Summer in Kyoto

Kamogawa river in summer It’s hot and humid and typically summer in Kyoto. The mountains that surround the city hold in a stagnant cloud of heat that settles over everything. Children and families and friends try to cool off by wading in the the Kamogawa river that runs down the east side of the city. Those who can try to excape the summer’s heat with foreign travel and since many of my friends are English teachers and college professors, I’ve had a week of good-byes as I see them off on their travels. They’ll be back in September when school starts up and the weather begins to cool.

For those of us who stay, summer holds a series of holidays beginning with Tanabata, the Star Festival. Occuring on July 7th, it is one of the five double-fortune days: January 1st (01/01) is the solar new year, February 2nd (02/02) is the lunar new year, March 3rd (03/03) is girls’ day, May 5th (05/05) boys’ day and July 7th (07/07) is Tanabata.

Tanabata wishes Tanabata celebrates two stars that appear to meet in the mid-summer night sky, although they normally remain quite distant through most of the year. According to mythological tradition, these stars represent Ori-hime (the weaving princess) and Hiko-boshi (the farmer), archetypes of skills needed by society. Through most of the year they busy themselves with their work, but take a summer break from their labors to enjoy each other’s company, then return refreshed and renewed, and re-doubled in their skills. To celebrate this holiday, Japanese adorn bamboo branches with colorful paper streamers and make wishes for acquiring or improving some personal skill. Traditionally, boys wish to improve their farming skills, while girls wish for better sewing skills, making it one of my favorite holidays all year.

For about a week before the 7th, there are bamboo branches set up throughout the city. The photo above was taken at my local shopping arcade and the wishes were probably written by local school children, who appear to have adorned their streamers with self-portraits.
Tanabata in front of the Kyoto police stationThe photo at left was snapped in front of the Kyoto police department. One can but wonder what skills they wished to improve…

As for me, I celebrated Tanabata with another Kyoto tradition – Tea ceremony. Tea was served in Koko-an, the tea room on the top floor of the Hosomi Museum. The lovely okashi sweets were served by Nishimura-san, while the elegant tea preparations were performed by Sakano-san.
Tea ceremoney for Tanabata As always the case with Tea, the preparations and utensils reflect and rejoice in the present moment. The utensils were carried into the room in a chabako, typical of the season and the bowl in which tea was served is decorated with bamboo fronds and Tanabata streamers. It was a beautiful way to enjoy a summer’s afternoon.

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