With summer in Japan comes heat, humidity, increasingly irritating insects, and festivals (along with some other stuff, I’m sure)! Tanabata is a summer festival observed every year on July 7th. This event is a celebration of the story of two lovers called Orihime and Hikoboshi (AKA the stars Vega and Altair). In accordance with the legend of their relationship, these two are separated by the Milky Way and can only come together once every year on the seventh day of the seventh month.
Tradition dictates the writing of wishes onto small strips of paper called tanzaku and attaching them to stalks of bamboo. Many communities will also hold parades or display streamers from buildings. After the festival, the wishes and streamers may often be burned or floated down the river.
Our office had its own bamboo stalk in the reception area for each student (and staff member) to attach a wish to:
Students began writing their wishes last Tuesday so we could ensure a full stalk by the date of the actual event. We tried to get most of the students to write their wishes in English, and for those unable to, we provided a little assistance. I peeked around at what some of the kids wrote:
This was written by one of my students (she wrote in English too, but her Japanese handwriting is nicer). It reads “I want to become a high school student”.
This one was written by Yusuke, a university student in his early twenties. His English is astoundingly good – he’s been studying at our school for the majority of his life and you’d think he’d spent time abroad based on how natural his English sounds. He stays extremely busy with school, but always manages to have a cheery disposition at his classes with my coworker.
The nature of the wishes written here is representative of the majority of the things written by the rest of the students. Countless “I hope I get good grades” or “I want to improve X skill” litter our now-bent bamboo stalk.
“I hope my family is safe” and “I’d like to have X profession” are also common. In fact, the only one I could find that mentioned receiving a new possession was the “puppy” note pictured above.
I couldn’t help but wonder what kinds of wishes American children would have written. How many would have chosen to write “I hope my family is healthy” or “I’d like to pass my final examinations”? How many would have scribbled a note for an Xbox or the new iPhone? I’m not saying Japanese children wouldn’t also go crazy to receive a shiny new toy, but I found it interesting when I noticed the different nature of these personal wishes. A little research reveals that traditionally boys and girls wish for an improvement in skills, or they express a desire for self improvement. Probably something we could all use now and then.
My wish was pretty simple:
“Happiness, success, and cooler temperatures”. I figure with a wish this vague at least one is bound to come true eventually.