Wednesday, July 6, 2011

(Photo Essay) Oh Tanabata

We had spent half of the morning wandering (driving) around southern Okinawa looking for a cave that I had seen featured on local TV but, unfortunately due to my poor Japanese language skills didn't have a good fix on it's exact location. We, meaning Ryukyu Mike and I had given up and were heading back up north to the home front just happy for the few hours we had been able to get away from the daily routine.
(Decorated paper chains, cranes, stars and more are typical "Tanabata" ornaments)
For him, that means sitting for hours at his bar in front of a laptop computer going blind developing photos and pounding out a daily blog post with his one very badly bruised and blistered typing finger. for me, it was an escape from having the wife goad me into catching up on three years worth of neglected household repairs out in the sweltering Okinawa sun.
(Ryukyu Mike in his element)

I turned off coastal highway 331 just south of Chinen town and shot over and across the ridge using highway 137.This route runs through rural Nanjo City to meet up again with coastal highway 331 on the other side. This is a shortcut across the Chinen peninsula that would save us at least 20 minutes in driving time.

We were coming down the winding road on the other side telling wife jokes and just having a good old time like old timers sometimes do. The road was pretty curvy on the downhill side and I was busy paying attention to traffic and keeping it between the lines when all of a sudden Mike yelled out "Did you see that! what the hell is that?" or words to that effect. This is a family blog so I really cant use the kind of words he really used here but, you get the general idea.
I made an illegal U turn at the first opportunity and started back up the hill. That's when I first saw all the "stuff" hanging from the trees at this little house on the opposite side of the road. There were already a couple of cars parked along the side of the road and people gazing up at the display. In all my years of living here, I can't quite remember seeing anything like it. Of course that's probably because the first few years I spent here were a bit of a blur due to the ingestion of mass quantities of intoxicating substances, all perfectly legal of course!

Anyway, I headed back up the hill to put some distance between myself and the giant dump truck piloted by a former kamikaze who was about to climb up my tailpipe. This was so I could safely do another perfectly illegal U turn and be back on the correct side of the road. Notice that I said "correct" and not "right" as the Japanese drive on the left like the Brit's, Australian's and New Zealander's do.
(Ms. Nakamoto "seated center" and friends enjoying coffee on the front porch)

We found a place to park and when we asked if it was OK for us to take some pictures. The folks right there said of course. We weren't quite sure what all the hoopla was for and of course you don't want to start taking photos of something interesting like this only to find out that it's a private affair or worse yet, something deeply personal like a funeral or some other kind of family affair.

The trees up along the side of the first house were all decked out with hand made paper decorations and a few old CD's that spun in the wind and sparkled brightly on the unlabeled side. Mike asked what the celebration was and one of the gentlemen at the entrance said that it was "Tanabata." I had heard that word before as did Mike but neither of us could remember what it meant. Fortunately Mike has a Japanese dictionary in his "Keitai" or "cell phone" and discovered that it was the Star Festival that happens on the 7th day of the 7th month. You can check out Muza-chan's post on Tanabata for more information.

Of course once Mike gets a camera in front of his face, everything else in the world stops so even though it was just a minute or two after we got set up, we were both like kids in a candy store looking for what fancied our tastes the best. A few folks stopped and chatted with me and between my very bad Japanese and their equally bad English we were able connect and get more information on what this was all about. Thank goodness that communication is 70% visual! But, that is one of the adventures of living in a foreign land.
(Finally, something old Yiddish CD's are good for and Ryukyu Mike's best side)
Through this I was introduced to the owner of the property, Ms. Fumiko Nakamoto. It turns out that Ms. Nakamoto has been decorating her house for Tanabata every year for the last twenty years! I met with her briefly and found her to be one of the most gracious eloquent ladies, 69 years young, that I've ever had the pleasure to meet in all my travels here. She does this because she wants to and every year on the 7th day of the 7th month of the year, she opens her house to the public for it.

During our visit, several of the nearby nursing homes brought some of their patients out to see and enjoy it too. I can't say for sure but, that may be one of the driving forces behind why she does what she does. In Japan they still revere the aged. Seeing what I saw today makes me wish we all did.

By the way, after Mike charmed them with his "Hogen," Okinawa's native dialect we were given a couple of iced coffees and a personal invite to come back next year! Hopefully by then my Japanese will have improved. Guess I better mark my calendar now!


  1. I wish we would have a lot more reverence for the elderly. For I'm getting closer to it with each and every second that passes by.

  2. Tanabata song

    Sasa no ha sara-sara
    Nokiba ni yureru
    Ohoshi-sama kira-kira
    Kingin sunago

    (The bamboo leaves rustle,
    shaking away in the eaves.
    The stars twinkle;
    Gold and silver grains of sand.)

    Thanks, I enjoyed your blog. I have family in Okinawa and miss it.