NEWS

New and old stories about Japanese Crafts. 

Tanabata — Story of Two Star-crossed Lovers

Today is a special day all over Japan where people celebrate Tanabata, the Star Festival. Tanabata is celebrated to commemorate the romantic story of two lovers represented by the stars Vega and Altair who are only allowed to meet each other once a year as long as the skies are clear. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, which is July 7th in the modern calendar. Some places in Japan celebrate Tanabata on August 7th in accordance with the older Chinese calendar, which is where the legend originated. The most famous of all the Tanabata festivals is celebrated in Sendai on August 7th, but most of Japan recognizes Tanabata today (July 7th).

On Tanabata, people write wishes on small pieces of colored paper called tanzaku and hang them on bamboo trees. These become beautiful wish trees. On the following day, the decorated trees are floated on a river or in the ocean and burned as an offering. There are many celebrations all over Japan, which also include parades, food stalls, colorful decorations, and fireworks.

Tanabata originated from a Chinese legend called Qixi and was brought to Japan in the 8th century. This is the story of two lovers. Princess Orihime, the seamstress, wove beautiful clothes by the heavenly river, represented by the Milky Way. Because Orihime worked so hard weaving beautiful clothes, she became sad and despaired of ever finding love. Her father, who was a God of the heavens, loved her dearly and arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, the cow herder who lived on the other side of the Milky Way. The two fell in love instantly and married. Their love and devotion was so deep that Orihime stopped weaving and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to wander the heavens. 

Orihime’s father became angry and forbade the lovers to be together, but Orihime pleaded with him to allow them to stay. He loved his daughter, so he decreed that the two star-crossed lovers could meet once a year--on the 7th day of the 7th month if Orihime returned to her weaving. On the first day they were to be reunited, they found the river (Milky Way) to be too difficult to cross. Orihime became so despondent that a flock of magpies came and made a bridge for her. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies will not come, and the two lovers must wait another year to be reunited, so Japanese always wish for good weather on Tanabata. There are many variations of this story, but this version is the most widely held.

We hope for clear skies on Tanabata so the lovers can always be reunited.

市中繁栄七夕祭 by Hiroshige

市中繁栄七夕祭 by Hiroshige

Tanabata Festival in Edo (Hiroshige, 1852)

Tanabata Festival in Edo (Hiroshige, 1852)

Tanabata festival in Tokyo

Tanabata festival in Tokyo