Tanabata / by Jim Hathaway

Riding bicycles together was about the best thing we did.

Riding bicycles in the Low City, gliding through culture and history. One unusually cool July 6th evening we went out to find the world fully covered by fog, peas soup, the thick sort of fog that happens in my home town in evening in low spots. Drivers slow to a crawl and hope the driver behind them has the sense to do the same. I had never seen this fog in Tokyo.

When turned together onto Kapabashi Dori.

Kappabashi Dori, the Kappa bridge road. A kappa is a magic river creature, not nice. It can carry off children, likes to eat cucumbers. You know a kapa when you see it because it must keep the very top if its head wet at all times. Out of the water you will notice a moist towel.

Appearing before us from the fog were giant bamboo poles, holding brightly colored shapes trailing ribbons, red, yellow, green, purple ones as well. One after another, an unending string of finishing lines we rode through, ribbons tickling our shoulders and heads. The decorations hadn't been there the day before. It seemed like magic, as did the fog.

July sixth, just before the seventh day of the seventh month, Tanabata, the star festival, from China - A woman, a princess, alone on a star, and her lover, alone, on a distant star, banished by the emperor. If the sky is clear they may cross the Milky Way to be together. On the seventh day of the seventh month they may meet. Children hear the story and write wishes on colorful strips of paper to hang from freshly cut bamboo trees.

On Kapabashi Dori at Tanabata there is a festival - sound, food, bands of children admiring the giant bamboo with streamers hanging down. The night before the celebration that particular year was magic, silent specters of color, one after another from the fog. It was a fantasy I couldn't understand as it was happening. One of my favorite memories in Japan, before I knew what Tanabata was, before I knew anything at all.

In the evening gliding with my new wife on our new bicycles. Pretty new wife, now divorced and gone, kids grown and gone as well.

So much I didn't know that fine summer evening in that magical fog.