Tag Archives: Japan

East and West: Star-Crossed Lovers


Hi Everyone!

Most of us are aware of the phrase “star-crossed lovers,” where, as in Romeo and Juliet, a pair that are passionately in love with each other are prevented from being with each other due to obstacles that appear to be immovable.

Romeo and Juliet: The Balcony

 While the characters in the story probably wish we would write their endings differently, we love these kind of stories, which persist in Western literature from the story of Pyramus and Thisbe to West Side Story and more.  However, in the East, there is a legend that puts a new twist into the phrase “star-crossed lovers.” 

Last week, on July 7, Japan celebrated a festival called “Tanabata.”  Tanabata  occurs when Altaire and Vega “meet” in the mid-summer sky, but  celebrates an unending love. 

The legend that Tanabata is based upon has three main characters:  Tentei, the Sky King, Orihime, his daughter and the weaver of his cloaks, and Hikoboshi, the cow herder for the heavens. 

Orihime and Hikoboshi Meet

Orihime, the daughter of the Sky King, wove his clothing by the banks of the Heavenly River (the Milky Way).  Because the Sky King loved her weaving so much, Orihime worked hard and industriously every day.  However, because she worked so hard at her weaving, she had no time to meet anyone and so fall in love, which made her quite forlorn.  

Tentei, The Sky King

 
Taking pity on her, the Sky King arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, the cow herder for heaven, who often would bring his herds to the Heavenly River to water them. 
 
Hikoboshi and Orihime fell deeply in love and became inseparable.  However, lost in their love for each other, their other works fell by the wayside – no more clothes were woven for Tentei, and the cows of heaven were allowed to roam wherever they chose. 
 
Angry, Tentei separated the two, and forbade them to see each other ever again.  (One gathers from the story that Orihime was permitted to remain on Tentei’s side of the Heavenly River, while Hikoboshi was sent, as it were, to the other side of the tracks.) 
 

Orihime and Hikoboshi separated by the Milky Way

However, this did not solve the Sky King’s problems, as Orihime become grief-stricken over the loss of her husband.  Her tears so moved the Sky King that he relented and gave permission for the two of them to meet, once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, if Orihime would work hard and finish her weaving first.    (You will notice that the Sky King was not nearly as concerned about the cows.) So, every year, when the stars Altair and Vega cross in the night sky, Orihime and Hikoboshi are meeting for their yearly night together.
 
For that one night at least, being a star-crossed lover is a good thing!
 

Orihime and Hikoboshi together

 Have a great rest of the day everyone!
 
Nancy