A Tanabata gift from Miyagi Prefecture

30 August 2020

The Tokyo Olympics, which was scheduled to be held from 24 July-9 August 2020, was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The closing of borders, lockdowns, limited number of people gatherings, have caused the postponement and even cancellation of thousands of events around the world.

Photo: Mr Kawaguchi, Minister-Counsellor at the Embassy of Japan with Mrs Swanepoel, the Principal of Crawford school

The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee announced that the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will be rescheduled to take place from 23 July to 8 August 2021. They also agreed on new dates for the Paralympic Games, which will be held from 24 August until 5 September 2021.

The Secretariat of the Headquarters for the Promotion of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, has established an “Arigato” Host Town in the three disaster-stricken prefectures (Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima). The initiative encourages exchanges with "those who gave support at the time of disaster", with people who contributed in the reconstruction, including the rescue team members of different countries who entered the disaster-stricken area for support, and those who have sent relief supplies.

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In this vein the people of Iwanuma City in Miyagi Prefecture sent a Tanabata gift to Crawford Preparatory School in Pretoria to show their support for South Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic. The friendly relationship between South Africa and Iwanuma City was strengthened by the visit of Mayor Kikuchi and his delegation to the school in January of this year.

About 80 people, including the mayor, a local origami artist, and local youth sports groups, were involved in making the gifts as a way of repaying the support from South Africa in the Great East Japan Earthquake.

“Who would have thought 6 months ago that we would be meeting again here wearing masks. We have all been through a very tough, very difficult year, but it is good to know that we have friends on the other side of the world who are praying for us and supporting us.”

“We are all looking forward to the upcoming Olympic Games and wish Japan every success with that!" said Mrs Swanepoel, the Principal of the school.

Tanabata is a Japanese Festival also known as the Star Festival. It celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively). According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar.

As a widely popular custom across Japan, people pray to the stars by writing their wishes on colourful paper strips and hanging them, together with Tanabata ornaments, on bamboo on the night of July 7 every year.

Some of the ornaments include:
- “Orizuru”, the art of paper cranes; a symbol of longevity, the cranes are folded from origami paper and are wishes for a long life.
- “Fukinagashi”, which imitates the threads offered to Princess Orihime (a skilled weaver) and represents people's wishes to improve their sewing skills.
- People write their wishes on five-colored paper strips called “tanzaku” and hang them on bamboo.

The encouraging Tanabata gift to the school which includes handwritten messages from people from Iwanuma, their handcrafted “orizuru” and works of a local origami artist to show their support for South Africa, arrived in South Africa on August 25, which is equivalent to July 7 in the Japanese lunar calendar.

“From Iwanuma city, which is 14,000 km away from South Africa, we hope that we can overcome the Coronavirus together and meet at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games as Princess Orihime and Hikoboshi are reunited.”