Festival keeps Japanese traditions alive

  • Tue Jul 10th, 2012 7:23pm

By Katya Yefimova Herald writer

LYNNWOOD — Many Japanese-American families visit relatives in Japan during the summer.

For those who can’t make the trip, Lynnwood Library volunteer Miho Smith offers a taste of Japan right here in Snohomish County.

Smith, who leads the Japanese-language story time at the library, got the community together on July 6 to celebrate the Japanese festival Tanabata.

“It’s a wonderful love story,” Smith said.

Tanabata, which means “Evening of the Seventh,” takes root in a Chinese folktale about two lovers separated by the Milky Way.

According to the legend, a princess spent her days on the shore of the heavenly river weaving cloth for her father, King of the Universe. The heavenly river represents the Milky Way.

The princess fell in love with a cowherd on the other side of the river. After the two got married, the princess stopped weaving and the cowherd let his cows stray all over the sky.

The king became angry and separated the two lovers, only allowing them to meet on the seventh day of the seventh month of the year. And so they meet every year, separated by the Milky Way.

Several versions of the legend exist and different regions of Japan have different customs to celebrate the festival.

One beloved tradition is writing wishes on pieces of paper and hanging them on a “wish tree,” sometimes with paper decorations.

Families gathered at the library partook in this custom.

Nathan and Yuka Schoof unwittingly wrote the same wish on their slips of paper, wishing for their family to be healthy and happy.

The Everett couple brought their daughter Arabella, 2.

“I think it’s very important for her to know both cultures,” Nathan Schoof said of Arabella.

He said he got off work early so he could come to the festival with his wife and daughter.

He met Yuka while working in Nagoya, Japan. They have since visited her family and Nathan has started learning Japanese.

They are expecting a son.

“We love Japanese celebrations,” Yuka Schoof said.

“I don’t want my kids to forget the Japanese ways.”

Arabella donned a black-and-rose “yukata,” a traditional dress made of cotton. Other kids wore colorful “jinbei,” a cotton shirt-and-shorts combo.

About 50 kids and adults showed up for the celebration.

Smith’s son Raymond, 10, and daughter Hannah, 12, also came to help set up. Both speak fluent Japanese.

Smith, who was a kindergarten teacher in Japan, said she enjoys the opportunity to work with children. She also enjoys helping people keep their heritage alive.

“I’m doing this for my kids, too,” she said.