Many people across Japan are familiar with the basics of the tennyo (heavenly maiden) legend, and there are a lot of fun ways to read into it, and compare or combine it with the legend of the star-crossed lovers–including another heavenly maiden–who meet on Tanabata. Although commercially celebrated on July 7, the celestial activity it actually celebrates was on August 2 this year. Next year (2015), it will be on August 20.

This particular version of a well-known legend takes place in Kurayoshi, Tottori Prefecture. The kids of Kurayoshi still keep the associated drum and flute traditional alive, as you can see on their blog.

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A very, very long time ago, in the land of Hoki, a young woodcutter was going about his usual work when he discovered something hanging on a boulder which he had never seen before. It was a beautiful, pure white and transparent folded cloth. Something like this must belong to a heavenly maiden, he thought, and then took the garment home.

That evening, as he was eating dinner, there was a knock at the door. There, he found a frantic but very beautiful maiden. “I cannot return home. Please allow me to stay,” she said sorrowfully.

“Not to worry, come on in.”

The maiden went on to explain, “I am a heavenly maiden. The gods sent me on an errand to the land of Izumo, and on the way back I stopped to bathe. I lost my heavenly robes,” her voice began to waver as she succumbed to tears, “Now I can never return to the heavens.”

Upon hearing this, the young woodcutter decided to hide the robes and never tell her that he stole them.

The heavenly maiden remained at his house, and at some point she became his bride. She gave birth to two sons, and when they grew older, she taught them to play the drums and flute*, and the sounds reminded her of her time in the heavens.

The years passed, and one summer night her sons went out to the mountain to gather bamboo for Tanabata decorations. In light of the holiday, she decided to prepare a feast, and starting pulling out all of the dishes she would need from the cupboard. While searching for some misplaced dishes, she discovered a dark corner of the cupboard where there was a wrapped package.

Finding it curious, she opened it and was shocked. “Why, it’s my heavenly robes!”

Nostalgic over seeing her garment again, she immediately put it on, and her body became light and fluttered off the ground, lightly rising toward the sky.

Her sons returned from gathered bamboo and noticed her up above them. “Ma!” they shouted. “Where are you going? Ma!!”

They called and called, but her form grew further and further away and then disappeared from sight, and she never returned to them.

Since then, it has been said that you can hear the sound of drums and flutes coming from the mountain. This is the voice of the two children calling out to their mother in the heavens. At some point, they started calling the mountain Utsubukiyama* because of this. How pitiful! Even today, you can sometimes hear the sounds of the drums and flutes riding on the wind.

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*The name “Utsubukiyama” can be broken down as follows:
The verb for beating a drum is 打つ (utsu)
The verb for blowing a flute is 吹き (fuki)
The word for mountain is 山 (yama)
Utsubukiyama: 打吹山

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