IWAKUNI CITY, Japan --
Celebrate Tanabata by wishing for kindness, knowledge or love, then tie the wish to a bamboo branch and let it manifest as the wind blows it toward the stars.
Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni residents inscribed their wishes as part of the Tanabata, also known as the star festival, celebration during a visit to Kinjuen Nursing Home in Iwakuni City, Japan, July 7, 2017.
The invitation to the nursing home was set up through the MCAS Iwakuni Cultural Adaptation Program. It gave tenants of the air station a taste of Japanese culture and friendship.
Tanabata is a holiday celebrated annually every July 7 in Japan. The star festival originated in China and later reached Japan, where it became a tragic romance story.
“Celebrating Tanabata is rare in Japan now,” said Mikie Watanabe, a cultural adaptation specialist. “Usually preschools celebrate it or you’ll see restaurants hang decorations, but you won’t see an actual festival anywhere. When the nursing home invited us, we were given the opportunity to celebrate deep Japanese culture.”
Participants of the event celebrated by eating somen nagashi, or sliding somen noodles; playing with a kendama, a traditional Japanese toy; and traditional activities, like hanging a wish on bamboo.
“They put noodles down the bamboo slide and we tried to catch them with chopsticks,” said Shelley Hill, a station resident. “We sampled some other festival foods, which were delicious. We wrote down a wish on colored paper, tied it onto bamboo and sang a song.”
Hill also said it’s an amazing opportunity to interact with Iwakuni residents by learning about their culture.
The festivities helped grow the relationship between station residents and the Iwakuni community.
“We didn’t care about the language barrier,” said Watanabe. “Just shaking hands or giving hugs makes people smile.”
Watanabe also said she grew up singing the Tanabata song and still remembers it even though she’s an adult. She enjoys sharing Japanese culture with other people and says getting to do so through music is even better.
Nobuo Kishi, the vice minister of foreign affairs of Japan and younger brother of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, joined the festivities at the nursing home alongside its residents and American visitors from the air station.
“It was such a surprise. He speaks English and enjoys meeting Americans,” said Watanabe.
Before Kishi left the festival, he gave a few choice words, thanking everyone for the time they took to celebrate the stars distinguished in the story of two lovers.
Orihime weaves kimonos and her betrothed, Hikoboshi, raised cattle. When Orihime’s father, God of the sky, had them wed, they immediately fell in love.
Their love was blinding though and they neglected their duties. Kimonos deteriorated and Hikoboshi’s cows became ill. Orihime’s father grew angry and forced them to live separate lives. However, he took pity on his daughter and allowed them to meet once a year on July 7.
Orihime represents the star Vega and Hikoboshi symbolizes Altair. They are located on opposite ends of the Milky Way Galaxy. Their love is celebrated during the rainy season of Japan, so if the weather is not favorable, the two lovers have to wait another year.
Celebrating events like this gives residents from the station the confidence to experience Japan.
Watanabe said the Japanese are aware of the Marine installation in Iwakuni, but don’t have many occasions to actually meet people who live there.
“This may be the MCAS Iwakuni residents’ first time visiting Japan,” said Watanabe. “If they have an opportunity to go out, meet people and become friends, then they’ll be more comfortable. It’s hard for the Japanese and Americans to communicate. This gives them a chance to spend time with each other and diminish any doubts they may have.”