Tanabata: Wishing on two lovers’ legend on July 7

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

One of the most romantic and traditional festivals, Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival, is celebrated every year on the seventh day of the seventh month.

The Star Festival originated from the Chinese legend of two stars, Vega and Altair – lovers who were separated by the Milky Way and allowed to meet only once a year on July 7.

The legend of Star Festival in Japan varies according to the region, and one that I was told in my childhood goes like this: 

Vega (a weaver and princess called Orihime in Japanese) was a beautiful daughter of King of the Sky. She always weaved celestial clothe for her father by the bank of Milky Way. There was also a young herdsman named Altair (called Hikoboshi in Japanese). One day, the herdsman visited the princess when she was working with her loom and they fell in love at the first sight. As princess met her lover more and more frequently, she began weaving less and less. The king, who was suspicious about his daughter’s change, finally saw her meeting with the herdsman. In anger, the king separated the two lovers across the Milky Way and forbade them to meet again. The princess became so desperate and continued weeping until her father finally allowed her to meet with the herdsman once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month.

So, if you look up into the evening sky on July 7 and it is clear, you can see the two stars reunited. But if it is rainy or cloudy, know that they will try to meet again next year.

As part of the Tanabata celebration, Japanese tie fancy slips of colored paper - blue, red, violet or yellow and white - called tanzaku on bamboo branches. We write our wish on one of the papers and tie it to the bamboo branch, which is also decorated with shiny, metallic decorations, just like a Christmas tree. According to my mother, girls back in the day used to wish that their weaving and sewing skills would improve, like the weaver princess. However, as weaver princess eventually became a guardian of arts in general, many children today wish improve their skills in hand-writing, drawing or singing.

Shopping districts throughout the nation are decorated with colorful bamboo branches. Tanabata is not a national holiday but is traditional observed by Japanese families.  Some regions celebrate this festival on July 7 in accordance with old lunar calendar, which is Aug. 7 this year.

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