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Japan: A tryst in the starry sky

The artificial, dazzling lights of the metropolis often mask the stars above but it's worth looking at the vault of heaven on July 7 for this is the only night in the year when the two stars Vega and Altair, representing the two ill fated lovers, are destined to be reunited or so the legend foretells.

On the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the old calendar is the star festival, or Tanabata [en], in Japan, a magical event which has its roots [en] in Chinese mythology.

Altair, on the night of Tanabata. By Scyllarides; CC license.

The legend tells, according to yuzenhosoi, ‘once upon a time'…

天の河の東に織り女という女性がいたそうです。彼女は天帝の娘でしたが、毎年毎年、機織の仕事に精を出して、雲の錦のような文様の美しい衣を織っていました。天帝は彼女が仕事に熱中して、いつまでも独身であることを哀れに思って、天の河の西にいる牽牛と結婚させました。ところが、お嫁にいってからは彼女は機織の仕事をやめてしまいました。天帝は彼女に腹を立てて、天の河の東側に戻らせてしまいました。そして毎年一度だけ、七月七日の夜に、天の河を渡って牽牛と逢うことになりました。

To the east of the Milky Way lived a princess called Orihime. She was the daughter of the God of Heaven and year after year she would put all her soul into weaving intricate brocades as beautiful as cloud patterns. But the God of Heaven became worried that his daughter was concentrating too much on her craft and had little time for love so he decided to marry her to Hikoboshi, who lived to the west of the Milky Way.
However, the princess, who had now become a wife, then ceased her weaving.
This made the God of Heaven furious, and he decided to make her go back to the eastern side of the Milky Way.
That is why, only once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month, can she cross the bridge over the Milky Way and become reunited with her lover Hikoboshi.

The reunion of the two lovers, Orihime the celestial weaver and Hikoboshi, the cowherd, is every year subject to the will of the God of Heaven, Noriko explains.

この日に雨がふると天の川があふれて、ふたりは会うことができません。

日本で7月初旬の降水確率は53%。
さて今年ふたりはめでたく会えるでしょうか?

If it rains on this day, the Milky Way [or the River of Heaven in Japanese] floods and the two lovers cannot meet.

In Japan in early July there is generally a 53 percent chance of rain. So, will they be able to happily meet this year?

For those who share concerns with the blogger above, Goodchoice indicates an easy way to find the two stars in the night sky.

晴れた夏の夜(20~21時ごろを目安に)に東の空を眺めると、ひときわ明るい星が3 つ、三角形に並んでいるのがわかります。これがいわゆる夏の大三角形で、北にある星がこと座のベガ、東にあるのがわし座のアルタイル、西にあるの がはくちょう座のデネブです。[…]
ベガとアルタイルの間には、光の帯、天の川が流れていますが、その光がとても淡く、残念ながら山奥など真っ暗な場所でしか見られません。

If you observe the eastern side of the sky in a clear night in summer (approximately around 8-9 p.m.), there are three particularly bright stars which align to form a triangle and it is called the Great triangle in summer. The northernmost star is Vega, of the constellation Lyra, the eastern star is Altair, of the constellation Aquila, and the western star is Deneb, of the constellation Cygnus.
[…]
Between Vega and Altair runs the Milky Way, similar to a stream of light.
But that light, unfortunately, is not particularly bright and can best be seen from a very dark place as in the heart of the mountains for example.

Deneb Altair e Vega. By Air Force One, CC license.

During the weeks ahead of Tanabata, small trees of bamboo adorned with pieces of colored paper may be seen on the corners of the streets, outside shops and supermarkets and in some nearby shrines.
It is a tradition to write a wish on the strip of paper (短冊, tanzaku) and tie it to a branch of such a tree.
These and other decorations that symbolize the two lovers, like petite paper kimonos and nets or lucky symbols like cranes, are then burned on the night of July 7, with the hope that those wishes may be realized.

Tanabata decorations in Sendai. By Noriko Minaki

Takechan on his blog made a digital version of the Tanabata strips of papers and proposes a questionnaire.

七夕短冊~願いが叶うとしたら?あなたの願いは何ですか?

If the wish you write on the Tanabata strip of paper could come true, what would you wish for?
  • 健康長寿・病気平癒
  • 開運招福・諸願成就
  • 金運上昇・財運上昇
  • 出世成功・昇格昇進
  • 合格祈願・学業成就
  • 諸芸上達・開眼祈願
  • 必勝祈願・ギャンブル
  • 恋愛成 就・縁結び
  • 家内安全・交通安全
  • 家族円満・夫婦円満
  • 安産祈願・子宝・子授け
  • 商売繁 盛・千客万来
  • 五穀豊穣・大漁
  • 厄除け・ 厄払い
  • 世界平和・博愛
  • 特になし、その他
  • A long life and health
  • Good luck and accomplishment of all the wishes
  • An increase in economic fortune
  • Success in career advancement and promotion
  • Success in an examination and good academic results
  • Artistic improvement and enlightenment
  • Victory and success in gambling
  • Success in love and marriage ties
  • A safe family and safe commuting
  • Serenity in family and in the couple
  • An easy delivery and children
  • A successful business and many customers
  • A productive harvest and good catch
  • Protection against bad luck and evil spirits
  • World peace and benevolence
  • Nothing in particular or Other
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