One wonderful festival that takes place in Japan in July is the Star Festival, also known as Tanabata. Tanabata means "evening of the seventh"… the Star Festival takes place at night on July 7th every year. Tanabata is originally based on a Chinese legend.
Tanabata celebrates the meeting of a husband and wife. They are Orihime (the star Vega) and Hikoboshi (the star Altair)… to meet they must cross the river Amanogawa (the Milky Way). They can only meet once a year on this night… it's the one time they can cross the river. The story is that a flock of magpies help Orihime cross the river on this day only. If it's a cloudy night, that means the river was too high and Orihime and Hikoboshi couldn't meet. So in Japan everyone wishes for a clear night full of stars on July 7th.
Ayako Egawa in Japan wrote to me about one fun tradition on this day: "Children write their wishes on strips of fancy paper and put them on displays made of the branches of bamboo trees." Ayako sent me the photo of the tree with the note, "This is the decoration at Star festival (Tanabata) on July 7th."
Here's a traditional Tanabata Song that's sung for the festival…
Bamboo leaves are rustling, rustling,
Swaying close to the roof's edge,
Oh, how the stars are twinkling, twinkling,
Gold and silver grains of sand.
I have written
The stars are twinkling
And watching from the sky.
The English translation of the first verse is singable to the tune!
Claude wrote from California:
"I watched the video on the star festival song and noticed that it had two verses. So I went through my book of Japanese songs and found it under the title 'Tanabata-sama'. It has the same verses as the video. I wrote them down in romanji in case you're interested.
Sasa no ha sara sara
nokiba ni yureru
Ohoshi-sama kira kira
kin gin sunago
Go shiki no tanzaku
watashi ga kaita
Ohoshi-sama kira kira
sora kara miteru
As well as I can make it out, five tanzaku (wish papers) were written by the singer, who wants the twinkling star to look on them from the sky. I wish I could read better."
Claude L. Medearis
Here's another video that's slower...
Thanks and Acknowledgements
English translation by Lisa Yannucci. Many thanks to Ayako Egawa for the photo and for telling us about Tanabata!
Thanks to Monique Palomares for the midi tune and score for Sasa no ha sara-sara. Thanks to ドナルド(Don) for the Japanese version of the 2nd verse and to Claude L. Medearis for the romanji and for helping with the 2nd verse and to both for help with the translation of the 2nd verse.