Sunday, July 6, 2014

"There and Back Again": A Tanabata Tale


       I first heard about Tanabata when I worked for Disneyland, and I discovered that one of the Disney Park Stores sold Tokyo Disney soundtracks. I looked it up, and saw Minnie and Mickey in gorgeous costumes on a picture dated in July. Naturally, I did some research, and I discovered that they were dressed up to celebrate a Japanese holiday: The Tanabata Festival on July 7th. Tanabata means "of the stars" and it was created in honor of a special Asian holiday based on a legend surrounding the two stars Altair and Vega. 
       This festival is celebrated in more countries than Japan. Korea calls this holiday Double Seventh Festival or Chilseok. China calls this holiday the Qixi Festival. 
This star festival celebrates the reunion of the two lovers Vega and Altair.
Vega's names in the mythology are Orihime (Japanese), Jiknyeo (Korean) and Zhinu (Chinese). Altair's names are Hikoboshi (Japanese), Gyeonwu (Korean) and Niulang (Chinese). The legend originated in China, and like most fairytales, the stories have different details. In the Japanese version, Orihime is a princess. In the Korean tale, she is the Jade Emperor's daughter. In the Chinese tale, she is a fairy. But in every version of the story, Vega is a weaver who falls in love with the cowherd of the heavens. Altair watches over the cows that make the Milky Way. They fell in love at first sight, and abandoned their duties. When Vega's father discovers that the stars are no longer in balance, he forbids Vega and Altair from seeing each other, and separates them with the Milky Way. But Vega persuades her father to allow one day every year if both work hard and continue to keep the heavens in order. 
It's a cool myth, and I love the ties to Astronomy. 

        The festival is celebrated by writing a wish on a piece of paper and tying it to a bamboo tree. It is said that if you make a wish during the star festival, it will come true.
Tokyo Disney started celebrating this about twenty years ago, and because the festival was so popular, it has continued ever since! Mickey and Minnie dress as the two lovers and perform the story, asking the audience to make a wish with them. After the show, you can go to the special wishing spot where Disney Cast members give you a Mickey Mouse shaped piece of paper to write your wish on. And of course there is merchandise. The festival is performed at both Tokyo Disneyland, and Tokyo Disney Sea, so I chose Disney Sea. 
         For five years I told myself that I would go to Tokyo Disney one day and celebrate Tanabata, and I was finally able to make that happen! 

          This trip was an adventure in itself, being my second international flight, and my first trip alone since I arrived in Korea. It was an amazing experience, and I met so many kind and understanding Japanese people who helped me find my way to the hotel and the airport. 
I took a bus directly from the airport to the park, and my adventure began. The ticket teller was really impressed that I knew about Tanabata (probably because I was foreign) and she gave me a bonus Japanese map with all the Tanabata information on it. 
          I arrived just in time to see a very well known show at Tokyo Disney Sea: The Legend of Mythica. The theme of Disney Sea is stories and myth, and in the show, you help Mickey unlock the magic and secrets of Mythica. It was one incredible float after another. From dragons, to unicorns and the extra kites and fireworks in the sky.

 I highly recommend this show to anyone that loves the Disney parks.

          After the show, I had some time before the Tanabata greeting, so I went souvenir shopping. All the Tanabata merchandise was on a special display, and they had Tanabata specials in some of the restaurants and food stands. There were more shops than I could count, and with the theme being Mediterranean, there were many neat decorations and hidden Mickeys. One of my favorites was in Donald's Venetian shop, where a Donald statue is staring up at a painted Daisy. Outside the shop were gondola rides, and a scenic bridge that lead to a good view for the show. I waited with many eager locals and spotted a Duffy bear dressed as Belle in the crowd. 
        Before I knew it, a Japanese and English announcement announced the Tanabata Greeting, and Mickey and Minnie appeared, riding on a celestial boat that looked like a cloud! So, I knew Tanabata was based on wishes, but I didn't know that they would play the actual song "Wishes" from a much beloved fireworks show I went to see every night when I worked for Disney. (I'll admit that I got choked up from the nostalgia.)

         After the show was over, I headed to the wishing place, where I wrote my wish in both English and Japanese. 

          To be honest, this was as far as my plan went, so I just decided to wander instead of look at the map and pick a place to go. Their version of the Tower of Terror was a very cool looking building.
I took a lot of pictures of the details in each land, and since I was by myself, I was able to ride the roller coasters very quickly.  (The single riders line was magic I discovered at the Disney College Program) The Indiana Jones ride was different, and the story line revolved around the Crystal Skull. After that I settled on more exploring and got a signature Disney churro (which took a while to find). Atlantica was just around the corner, and I discovered that you could actually go inside the palace, which was a water playground where kids were jumping and splashing. Next up was the Arabian coast, where Aladdin's Magic Carpets could be seen by the bridge and Genie's Lamp theatre stood to welcome you. In Agrabah you could play a game and either win an Arabian Stitch or Angel, but if you lost you got a pin. It started getting late, and I decided to grab the Tanabata drink and be on my way, but I was hungry too. While I ate dinner, Fantasmic started, and I had a good view from where I was sitting. It was a beautiful show, and it reminded me of World of Color with the lights dancing on clouds of mist.      By that time my phone had barely any battery life and I still didn't know how to get to my hotel from the park. 

Well, being me, I panicked, and as the happy guests were leaving the park, I frantically ran to the gift shop and grabbed my itinerary papers from my backpack. Luckily, a very nice Disney Cast member helped me find the best way, which was by Tokyo Metro, and after writing down instructions in Japanese he walked me to the Disney Train Station, where I showed them to the next cast member. I think she panicked more than I did, and I felt bad, because I didn't know enough Japanese to explain the situation, but she found another Disney cast member who walked me to the bus station and there, I met a very nice Japanese couple who guided me to the Tokyo metro and helped me buy my ticket, explaining my next stop. We chatted for a while about Disney, languages and life goals, and I promised to stay in touch and let them know when I return to Japan. 
So at the end of the day, I loved celebrating Tanabata Days at the Disney Parks. I'm glad I went on this adventure, made my wish, and I will be planning another adventure in Japan soon ^_^ 

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