The Japanese Star Festival

Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

July 7th is Tanabata, the Japanese Star Festival. It’s a celebration of the meeting of Orihime and Hikoboshi, two deities who, according to legend, are separated by the Milky Way and are only allowed to meet on this day. (The word tanabata is written using the characters “seven” and “evening”–in other words, the evening of the seventh of the seventh month.) There are said to be various versions of their love story, but here’s the most famous one that I learned about growing up.

“Orihime (Weaving Princess), daughter of the Tentei (Sky King, or the universe itself), wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (Milky Way). Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, Orihime was sad that because of her hard work she could never meet and fall in love with anyone. Concerned about his daughter, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (Cow Herder Star) who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. When the two met, they fell instantly in love with each other and married shortly thereafter. However, once married, Orihime no longer would weave cloth for Tentei and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa and forbade them to meet. Orihime became despondent at the loss of her husband and asked her father to let them meet 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.”

<source Wikipedia>

Basically, they only get to meet once a year, and if it rains they don’t even get that chance. How cruel is that?! I’ve been living far away from my husband for only six months and it’s getting to me. Imagine having that be the norm and waiting every year for this day to meet only to be discouraged by rain. And can I just mention that July 7th is smack in the middle of the rainy season here in Japan? I mean, give these guys a break.

Oh, and yeah, it’s raining today so I guess Orihime and Hikoboshi will have to wait another year to see each other again. Poor guys.

Anyway, Tanabata is celebrated by writing wishes on small pieces of paper called tanzaku, and hanging them on bamboo. Many cities and towns colorfully decorate their streets and have special parades for this day as well.

E and I went to a shrine nearby over the weekend to write our wishes on some tanzaku. E’s wish was to be able to play with her cousin. (Who she played with all weekend, let me just say.) Mine, well, if you can read Japanese, is written on one of the tanzaku below. I hope it comes true.




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  1. My favorite! We used to go right off base for the whole festival. Because they have huge lanterns and the takoyaki set up all over the place. It was always such a beautiful festival and being set up right outside of the main gate to encourage us to go out there didn’t hurt either. Thankfully there was a lot of teaching going on so we understood what the festival was about.

    • That’s so great that they held the festival right off base! And I’m glad they made it a point to teach what the festival was all about. Knowing some background information definitely makes things more interesting, don’t you think? ;)


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