The most romantic day of the year...

Good morning everyone,

It's looking like another hot and hazy day out there. The good news is it's going to be a lot cooler tomorrow...well, actually it's supposed to get up to only 26C. That's good, right? You'd think so, but unfortunately, it's also going to rain. Then it'll warm up again for the weekend and be overcast and rainy.

But today is looking great for tanabata!

Tanabata (七夕, meaning "Evening of the seventh"), also known as the Star Festival, is a Japanese festival originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival. It celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair). According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The date of Tanabata varies by region of the country, but the first festivities begin on July 7 of the Gregorian calendar. The celebration is held at various days between July and August.

The festival was introduced to Japan by the Empress Kōken in 755. It originated from "The Festival to Plead for Skills" (乞巧奠 Kikkōden), an alternative name for Qixi, which was celebrated in China and also was adopted in the Kyoto Imperial Palace from the Heian period.

The name Tanabata is remotely related to the Japanese reading of the Chinese characters 七夕, which used to be read as "Shichiseki". It is believed that a Shinto purification ceremony existed around the same time, in which a Shinto miko wove a special cloth on a loom called a tanabata (棚機) and offered it to a god to pray for protection of rice crops from rain or storm and for good harvest later in autumn. Gradually this ceremony merged with Kikkōden to become Tanabata. The Chinese characters 七夕 and the Japanese reading Tanabata joined to mean the same festival, although originally they were two different things.

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) (also referred to as Kengyuu (牽牛)) 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.

Festivals

Large-scale Tanabata festivals are held throughout the country, mainly along shopping malls and streets, which are decorated with large, colorful streamers. The most famous Tanabata festival is held in Sendai from August 6 to August 8. In the Kantō area, the biggest Tanabata festival is held in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa for a few days around July 7. A Tanabata festival is also held in São Paulo, Brazil around the first weekend of July.

Although Tanabata festivals vary by region, most festivals involve Tanabata decoration competitions. Other events may include parades and Miss Tanabata contests. Like other Japanese matsuri, many outdoor stalls sell food, provide carnival games, etc., and add to the festive atmosphere.

And that is your history lesson for today...ha ha!

Have a great tanabata!

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