Today, here in Japan, we celebrate a festival called “Ta-na-ba-ta” (七夕). It comes from China, and if you can read Chinese or Japanese you will note that they literally mean “7th night” or, more poetically, “The night of sevens.” This festival occurs on the 7th day of the 7 month. It has accommodated itself to the modern calendar, so we popularly observe it on July 7th. However, in truth the night of sevens actually occurs on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. The actual date of Tanabata this year is August 16th.
The Beautiful Story
The king of heaven introduced his lovely daughter to a wonderfully charming cowherd boy. The two fell in love so deeply that they both completely neglected their duties. The princess stopped weaving her wondrous cloth. The cowherd boy stopped tending the cows. The king of heaven therefore separated them, sending the cowherd to the live on the far side of the great river, and forbade them from ever meeting.
The purity of their love attracted a magical boat to appear, once a year, and allow the two lovers to meet on that special night.
The princess is the star Vega. The cowherd is the star Altair. The two stars are separated by the great “river of stars,” the Milky Way. On the 7th day every lunar month, the waxing moon just slightly less than half full appears exactly like a boat. On the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, this “boat” appears to “float” on the Milky Way, in between Vega and Altair, giving passage for the two divine lovers to meet.
This story is extremely reminiscent of the divine yet forbidden love between the cowherd boy Krishna and the princess Radha (“Radha-Rani”). The Moon is the planet of emotions and desires and therefore understands the two lovers and their loneliness so well. The Moon is also the planet empowered by Vishnu in the form of Sri Krishna! So this Moon moves in to position to help the two divine lovers meet, against all odds!
The dew which appears on the next morning is the sweat from the bodies of the divine lovers. If you collect this dew as water and use it to make ink (which is relatively easy still in Japan), the wish you write with that ink will be granted. The Japanese write their wishes on strips of paper and hang them from branches of bamboo. Traditionally boys wish for things that the cowherd can bestow, like excellent handwriting and knowledge of letters and language, while girls wish for things that the princess can bestow, like excellent skills in sewing and weaving.