In Japan, the star Vega is often called Orihime Boshi (Weaving Princess Star), and Altair is often called Kengyuu Boshi or Hiko Boshi (Puller of Cows Star). To give the reader one Japanese version of the legend, we will paraphrase Hara (1975):
Members of royalty were, of course, associated with the heavens; Tentei (the emperor) being centered at the North Pole. One day, the emperor's daughter, Orihime, was sitting beside the river of heaven (Milky Way). She had been weaving because her father, the emperor loved the beautiful clothes that she made. On this particular day, she was very sad because she realized that she had been so busy that she didn't have time to fall in love. Her father, Tentei, the ruler of the heavens, felt sorry for her and arranged a marriage with Kengyuu (who lived across the river, the Milky Way). Their marriage was one of sweetness and happiness from the start; and everyday thereafter they grew happier and happier. But Tentei became very angry, because in spending so much time in her happy marriage, Orihime was neglecting her weaving. Tentei decided to separate the couple, so he placed them back in their original places, separated by the Milky Way. On only one night of the year would he allow them to meet, the 7th day of the 7th month. Every year on that day, from the mouth of the river (the Milky Way), the boatman (of the moon) comes to ferry Orihime over to her beloved Kengyuu. But if Orihime has not done her weaving to the best of her skills and ability, Tentei may make it rain. When it rains, the boatman will not come (because the river is flooded). However, in such a case, Kasasagi (a group of magpies) may still fly to the Milky Way to make a bridge for Orihime to cross.
Related to this legend, ancient Japanese celebrated the festival of Tanabata on the 7th day of the 7th month each year (lunar calendar). The 7th day of the 7th month generally falls in August or September in the Gregorian calendar. At this time of year, of course, the constellations of Lyra and Aquila are prominent in the evening sky with their major stars (Vega and Altair) separated by the Milky Way. The 7th day of the 7th month also, of course, finds a waxing crescent moon reaching its first quarter. If it is not raining, both Orihime Boshi (Vega) and Kengyuu (Altair) are quite conspicuous at the time of the Tanabata festival.
Tanabata may be translated as "weaving with the loom (bata) placed on the shelf (tana)", and the festival celebrates improvement of technical skill and ability. As in China, ancient Japanese added specific values to their wishes that Orihime hone her skills and work hard so that she could meet Kengyuu. In modern celebrations of Tanabata, people throughout Japan write wishes (generally for themselves or relatives) to the kami (deity) Orihime on colorful strips of paper. On the evening of Tanabata, they tie these paper wishes to freshly cut bamboo. Wishes may be for increased skills in work or school (reflecting specific vitalistic and optimistic values) but may also be for anything that reflects a person's dreams and hopes for the future. Summer vegetables such as eggplant and cucumbers are prepared, and horse or cow figures made out of straw and water oats are decorated. While the myth probably held seasonal significance in its Chinese origins, specifically the celebration of the end of the rainy season (reflected in a desire that it not rain), it found a variety of interpretations related to seasonality in its Japanese form. Particularly in relation to agricultural development in Japan, "wishes" related to celebrations of Tanabata ranged from desire for dry weather to desire for wet weather depending on the particular geographic region and whether a crop was to be planted or harvested at this time.
Following Shinto practice and ancient values, the concept of purification (generally including use of water) before the Bon festival (centered on the 15th day of the 7th month) was also added to the Tanabata festival. Before the legend was brought from China, a ritualistic festival had been held to welcome the water kami at this time of year; infusion of the legend of Orihime and Kengyuu added a motif of the ritual celebration of the marriage of a weaving lady and the water god (Okada and Akune, 1993). In eastern parts of Japan, an associated ritual called Nebuta was celebrated. On the early morning of Tanabata, bamboo would be set afloat in the river, and people would brush their bodies with leaves from "silk" trees. By doing so, they were said to take their sleepiness (nebuta) away, another form of purification and preparation for Bon (Yoshinari, 1996). The close relation of Tanabata to the indigenous Bon Festival has obviously led to a number of adaptations of the imported Chinese mythology. In short, one makes the coming of the Bon festival sacred by excluding impure spirits from the body at the first quarter moon, thus being pure for the coming of Bon at full moon. It is interesting that in some regions of Japan, Tanabata is accompanied by a taboo forbidding swimming or bathing in a river. Noting the relation with the celestial "river" or milky way, the taboo is based on the idea that a Kappa or water deity resides in the river, and one should not make the pure water dirty by entering the water deity's home.
When it was first recognized in Japan, Tanabata was celebrated only by imperial court officials. It was considered a graceful event, full of the simple elegance so associated with the Heian era of Japan. Lanterns were lighted, and poems were written on mulberry leaves still holding their dew (Nojiri, 1973). Of course, as the custom spread to local areas, towns became covered with bamboo at Tanabata, and the festival took on more of the values inherent in Japanese consciousness and purpose.
Moonlight Shadow tells about the life of a girl, who loses her boyfriend in car accident. Her boyfriend's brother also lost his loved one, and both of them suffer. Moonlight Shadow is somehow amazingly real. It's like a foggy, beautiful, sensual memory of someone who has passed away, someone who you desperately remember and yearn to meet again.
In Moonlight Shadow, Yoshimoto's best gifts as a writer are set free. And she is able to grasp the moment, bringing out some amazingly beautiful and importantqualitiess of human life. Personally, I must say that I found something important about myself after I read Moonlight Shadow.
[Her] stories handle difficult topics, usually about sorrowful feeling of losing someone close. One of Yoshimoto's goals as a writer is to discover nostalgia, and yearning, extraordinary human feelings, and she makes interesting attempts to experiment with these feelings.
I feel that her stories are not only wonderful journeys into the human psyche, but also a good guide of finding oneself, and finding beauty in everyday life.
Adadpted from: http://www.hanamiweb.com/banana.html
Wikipedia notes that:
Critics think that much of her work is superficial and commercial; her fans however, think it perfectly captures what it means to be young and frustrated in modern Japan. Yoshimoto herself identifies her two main themes as "the exhaustion of young people in contemporary Japan" and "the way in which terrible experiences shape a person's life." Her novels can be fun and escapist, but are always touched with traditional Japanese ideology. Her writing can be quite piercing, haunting, poignant, and darkly humorous all at once. Though critics believe her to be a "lightweight," Yoshimoto unabashedly states that she aims to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. Despite her seeming confidence, it seems unlikely that she will ever be awarded the prize, however, as it is claimed that several members of the current Nobel committee have shown a dismissive stance towards Yoshimoto's comments.
Excerpts from an Interview:
You clearly like to write about food. Is it appetite or the taste of food that interests you so much?
Oh, I am more interested in the taste of food, and in the feelings that people have when they are making a dish. I like to ask myself what tastes or environments will trigger a particular thought or memory.
You approach difficult subjects, such as death, adultery and sexuality, in a decidedly casual and accessible manner. Do you ever write with a specific audience in mind?
I have in mind sensitive, somewhat adolescent people who are stuck between reality and fantasy. Young, rebellious people like to read my books, but I guess what I really like is to encourage adults who still have playful, adolescent minds.
Like the characters in your stories, you seem to have led a beautiful but crazy life; do you find a lot of yourself in the characters you write? Are there any characters that you particularly relate to?
Not really. My life is sober and simple these days, so no one in my stories resembles me. Mostly I write about people who live remote and distant lives.
In many of your stories, the characters experience strange dreams or are haunted by premonitions. Do you yourself have a rich dream world?
Yes, I do. I have many rich dreams. I go to sleep for dreams, they are the seeds of my work. When I do not know what to write, sometimes I find my next story in a dream. I should probably never wake up, that way I would have more stories to write.
Your settings are always quite stunning and vivid. Do you do any research or preparation before writing?
Rather than concrete research or preparation, I try to think in the abstract. such as the feeling of air in certain places, humidity, winds and so on.
You have traveled all over the world, and yet your stories are always set in Japan. Why is that?
Because I can only connect with other places as a traveler.
Your prose is very rhythmic; do you ever listen to music while writing?
In fact, I do not listen to music while writing. I feel my own rhythm would go out of tune if I listened to music.
You dedicated Lizard to the late Kurt Cobain and you wrote about Sonic Youth in Kitchen. What is it about grunge rock that inspires you so? And what musicians are you listening to these days?
They were companions for me at that blind point in my life, when I was groping for something. Nowadays my favorite band is Britain’s Prefab Sprout. In the U.S., I love the Eels.
You are one of the most (if not the most) popular female novelist in Japan. What, if any, challenges have you faced as a popular female writer in Japan?
Everybody seems to be interested in the number of books I sold and how much money I earned, rather than the content of my work. This makes me rather unhappy.
In America, writing professors who are trying to be hip will often assign a Banana Yoshimoto story, and as a result, you have become quite popular with young and aspiring writers. Do you have any advice for this miserable lot?
That is very, very delightful. I would say to them, “just write and write.” Without any fancy theories or logic. Express yourself with your words, not others. This is all I can say. Thank you very much.