Watanabe Ikuharu painting

Watanabe Ikuharu

Watanabe Ikuharu (1895-1975)

Tanabata Festival

a beauty attaches a tanzaku paper to a willow tree; ink and colors on silk, attached to paper mounting; sealed Ikuharu, ca. 1929

16 7/8 by 10 7/8 in., 43 by 27.6 cm

The Tanabata Festival (or Star Festival), held on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, originates from the Chinese Kikkoden (or Qixi) Festival, and was adopted by the Kyoto Imperial Palace during the Heian Period (794-1885). By the Edo Period the festival had evolved with the Obon (or 'Bon') festivals which honor ancestral spirits, often during the same lunar month, and became known as the Tanabata.

The Tanabata Festival is based on a legend associated with a celestial event- the meeting of the Vega star and the Altair star across the Milky Way, described in the legend of the married lovers, Orihime (the Weaving Princess, or the Vega star), and Hikoboshi (the Herdsman, or the Altair star). The pair were separated by Orihime's father, Tentei ('heavenly king') after they married because he was angry the Princess had stopped weaving her beautiful silks and Hikoboshi was neglecting his cows. He placed the Amanogawa River (a river of stars, ie. the Milky Way) between them and forbade the two to meet. He was eventually moved by his daughter's tears and relented, allowing them to reunite once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month.

During the festival, wishes, in the form of poems, are inscribed on poem slips (usually the long tanzaku paper) and tied to trees. Although traditionally the festival was associated with romantic sentiments, this beauty seems to have more practical concerns, her slip reads: suzushiki (lit. 'cool'). The cards above her are fragmented, but include references to the legend. The white card below reads, in part, Amano kawara no ? ?...(The shores of the Amano River, ie. the Milky Way). The long brown slip reads, in part, Nenni hi to ? ?, au wa au kawa (Once a year....to meet, or not).



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site last updated
October 21, 2021

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