Star-crossed lovers, indeed.
Summer means many things in Japan – cicadas, sweltering heat, fireworks, yukata – and the Tanabata Festival is one of the most important to the Japanese people. Imported from China in the 8th Century, this is possibly the most romantic of all the big Japanese festivals – Orihime and Hikoboshi are fated to meet only one day per year, on the seventh day of the seventh month (of the lunisolar calendar actually, but I won’t quibble). And even then, only if it’s clear.
The most well-known tradition – certainly to anime fans – is probably writing wishes on slips of paper and tying them to a “tree” made of bamboo branches. The biggest Tanabata matsuri by far is in Sendai, up North in Tohoku (sadly now more well-known as the largest city directly effected by the 3/11 disasters), but Tokyo has a few – among them the Shitamachi Tanabata Festival, in Kappabashi. This is the neighborhood famous as the mecca of restaurant supply shopping, sandwiched between Ueno and Asakusa. Their festival is one of the biggest in Tokyo and I visited today in the miserable mushi atsui weather – 35 Celsius (about 97 Fahrenheit). In spite of that and the occasionally fierce winds a huge crowd turned out for the festivities.
Fittingly for a place called Kappabashi there were cucumbers on a stick, though thankfully given the number of small children present, no mermaids to enjoy them. The heat was brutal, but strolling through the crowds of musicians and vendors sipping an ice-cold beer still felt pretty great – I only wish I’d worn my yukata. On any day out with a large group like this, the sheer variety and oddness of Japanese life always presents itself to me in myriad fashion – I never tire of it. The weather forecast for tomorrow looks pretty good, so hopefully Orihime and Hikiboshi luck-out this year.