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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on August 30, 2019
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 105] August 30, 2019

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 105]
August 30, 2019
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal custom:
Making wishes: Tanzaku and Tanabata decorations

:: 1. Seasonal custom

The Japanese celebrated Double Seventh Festival this year again throughout
Japan. The festival is held in a couple of Asian countries but the name
of the festival varies depending on the country. The Japanese name
is "Tanabata". Although it is usually held on July 7th, some local
areas hold it on August 7th , or around those dates. People write their
wishes on "Tanzaku (long rectangle shaped paper)", and then tie it on
bamboo brunches in the custom, which can be seen all over Japan every year.

It is said that Tanabata was originally the Chinese custom called
"Kikoden" in which people laid needles in their altars in their home
garden and prayed for stars. This custom was brought into Japan in the
Heian period (8c) and was taken into nobles as an imperial court event.
This event was based on star signs and was valued highly because it
was very useful to educate ordinary people in which season they should
grow plants as well as how the four seasons change. In the Tanabata
season, court nobles made offerings for stars such as peaches, pears,
aubergines, gourds, soya beans, dried sea breams, and abalones. They
not only enjoyed star-gazing but also burning incense, playing Japanese
traditional musical instruments and singing traditional poems.

Evening dew collected on the leaves of the Japanese Taro potato was
regarded as if the drops fell down from the Milky Way. People poured
the dew into an ink stone and ground it with an ink stick in a traditional
way of making ink for writing. Mulberry was thought to be sacred plant
and people wrote Waka (traditional poem) with their wishes on its leaves
using the ink. "Tanzaku" was derived from this custom from this era.

The Tanabata custom was spread among ordinary people during the Edo
period (17c) as it became one of the biggest five season festivals.
Just like Japanese people still do today, people were standing Tanabata
bamboo outside of their houses from the evening on July 6th as a sign
for god to show where they live. As Tanzaku is associated with the
Theory of Yin-Yang in China, Five colours (blue, red, yellow,white
and black) of Tanzaku were used. People wrote down poems, what they
are learning, and wishes for improvement in sewing and craftsmanship
on the paper and decorated them on bamboo branches.

On bamboo, many other decorations are hung along side Tanzaku, and they
all have individual meanings.

"Kamiko" is a paper doll or a kimono shaped paper. It is a symbol of
a special Kimono to send to god as a gift woven by Shrine maidens called
"Tanabatatsume" in the Tanabata myth. It is decorated at the top of
Tanabata bamboo. It wishes to improve sewing and also enough wealth
to buy garments. This also works as an amulet which receives illness
and disasters instead of humans.

As the name shows, "Toami" is shaped like a cast fishing net in which
a piece of paper is cut with scissors repeatedly. Of course, it implies
the wish for a good haul.

Same as "Toami", paper being cut with scissors repeatedly , the look
of "Kuzukago (bin)" is also similar to "Toami". This saccate shaped
waste bag is actually to put scrap in after making all other Tanabata
decorations. Hanging "Kuzukago" can raise the awareness of tidiness
and money saving.

"Fukinagashi" represents a yarn made by a princess called "Otohime" in
the Tanabata myth. The five colours of the yarn means that it can
protect from evil spirits. To make a "Fukinagasi", five different
colours of paper tapes are cut and attached to a spherical shaped
"Kusudama (ornamental scent bag)".

"Kinchaku" is a drawstring bag which used to be commonly used as a purse
among people in olden times. This decoration tells people the importance
of economizing and money saving and also implies the wish to have better
luck with money and a thriving business. "Kinchaku" can be made with
origami paper or even a real purse can be hung.

"Orizuru (origami crane)" is the most commonly chosen subject out of
all the subjects in origami folding for Japanese people and it is
decorated in the Tanabata festival too. The number of cranes folded is
the same number as the eldest family members age. As crane is a symbol
of long life, it implies the wish for everyone's longevity within a family.

Tanzaku written with people's wishes or Tanabata decorations with
individual meanings are the customs in which Japanese people can feel
seasonal changes through the four seasons. After the event, the
decorations used to be floated away in a river to send away their
impurity. And also, Tanzaku were burned in a bonfire to pray for their
wishes coming true. At this time of the year in Japan, there are many
super markets and shopping malls that prepare bamboo and offer people
Tanzaku to write their wishes on and decorate them freely. If you happen
to see it in Japan, why don't you write your wish on it?

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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