Friday, July 6, 2012

Japan's Star-Crossed Lovers Come Together for lucky 7/7

Tanabata wishes hang from a bamboo tree on the lucky 7/7th.

This is the official launch of Sampo Nikki, which is Japanese for "Walking Diary". Each of our 100-page  photo journals guides you through a single day's walk as you explore Japan. Join your guides Mimi and Araiguma and learn about Japanese food, history, culture and trends.

Mimi is a Japanese rabbit and Araiguma is an American raccoon, both living in the rich diversity of Japanese culture - the fascinating people, places, architecture and thriving culture of daily Tokyo life.

As they explore Tokyo and beyond, they share the twin perspectives of a native and a visitor - Araiguma is a world traveler and journalist, and Mimi is a scholar of Japanese art, history and culture. Mimi wants to preserve her proud Japanese heritage, while Araiguma wants to experience the thrills of modern Japan. Together, they guide you along new and exotic adventures.

Their diverse points of view bring you rich insight into a variety of locales - from sites steeped in ancient Eastern history and lore, to exciting cultural hotspots where hip Japanese youth gather, and secret places you won't discover among more conventional guidebooks.

Today - 7/7 - is a special day in Japan. It denotes Tanabata (七夕), a time when legends say two legendary lovers come together once every year. The story is familiar to all Japanese:

Once upon time, a girl and a man lived as stars in the sky. The girl was Orihime, daughter of the gods, for whom she would weave beautiful clothes.  The man, Hikoboshi, was a cow herder. Both were kind and industrious, and so the gods permitted their marriage. But after marriage, Hikoboshi and Orihime became lazy, stopped working and spent their days in idle pleasures. This angered the gods, who punished them, by separating them with a great river of stars - the Milky Way.

Their sorrow touched the hearts of the gods, and, showing a little mercy, the gods allowed a magpie to build a bridge enabling the unlucky lovers to meet once a year, on the 7th of July. But if it rains that day, the river overflows and the bird can't make its bridge, so the couple can't meet.

This sad story originated in China in the late 7th century, and seems to have spread to other Asian countries, which share similar customs.  But bamboo displays are unique to Japan, because here, bamboo is a sacred tree said to house the gods and the souls of ancestors. Japanese commemorate the occasion by hanging written wishes upon bamboo stalks. These written appeals to the gods are hung outside at midnight on July 6, remaining throughout the morning of July 7, while during the night, Tanabata festivals are held.

In the ancient "Edo" period - 1603 to 1868 - when the Tokugawa warlord family ruled all of Japan from the ancient capital that was to become Tokyo - people wished for prosperity, inspiration and growth in crafts and the arts - writing poetry, sewing or dyeing fabrics. The lucky numbers 7/7 marked the special day once a year when Hikoboshi and Orime could meet and wishes would come true, and many Japanese marry on this fortuitous day.

This is perfect timing for Araiguma and Mimi rabbit to send out their own appeals to the universe. Their first wish is for the success of this project, and for Sampo Nikki to help others share the enjoyment of learning japanese culture past and present, and their second is that their contribution can help preserve the wonder and beauty of traditional Japanese culture. We ask your warm support, as we nurture our new enterprise into maturity.

Sampo Nikki 1: Seven Gods of Fortune and Sampo Nikki 2: NeoTokyo have already been written and will go on sale at the end of the month. Sampo Nikki 3 and 4 are currently in production. Please join us as we explore the magical shrine of Kamakura (where visitors can walk inside the 800-year-old giant bronze Buddha), Nara, Osaka, and beyond. In the meantime, we will be bringing you 2 to 3 topics a week to enjoy in this blog. We hope you love our blog and our books and hope to see you someday in Japan!!!

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