The fateful meeting of star-crossed lovers

Photo courtesy of Nikkei Centre

The Tanabata + Flea Market event at the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre celebrates the popular Japanese star festival, Tanabata. The celebration will be held on Sat., July 4, from 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

“Tanabata is the tale of two star-crossed lovers, Orihime, the star Vega, and Hikoboshi, the star Altair,” says Yukiko Nishikawa, special event coordinator at the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre.

Orihime was a seamstress who wove beautiful clothes by the heavenly river, represented by the Milky Way, and Hikoboshi was a cow herder who lived on the other side.

“The two stars fell in love with one another – so much that they began to neglect their work,” says Nishikawa. “Their carelessness resulted in both Orihime and Hikoboshi being separated by the Heavenly King who only allowed them to meet once a year over the Milky Way, on the seventh day of the seventh month, also known as Tanabata.”

But on the first day they were to be reunited, Orihime and Hikoboshi found the river to be too difficult to cross. A flock of magpies came and made a bridge for them, but it is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies will not come, and the two lovers must wait another year to meet.

“This is why we always hope for clear skies on Tanabata,” says Nishikawa.

A chance to spread joy

Tanabata is a tradition that blends Chinese legends that were imported to Japan and original Japanese myths. It originated from the Chinese Qixi Festival and was first observed in Japan by the ancient imperial court. Today, Tanabata is one of Japan’s five traditional seasonal festivals.

Traditionally, the strips of paper are pinned or hung on bamboo decorations, which is thought to have become a part of the celebrations for the bamboo’s propensity to grow straight and tall, with upward stretching branches bearing wishes to heaven on the wind.

Tanabata is one of Japan’s five traditional seasonal festivals. | Photo courtesy of Nikkei Centre

“In Japan, Tanabata is celebrated in various ways from region to region; however, you will almost certainly find the colourfully decorative displays of bamboo with paper streamers,” says Nishikawa. “There are also decorations, food vendors, parades, and yukata-clad festival-goers, and it is a full-filled event for people of all ages.”

“We wanted to bring this Tanabata tradition and spirit to Canada and introduce it to the different communities here,” explains Nishikawa. “It is about celebrating a reunion, sharing love, and simply having fun. We very much want to see people’s smiles during this difficult time while they enjoy this cultural event.”

“At the centre, we are going to set up a booth where anyone can stop by to write a wish on a colourful piece of paper called Tanzaku.

“The wishes will be shared with the beautiful Tanabata constellations,” says Nishikawa.

Outside of the garden, there will also be a flea market to add extra vibrancy to the event.

“People can join as a vendor and browse and see what’s on offer as the Nikkei flea market has something for everyone. Items include Japanese kitchen goods and kimonos. It will be a wonderful summer weekend to enjoy,” she adds.

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