo wish trees and the colorful fukinagashi streamers (吹き流し) that pop up all over the place at this time of year.  The bamboo branches of the wish trees are covered with brightly colored strips of paper called tanzaku (短冊).  These are often used to write wishes for success in good handwriting and study, but there’s also an ancient tradition of writing poetry on these strips.  In fact, as I was picking up a bottle of wine from my local wine shop today, I was startled to find myself being handed a tanzaku strip and asked to write something on it.  Not really having anything else on my mind at the moment, I wrote “My love is wine.”  Luckily for me, this is a love that I can meet more than one time a year.

The fukinagashi streamers represent the cloth of the Milky Way woven by Orihime, and they really are beautiful when the wind blows.  They tend to remind me of comets, though I suppose that to some people they might look just as much like some kind of crazy alien urban jellyfish, hovering in the air while drawing sustenance from the power lines.

Since today is Tanabata, I decided to compose my own Tanabata poem in Japanese, though this poem may actually be a form of resistance to the idea of pure and perfect eternal love that the holiday represents.  The poem I wrote is actually about the way in which the idea of pure and perfect love ends up creating the very conditions that deny the possibility of actual love: we end up chasing mythical ideals, false stars that draw our attention away from the potential lovers who are all around us.  One of these false stars should probably be labeled “domestic bliss” and the other should probably be called “I’m waiting for the ONE.”

So it here it goes:

愛してるけど
まだ会ったことない ー
毎年毎年見られる

マボロシ

来年も会いませんか ー

マボロシ

友だち。

This poem might be translated like this — “I love you, but I haven’t met you yet.  Every year, repeatedly, I can see you — star, illusion.  Let’s meet again next year, illusion (or) friend.”  Personally, I think it works much better in Japanese.

The two background influences on this poem (other than the astrological pull of Vega and Altair) are Hirokazu Koreeda’s beautiful Maborosi, and Björk’s song “I Miss You,” which inspired the first two lines of the poem.


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