Inside the big hall of Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Centre, hundreds of students assembled – all celebrating the Tanabata Festival 2018.
Tanabata Festival, or Star Festival, is originally celebrated in Japan on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, the day Japanese deities Orihime and Hikoboshi meet every year.
And as Cambodia honours its decades-long friendship with Japan, Khmers also join in the celebration of the Tanabata Festival.
This year’s two-day event, which kicked off on July 5, was organised by the Embassy of Japan in collaboration with the CJCC and the Japan Foundation Asia Centre.
The celebration started with a blessing dance by the CJCC student volunteers and an inspiring opening remarks from Japanese Ambassador Hidehisa Horinouchi.
“Tanabata Festival has been transformed and enriched over the years to add contents and events like showing of Japanese movie, Japanese song contest and traditional music lecture so many young Cambodians will be introduced to the culture,” said Mr Hidehisa.
Japanese artist Yamanaka Hitomi, who has always shown passion for the Khmer culture, performed a Khmer traditional dance. Ms Yamanaka performed Khmer dances combined with the Japanese literature. Ms Yamanaka trained with Cambodian professors to perfect the dance routine.
Students also enjoyed the harmony of Japanese and Khmer music brought by the Pro Musica Nipponia and Khmer musicians from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. Traditional instruments from both groups were also used as they sang “Arapiya” and “Tanabata-Sama”.
Ly Cheachheng, one of the hundreds of students who joined the event, said he is fond of the Japanese culture and language since high school. His love for everything Japanese pushed him to get a scholarship at the Institute of Foreign Languages and study the Japanese language. Mr Cheachheng said he never missed a single Tanabata Festival since he moved to Phnom Penh.
“It’s my third time to join this festival. This year, they added various kinds of activities. I personally like the Japanese cooking class and Japanese traditional music,” Mr Cheachheng shared.
But, what is Tanabata Festival if there are no paper strips hanging on a bamboo tree? In Japan, it is a popular custom for girls to wish for better sewing and craftsmanship, while boys wish for better handwriting. People write these wishes on strips of paper and hang them on a tree.
CJCC installed a dwarf bamboo tree where people can hang the papers that contain their wishes.
Hai Sokhae, clad in traditional Japanese dress Yukata, was one of those who tried every activity offered in the venue. She said wearing the Yukata was her favourite.
But more than the fun-filled two-day festival, Ms Sokhae recognised the fact that the Tanabata Festival is an effective way for a great cultural exchange between the two nations.
“It is also a good avenue to motivate more and more Cambodians to learn Japanese, which they can use to apply for jobs and earn decent wages. I am one of those,” Ms Sokhae said.
The Tanabata Festival is part of the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Japan-Cambodia friendship. It has been held annually in Cambodia since 2004 to promote the rich traditions and cultures of both Asian countries.