Secular summer festival’s wishing tree gets taken down, clever complaints from students go up instead.

Every year on July 7, Japan celebrates Tanabata (which is sometimes loosely and inelegantly translated as the “Star Festival”). As part of the festivities, stalks of bamboo are placed inside buildings or in public spaces, and people write down wishes they hope will come true on brightly colored pieces of paper, which they then attach to the stems of the bamboo leaves (as pictured above).

The tradition has been going on for generations, and is something that takes place all over Japan…well, almost all over Japan. In the run-up to July 7, Japanese Twitter user @rrrRr0902x spotted a Tanabata bamboo display on the campus of his college (the name of which he declines to mention), and jotted down his wish, for more Twitter followers, on an orange strip of paper.

https://twitter.com/rrrRr0902x/status/1015194369190580224

However, sometime later he passed by this same spot again, and noticed that the tree was now gone. In its place was a notice saying:

“By order of the Religious Center, the Tanabata decorations that had been placed here have been removed. It seems the practice is incongruent with Christianity. We are sorry, but we hope you will not take this too harshly.”

While Christianity is a fairly minor religion, in terms of believers in Japan, many of the country’s institutions of learning have connections to 19th-century missionary efforts, and several Japanese universities that teach non-religious subjects have religious roots. @rrrRr0902x’s school is a Christian college, and apparently someone in the administration felt the Tanabata display was inappropriate.

But while it’s understandable that a religiously founded school would be averse to displaying symbols of other faiths within its facilities, the decision to remove the Tanabata decorations is surprising because Tanabata is a secular celebration. It has its roots in the Chinese folktale The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl, which is a story of two young lovers who can meet only once a year, and who are represented by the stars Vega and Altair, which are separated by the Milky Way. While it contains fantastical elements, the tale has no connection to Buddhism, Shinto, or any other religion.

Despite the school’s hope that students would not take the decision too harshly, a number of them did. When @rrrRr0902x passed through that part of the school for a third time, there were a number of handwritten notes from other students, which, in the absence of any bamboo to tie them too, were simply stuck to the wall. Some of them read:

“My wish is that next year everyone gets to enjoy Tanabata.”
“My wish is that this will become a school that’s tolerant of other cultures.”
“Do you think you can get away with anything as long as you say ‘amen?’”
“Now I can understand how Luther felt when he started the Protestant Reformation.”

Though one of the messages references Japanese tradition as being part of “other cultures,” it’s worth noting that the administration at some of Japan’s Christian schools is staffed primarily by Japanese nationals, so it’s possible that the decision to remove the Tanabata decorations came from people born and raised in Japan. Nevertheless, @rrrRr0902x, and most people leaving comments about his tweet, feel it’s a needless buzzkill to shun one of Japan’s secular summer traditions, and hopefully the person asking to be allowed to celebrate Tanabata next year will have their wish granted.

Source: Twitter/@rrrRr0902x via Hachma Kiko
Top image: Wikipedia/Phoenix7777

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he should have wished for more delicious watermelon for Tanabata.