From Japan, with love

The Tanabata program in Holon includes a wish tree, upon which visitors tie pieces of paper containing their hearts’ innermost desires.

kid 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
kid 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Christian world has St. Valentine’s Day, we have Tu Be’Av and the Japanese have Tanabata.
Well, it’s not exactly the same thing but there is a definitely romantic premise for the occasion which will be noted tomorrow (Thursday) at the Mediatech Center in Holon (5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.).
Tanabata, which means “evening of the seventh”, is celebrated annually on July 7. According to legend, the star of Orihime – the weaving princess – and the star of Hikoboshi (the herdsman) reside on either side of the Milky Way. Once a year, they are allowed to meet on the seventh day of the seventh month.
“It is very romantic,” observes 73-year-old Prof. Ben-Ami Shillony, a retired lecturer in Japanese history and culture at the Department of East Asian Studies of the Hebrew University. In November 2000 Shillony received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Star from the Japanese Emperor, and last October he became the first Israeli to receive the Japanese Foundation Award. For this honor, Shillony was granted an audience with the Emperor and Empress.
The Tanabata program in Holon, which is supported by the Holon Municipality, the Japanese Embassy and the Japan-Israel Friendship Association and Chamber of Commerce, includes a calligraphy workshop, an origami workshop, ikebana (Japanese flower arranging), martial arts, a tea ceremony and a wish tree.
There will also be a screening of the Dolls Japanese movie at the Holon Cinematheque.
Surprisingly, Tanabata is not normally marked outside Japan.
“It is only because the Israelis are doing something about it that the Japanese here are joining in,” says Shiloni. “The Japanese don’t celebrate religious holidays abroad at all. Their gods are local gods only.”
In Japan, there are festivities all around the country on the day, with the main celebration taking place at Sendai, the city that was worst hit by the earthquake and tsunami in March.
“They have a procession, with large paper lanterns, decorations and music. It is a very colorful occasion,” Shillony continues, adding that we can expect to see Tanabata festivities on a grander scale here next year.
“As 2012 marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Israel a proposal has been made to have a grand Tanabata procession in Jerusalem next year.”
Shillony's contribution to the Tanabata proceedings will be in the form of a lecture on the subject of love and erotica. It is, it appears, something of a problematic area for contemporary Japanese.
“Today, there are a lot of problems between couples in Japan,” he explains.
“Some couples do not have sex at all, and a lot of Japanese women either get married at a later age and don’t have children, or don’t get married at all. They can stay single, live with their parents and spend their money on themselves. If they get married, even if they don’t have kids, they will be expected to care for their own parents and husband’s parents in their old age.
And Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world.”
Celibacy is not just the domain of senior citizens, or even younger couples in Japan.
“They had a survey at a university in Japan, and asked the students to list the things that are most important to them in life,” says Shillony, “and clothes and perfume were rated first, with things like sports, love and sex much lower down.”
It gets worse.
“Today, instead of showering their affections on children, women – many of whom choose not to have children – devote much of their attention to their pets.
Today, there are special clothes for dogs, and food, and even weddings. Today, there are more domesticated dogs in Japan than children.”
Shillony is quick to point out, however, that it is not all doom and gloom in Japan.
“The Japanese have this curious mix of hedonism – the shinto religion has a strong aspect of pleasure – and the spirituality of Buddhism. The two live together in perfect harmony in Japan.”
Affairs of the heart, or the absence thereof, apart the Japanese certainly know how to put on a ceremony, and have plenty of stimulating artistic and cultural practices to offer as will, no doubt, be evident in Holon tomorrow.
For more information: 03-5021552 and