Tanabata “Star Festival” in Japan

Tanabata is a traditional Japanese festival celebrated on July 7th and has been celebrated in Japan for centuries. When July starts, you can often see Tanabata decorations in town landmarks. Especially in large train stations and commercial facilities, there may be corners where you can write your wishes on paper, so if you come across one, why not try writing your wishes as well?

What is Tanabata (“Star Festival”)?

Tanabata is the night of July 7th. The festival originated from the Chinese Qixi Festival and has been celebrated in Japan for centuries.

According to legend, Tanabata is a story of two lovers who are separated by the Milky Way and are allowed to meet only once a year on the night of Tanabata.

Why were they split up?

There was a woman named Orihime, who was a hard-working weaver, and there was a man named Hikoboshi, who was a hard-working cowherd. It is said that Orihime is the star Vega and Hikoboshi is the star Altair. They fell in love and got married right after they met.

But once they married, they spent all their time talking and ended up stopping working. God became very angry and separated them from each other on both sides of the Milky Way.
Orihime cried very much and regretted what they’d done. So God promised that they could see each other only once a year if they worked hard. That was July 7th.

What do we do for Tanabata?

During Tanabata, people write their wishes on small strips of colorful paper called “tanzaku” and hang them on bamboo branches, along with other decorations like origami paper cranes and paper ornaments. The bamboo branches with the wishes and decorations are displayed in homes, schools, shopping streets, and various public places. And children sing the Tanabata song at school.

笹の葉 さらさら 軒端に 揺れる
お星様 きらきら 金銀 砂子

(ささのは さらさら のきばに ゆれる
おほしさま きらきら きんぎん すなご)

(Sasanoha sarasara Nokibani yureru
Ohoshisama kirakira Kingin sunago)

“The bamboo leaves rustle
And sway under the eaves
The stars twinkle
Like gold and silver grains of sand”

Why do we write down wishes?

The custom of writing wishes was born because Orihime was a very skillful weaver, and the women who worked in the palace wished to become like her and improve their crafts and sewing.

Let’s celebrate Tanabata!

  1. Decorate for Tanabata
  2. Find the Milky Way
  3. Wear Yukata

Decorate for Tanabata

Don’t worry, even if you can’t get bamboo! (I don’t always prepare bamboo, either.) Cut and stick green colored tape to make the shape of bamboo on the wall. You can decorate it!

Find the Milky Way

In Japan, if the weather is good on July 7, the Milky Way can be seen in the mountains away from the city lights.

Wear Yukata

Yukata is a casual kimono for summer. In fact, July 7th is also Yukata Day. (Not many people know this, though…) If you have a yukata, this is a good opportunity to wear it.

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