Wishing Upon a Star


Tanabata at Oomiya shrine in Sendai. photo courtesy of Kulasara Siriwardena

Japanese people today are celebrating Tanabata (the star festival), which literally translated means the 7th evening of the 7th month. According to ancient folklore, Tanabata celebrates the meeting of two lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are separated by a river of stars that crosses the night sky and they are only allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. An inspiring tradition of this festival is that people write their hopes and wishes on colorful pieces of paper that are hung on bamboo branches. Ayumi’s 87 year old aunt just related a story about how as children they had to wake up early enough on that day to collect dew in their suzuri (ink stone) so that they could write their wishes on colored paper. Families bought bamboo trees, much like Christmas trees, to hang their wishes and hopes on.

What makes Tanabata especially poignant this year is that Sendai, one of the hardest hit cities in the March earthquake, is the home of the largest Tanabata festival in the country.  In a powerful act of collective spirit, 80,000 Sendai elementary school students folded paper cranes with prayers for the rebuilding of their city. The cranes will be displayed on streamers during Sendai’s Tanabata festival that takes place on 6-8 August.

The Tanabata festival is another reminder how the people of Sendai and northern Japan are still struggling to overcome the trauma and devastation of the March earthquake and tsunami that killed 15,500 people and left another 7,100 still missing. But the people of Sendai and its surrounding communites are rebuilding together and using festivals such as Tanabata to highlight their strong can-do local spirit.

GlobalGiving is continuing to post its reports on their Japan earthquake and tsunami relief funds where you can read about how the money is being spent.

A special thank you to Kulasara Siriwardena of the blog I Stopped At… for permission to use the image above. Read more about it here.

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