While Group Death has bloodied itself carving through the core of Tanabata intricacies, we have also found other interesting bits to mention that doesn’t fit cleanly into our podcast.
Tanabata is not the only festival in August or July. Another festival called the Obon festival is often mixed up with this holiday. A while back I mentioned how the reading to the kanji for Tanabata should be ‘shichiseki’ but it ended up being called Tanabata to reference a purity tradition. Up until the Edo period many people would put shelves in their houses to perform ancestor worship. However nowadays most people do not perform these rituals, but instead show ancestor worship through the festival of Obon.
The festival lasts around three days. Families visit the places of their ancestors and clean their gravesites. Then, at last, they send candle-lit lanterns down a river. This is similar to tanabata in that strips of paper with wishes written on them are sent down a river. Apparently the original tanabata festival and the Obon festival were like a beginning and end for this sort of festival. Tanabata was a way to say hello to your ancestors, and Obon was a way to say goodbye. Therefore, many people believe the origins of the Obon festival started with the tanabata rituals.
But what does tanabata have to do with youkai?
It doesn’t! In the Japanese version of the Star Weaver and the Cowherder there is already a milkyway. However, the main part of the story of Qixi is that a goddess created the milkyway to divide the two. In the Japanese version, the two are just forced to separate on either side of the milkyway. Which begs the question: Where did the Milkyway come from?
There is not much concern for how the milkyway came about and the story of the creation of the milkyway is unpopular and fairly rare. According to You Seihou the Milkyway was created by an oni who, improperly, cut open a melon and its juices flooded the sky, creating the Milkway. There is not much information behind this story, but it is a bit interesting. It brings up many questions, specifically, why does a youkai create a beautiful river of stars in the sky? It’s a mystery that would require a trip to archives in Japan, not something any of us have time for.
Tanabata is a not-so-creepy love story that has a little bit of associations with death, thus it fits nicely into Group Death’s interests.
See you all nice time with other gory details about our podcast!
You Seihou 楊 静芳.中日七夕伝説における天の川の生成に関する比較研究. “A comparison of the creation of the Milky Way in the Chinese and Japanese Tanabata Legend.” Tokyo Gakugei University Repository, 2012.
上江洲, 規子. “実は七夕はお盆と関連が深かった？日本古来の七夕の意外な事実.” 住まいの「本当」と「今」を伝える情報サイト【HOME’S PRESS】. May 23, 2015. Accessed January 17, 2017. http://www.homes.co.jp/cont/press/reform/reform_00215/.