Down on the South Bank they’re having a festival of love that’s going on all through July and August, with free events, themed weekends, performances, poetry, talks, pop-ups, installations and artworks. Including, courtesy of the Embassy of Japan and the Japan Society, a celebration of Tanabata, the Japanese festival of love, which falls on the seventh day of the seventh month, and a display of fukinagashi decorations. I’ve been down to the Festival Hall to take a look.
There are seven different kinds of decoration associated with Tanabata, each with their own special meaning, but the most attractive are the tall, colourful fukinagashi. The Japan Society held a workshop with Kinetika and a team of volunteers from local schools and community groups a few weeks ago to make the fukinagashi which now hang on the Clore Ballroom balcony, at the back of the Royal Festival Hall.
Tanabata, the star festival, celebrates the love of Orihime, the weaver princess, daughter of the Heaven God and humble cow herder, Hikoboshi. Every day, Orihime wove cloth for her father, but he began to worry that she was working too hard and introduced her to Hikoboshi. The two fell in love and forgot about their duties. The cows became ill and the cloth remained unwoven. Angrily, the Heaven God separated them by the River in Heaven (The Milky Way).
Orihime wept so much that he relented slightly and allowed them to meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month. But if it rained, the river would flood and the two would not be able to see each other. So Orihime and Hikoboshi always pray for good weather and if they meet then everyone who makes a wish on that day has their wish come true. The rest of the year, Orihime works hard on her weaving, represented by the streamers of the fukinagashi.
There’s more Tanabata celebrations to come. On Sunday 13th July there’ll be free classes, activities and performances, with robot workshops, taiko drumming, Japanese calligraphy, dressing up in festival yukata (summer kimono) and a treasure trail. Plus you can make paper cranes, streamers and tanzaku to write your wishes on. Activities run from 11 am to 5.30 pm in the Level 2 Foyer and the Clore Ballroom at Royal Festival Hall.