The beautiful Imari five-piece garniture set which the Van Diepen Foundation recently acquired is decorated with a scene in which three women hang various colored ribbons (with text) from branches.
Now we have been able to link this to an old legend and the current Japanese Tanabata festival.
Partly because of a Japanese print from ca.1718 from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, with a similar depiction to the vases, it can be linked to the legend and the festival still celebrated in Japan.
WORKING FOR LOVE
Every year on July 7, Japan celebrates a grand festival called Tanabata, or the Festival of Stars. It’s a festival to make dreams come true, reward hard work, and celebrate love. And this is all inspired by an ancient legend called “The Shepherd and the Weaver.”
This (originally Chinese) legend tells the story of the hardworking Orihime, daughter of Tentei (the Heaven King). Day in and day out, she sits on the banks of the Milky Way River, weaving magnificent clothes. Her father wants to reward her for the hard work and allows a shepherd named Hikoboshi (Star Boy) to meet his daughter. They immediately fall in love and soon get permission to marry. However, they are so in love that shortly after they marry, they both begin to neglect their duties.
In anger, the Heaven King separates the two lovers again and sends them each to a different side of the universe. With a broken heart and endless tears, Orihime finally manages to convince her father to allow her lover to see her again.
Only one day a year from then on are the lovers allowed to meet again: on the seventh day of the seventh month. And then only if they both do their tasks well throughout the year.
Throughout the year, Orihime and Hikoboshi plodded on, and finally they did. But to their great sorrow, a meeting still seemed impossible because a great river separated them and there was no bridge. Orihime was inconsolable and cried so terribly that a school of magpies descended on her glistening tears. Out of pity for the couple, the magpies made a bridge with their wings so that Orihime and Hikoboshi could still meet. But when it rained, and there were too many glistening drops, the magpies could not come to make the bridge and the two beloved could not embrace each other again until the following year.
Every year on that day, bamboo branches are decorated with paper ornaments and cards. These decorated branches are then placed in the garden. Nowadays, these paper cards often contain wishes in the form of poetry, which would then be answered by the two lovers.