During one of my summer visits to Kyoto, I was surprised by colorful, gorgeous decorations lining the streets and buildings. Bright streamers brushed the ground, while colored paper with delicate calligraphy fluttered on bamboo trees. Delicious smells emanated from food stalls and children played games in the street.
Delighted, I asked my traveling companion about the celebrations. She told me the story behind the Tanabata Festival, which has since become one of my favorite tales.
Once upon a time, she began, a cowherd and a weaver fell in love. Every day, the two crossed the river that separated them to spend time together—eventually, the girl neglected her weaving and the cows began to roam freely.
Angered by their carelessness, the weaver’s father, the Star King, widened the river into the Milky Way, so that the lovers could not see one another. The girl wept so much that the magpies took pity on them and flew up to create a bridge. Every year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, the magpies create this bridge to allow the lovers to reunite.
On July 7th, the Tanabata Festival celebrates the one day a year the lovers’ wish comes true. Children write wishes and poetry on brightly colored paper, called tanzaku, and tied to bamboo trees. At the end of the festival, the decorated trees are burned to allow the wishes to float to the stars.
I was touched by the story, and by the hopeful faces of children as they tied their wishes to the tree. This year, Alea and I are making our own wishing tree. What would you wish for?