Astronomy and Japanese Myths
Throughout history different cultures have let astronomy shape their beliefs and customs. One such culture that has traditions rich in astronomy is the Japanese culture. Since I am half Japanese, I thought I would discuss some of the traditions found in Japanese culture. Further, I will explain how these aincient traditions and beliefs are still present in modern day society in Japan. I found some really great websites which I will use to write my essay. The first website focuses primarily on Japanese festivals/traditions and how astronomy plays a part in Japanese festivals/traditions. The "Astrologers Union of Japan" homepage is great, but the whole website is written in Japanese. Astroarts has a great Japanese astronomy page which offers a cornucopia of astronomical info....the links are great too! Please bear with me as I am learning new things too.
I. Orihime, Kengyuu, and Tanabata Orihime, Kengyuu, and Tanabata
Tanabata is a Japanese festival based on the legend of Orihime and Kengyuu. This story uses the stars of Vega and Altair for it's main characters. The Japanese refer to Vega as Orihime Boshii which means weaving princess star. Kengyuu Boshii means puller of cows star and refers to Altair. The other characters are Orihime Boshii's father the emperor which is the star centered at the north pole(polaris?), the boatman which refers to the moon, and Kasasagi which are a group of magpies.
The author of the legend begins by telling his readers that Orihime Boshii(Vega) would visit the "river of heaven"(milky way) everyday and weave beautiful fabrics. Her father the emperor loved these fabrics and grew very fond of them. One day, Orihime Boshii became very sad because she had spent all her life up until that day weaving fabrics and had not found the time to fall in love and get married. The emperor loved his daughter and felt sorry for her...he arranged(where the idea of arranged marriage in Japan comes from?) for her to marry Kengyuu(Altair), a prince who lived across the "river of heaven". As the marriage of Orihime Boshii and Kengyuu blossomed, Orihime Boshii neglected her weaving and this upset and worried her father. The emperor finally decided to separate the couple by means of the "river of heaven", however, for one day out of the year(7th day of the 7th month) the couple would be allowed to be together. On that day a boatman(the moon) would ferry Orihime Boshii across the river to see her husband Kengyuu...the boatman would only come to ferry Orihime Boshii across the "river of heaven" if she had finished her weaving...id she had not finished her weaving it would rain and the river would be too flooded to cross by boat. The gods took compassion on Orihime Boshii and allowed for a group of Kasasagi(magpies) to fly into the milky way and make a magpie bridge for Orihime Boshii to cross over to the other side and see Kengyuu.
Tanabata, the festival based on this...