Anne had lived in Japan only about a year. Today she was excited about going to her first Tanabata (Star Festival) party at the home of Masanari.
It was a rainy afternoon and Anne held up her umbrella as she walked along through the puddles on the narrow lane. The tiny trinket shop was selling gilded paper comets and streamers for Tanabata. Down the passageways between houses were bamboo branches decorated for the Star Festival.
Masanari’s mother slid open the door of their house when Anne arrived.
“Irasshaimase, Anne-chan (Welcome, little Anne),” she said.
Anne sat down on a step in the entryway and pulled off her boots before entering the house.
Then she put on some tiny, pink slippers and hurried down the hall. Her friends from school were all there. Keiko, Jiro, and Masanari sat on the woven tatami (straw) mat floor in the middle of a rainbow of colored papers making origami (paper folding) decorations for Tanabata. Some of the other mothers, who had been invited, were busy making decorations too.
“Come, we’ll show you how, Anne-chan,” said Jiro’s mother as she finished folding a tiny red crab. First, she showed them how to make two familiar animals. (See last page of this story.)
1. Take a square of paper and fold the corners together.
2. Fold one corner down.
3. Fold the other corner down.
4. Fold the bottom and the top back.
5. Draw a few pencil lines for the face.
1. Take a square of paper and fold the corners together.
2. Fold tips down.
3. Fold one corner up.
4. Fold the other corner up.
5. Turn the paper over and draw a face.
The children folded red dogs and purple cats and blue dogs and orange cats. They drew happy faces on some and fierce faces on others.
“Have you sometimes heard insects singing in the trees?” asked Jiro’s mother. “Those are cicadas. We can make origami cicadas too.”
1. Take a square piece of paper and fold the corners together.
2. Fold up the top flap first.
3. Then fold up the bottom flap.
4. Now it looks like this.
5. Turn it over and fold back the two sides.
“Watch me fold an elephant,” said Jiro.
1. Fold two corners of a square of paper so that they meet in the center to form a kite shape.
2. Fold the kite shape in half down the center.
3. Fold the longest tip forward.
4. Then fold it back to the left.
5. Open out the inside corner of the top flap and spread it back.
6. Fold the top half down behind the figure.
7. Open out the tip of the elephant’s trunk and tuck it down inside itself.
8. Cut out the legs and tail and draw on tusks and eyes.
“Look at my lantern,” said Keiko.
1. Fold two sides of an oblong piece of paper in until they meet at the center.
2. Fold each corner forward to the center.
3. Fold the tips back.
4. Fold each corner forward again and then turn the paper over.
5. Gently push the top tip up and the bottom tip down and open them out.
“The most famous of all is the sacred crane,” said Jiro’s mother as she took a square of metallic gold paper. “The crane is a beautiful white bird with red-tipped head and black-edged wings. It comes every summer to our islands. To the Japanese it means long life and happiness.”
Her skillful fingers moved so quickly that Anne could not see how she made the tiny, complicated folds. A delicate creature with graceful spreading wings was soon completed.
She set the lovely bird on the palm of her hand and held it out to Anne. “This is the orizuru or folded crane,” she said. Keiko, too, worked very fast and knew how to make many folds. Soon she had a great pile of origami figures spilling over her lap.
“Here, Anne-chan, take some of mine,” she said.
Origami cranes and turtles and canoes and frogs and lanterns covered the floor. Masanari’s mother entered with bamboo branches and helped the children tie their bright origami creations to the boughs.
“They are truly beautiful!” she exclaimed. “Isn’t it fun to have Tanabata to celebrate every year?” Then, Masanari’s mother told them a legend of the stars.
“Up in the sky there are two sad stars who love each other very much, but they are separated by the heavenly river, the Milky Way. Only on this one night of all the year can they cross the Milky Way and meet.
“However, if it rains, then the Milky Way will be flooded, and the poor, lonely stars will not be able to meet after all,” she said as she bowed her head sadly.
Anne listened quietly to the story. She remembered the puddles in the lane and her wet umbrella drying in the entryway.
“I think it’s raining,” she said somberly.
“But we can hope it will stop, can’t we?” said Jiro’s mother as she ushered everyone in to dinner.
They sat on cushions on the tatami-covered floor around a low-legged lacquer table. For the mothers there were hashi (chopsticks) to eat with. For the children there were hashi and spoons.
They were served bowls filled with haddock and rice, fish soup, tofu (soy bean curd), sashimi (raw tuna), and little pickled salads. Gelatin from the sea and crushed pineapple and handsful of rice candy were served for dessert.
It was dark now, and as the children ran out of the house, Masanari shouted, “It’s stopped raining! It’s stopped raining!”
“Now the stars can meet after all!” cried Keiko.
There were green and blue and white sparklers for everyone. With the mothers’ help, the children lit the sparklers and swung them in the darkness, making circles and spirals while they laughed and talked.
When the sparklers were gone they picked up their Tanabata branches. Holding them above their heads, they waved them slowly against the night sky as they sang a farewell song.
“The party is over. Our Star Festival is ended,” said Masanari’s mother.
Masanari could not let the evening end just yet. “Let’s walk with everyone on their way home, Mama-san,” he begged.
When they reached Anne’s apartment, everyone bowed and said, “Oyasuminasai” (Good night. Please rest).