The Tanabata festival at Orihime shrine! I think this is my favorite, just because the story and the imagery of the stars is so darn... cute.
Legend has it that Orihime (princess Ori), the daughter of the Sky King (or just the universe, it depends on who's telling the story) wove beautiful clothing by the banks of the milky way (or, the heavenly river). She was really sad that because she was so busy making awesome clothes all day, she had no time to meet anyone and fall in love. The Sky King was concerned for his daughter's happiness, so he arranged for Orihime to meet with Hikoboshi who lived and worked in the fields on the other side of the milky way. Naturally, they both fell madly in love with one another and got married ASAP. However, once they were married, they spent ALL their time with each other and Orihime totally neglected her awesome clothes making and Hikoboshi let his cows wander all about the heaven. The Sky King was once again concerned about this, because he didn't want his daughter's talents to go to waste and neither did he want to chase after loose cows all over the universe. So, he separated Orihime and Hikoboshi across the milky way and forbade them to meet one another. Orihime was totally devastated and she cried and cried. The Sky King was really just looking after his daughter's best interests, so he cut a deal with her. He told her if she was good and finished her clothes making, she could go hang out with Hikoboshi on the 7th day of the 7th month. Once 7/7 rolled around, Orihime had finished all of her work and it was time for her to go meet with Hikoboshi, but there was no bridge to cross the milky way with. So she got upset and cried and cried, until a flock of birds came. The birds made a bridge with their wings so that Orihime could cross the river to see her man.
Tonight was my first Tanabata ever, which was really exciting. I first learned about it in my Japanese textbook when I was a freshman in college. We had a concert today at school. All the kids sang and played the recorder. They all did a really good job!! The sixth grade sang a really pretty song called "Can I please have wings?" It almost made me cry.
Then, we had awesome Tanabata jelly for lunch.. which was like.. Jelly with star-shaped peaches. A win for kyushoku!
So this evening I hit up the Orihime shrine to check out the festivities... as it is obvious that a shrine named Orihime would have some kind of festival for Tanabata. Sure enough, they did. They lined the steps with luminaries made from recycled PET bottles and there were some drummers, a guitarist (who was kind of bimyo) and an awesome sinobue (bamboo flute) player.
I ran into quite a few of my students at the shrine, too. They were so surprised to see me out of school, and were unusually shy (meanwhile, I can't get them to shut up at school). Their parents were super nice though!! One of my third graders was up near the main shrine building and he showed me these little green frogs that were hopping around the rain gutters and making a racket.. he grabbed my hand and pulled me over and said: "BRIDGET SENSEI! LOOK, FROG!!" Oh my goodness it was so adorable.
It was too cloudy to see the stars, so we all actually totally missed out on when the two stars, Vega (Orihime) and Altair (Hikoboshi) actually meet. So much for stargazing.
I had a good time, met some really awesome people, got my O-mamori, and got a little dose of culture on a Tuesday night. As always, more photos are on the facebook.