The Tanabata Festival, also known as the “Star Festival,” is celebrated every year on July 7th in Japan. Its origin dates back to the Heian period (794-1185) and it is influenced by Chinese culture, specifically the Qixi Festival.
According to the Japanese legend, Tanabata is based on the story of Orihime (the celestial weaver represented by the star Vega) and Hikoboshi (the cowherd represented by the star Altair), who were lovers separated by the Milky Way. They were destined to meet only once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. When this day arrives, the stars Vega and Altair symbolically come together in the sky, allowing the two lovers to reunite. The legend tells that if the sky is cloudy on that day, the lovers must wait another year to meet.
Today, the Tanabata Festival is enthusiastically celebrated throughout the country. Families and friends come together to celebrate love and romance. A popular custom is to write wishes and prayers on small strips of colorful paper called “tanzaku.” These tanzaku are then hung on decorative bamboo branches in the streets, homes, and temples, creating beautiful celestial ornaments.
During the Tanabata festivities, the Japanese participate in local festivals where they sometimes wear traditional kimonos. They can also enjoy various culinary specialties, such as fish-shaped rice sweets called “taiyaki” or yakitori chicken skewers. The streets come alive with dances, music, and twinkling lights, creating a joyful and festive atmosphere unique to this occasion.