Tanabata (meaning the “Evening of the Seventh”) is a Japanese star festival held between July and August celebrating the meeting of the stars Vega and Altair. The two who are usually separated by the Milky Way, are allowed to meet once a year during the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

This celebration, although celebrated in Japan, received its origins from the Chinese Legend of “The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd.”

It goes something like this:

Orihime, daughter of Tentei (the Sky King), was a princess who wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (the Milky Way), which is usually depicted as a heavenly river across the sky. Her father loved the cloth she wove and was deeply impressed by her work. Although Orihime was diligent, she was often sad because her hard work meant that she could never meet someone to fall in love with. The king noticed this and arranged for his daughter to meet with Hikoboshi, who worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. The two met and instantly fell in love with each other, later deciding to get married.

Orihime (left) and Hikoboshi (right)

Orihime (left) and Hikoboshi (right)

Once married though, Orihime would stray from her work, no longer making cloth for her father Tentei like before. Furthermore, Hikoboshi would allow his cows to roam all over heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the lovers across the Amanogawa and forbade them to meet. Orihime grieved over this and begged her father to allow her to meet with Hikoboshi again. Tentei was moved by his daughter’s tears and allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if she worked hard and finished her weaving. The first time they tried to meet, however, they found that they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet.

To celebrate, large halls and shopping streets are decorated in colorful streamers in Japan to mimic a sort of festival-like feeling.

Of course, a large of the decorations are made from paper (some of which may be familiar to people in Western cultures as well).

Examples of some with meanings:

Paper Kimono (Kamigoromo)

Paper Cranes (Orizuru)

Purse (Kinchaku) for better business

Net (Toami) for luck in fishing

Trash Bag (Kuzukago) symbolizing cleanliness


Wishes written on the Tanzaku

Wishes written on the Tanzaku


And lastly, paper strips called “Tanzaku” used for writing wishes (may it be for a better future or a simple thank you) and attaching to trees and bamboo

These wishes are sometimes set afloat or burned after the festival during midnight or the following day. Perhaps your wish could be delivered to the stars.

So next time you make a stop by Japan around August, make sure to check out the Tanabata Festival!

Tanabata dates for the next four years:

  • 2014-08-02
  • 2015-08-20
  • 2016-08-09
  • 2017-08-28

*Note: The background song is actually the Tanabata Song


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