Tanabata is celebrated on July 7th in Japan. Similar to Girls Day, until the birth of Baby, four years ago, we never celebrated Tanabata. Not that Tanabata is only for girls, but my daughter definitely has more interest in the story of the princess and prince than my boys ever did. Celebrate with your family too! Buy a branch of bamboo, some cute origami paper, and write and tie wishes to decorate. Learn, go and make Tanabata! Remember July 7th.
Learn about Tanabata
The History – (content edited version of Wikipedia)
Tanabata (七夕, meaning “Evening of the seventh”), also known as the Star Festival, is a Japanese festival originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival. It celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively). According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar.
The festival was imported to Japan by the Empress Kōken in 755. It originated from “The Festival to Plead for Skills” (乞巧奠 Kikkōden), an alternative name for Qixi, which was celebrated in China and also was adopted in the Kyoto Imperial Palace from the Heian period.
The festival gained widespread popularity amongst the general public by the early Edo period, when it became mixed with various Obon Bon traditions (because Bon was held on 15th of the seventh month then). In Edo period girls wished for better sewing and craftsmanship, and boys wished for better handwriting by writing wishes on strips of paper.
In present-day Japan, people generally celebrate this day by writing wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on tanzaku (短冊 tanzaku), small pieces of paper, and hanging them on bamboo, sometimes with other decorations. There is also a traditional Tanabata song which you can hear on youtube.
Orihime (織姫 Weaving Princess), daughter of the Tentei (天帝 Sky King, or the universe itself), wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (天の川 Milky Way, lit. “heavenly river”). 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 (彦星 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.
Great books to enjoy with your children in Japanese available on Amazon Japan.
Go See Tanabata Festivals
If you are interested in learning more about Tanabata, I highly recommend the following events.
1. Shitamachi Tanabata Festival, Asakusa 下町七夕まつり (Kappabashi, Taito-ku, Tokyo) – This festival is running from today until July 11th in the Kappabashi area of Asakusa. I love shopping in Kappabashi so a double bonus festival and shopping in one trip. The festival is on the main Kappabashi Hon-dori which is called “Kitchen Town” and is where chefs and food lovers shop for all their kitchen and cooking tools. The best time to visit the Shitamachi Tanabata Festival is Saturday and Sunday, July 4th and 5th. Over the weekend, the local businesses have special stalls with sales and food, and live music and parades take place.
Shitamachi Tanabata Festival Details
Event dates: July 6-11, 2016; best days to attend are Sat and Sun, July 9th and 10th, 2016
Hours: Parade & stalls July 4th 10:00 – 20:00, July 5th 10:00 – 19:00
Location: Kappabashi Hon-dori
Access: 10 min walk from Asakusa station
2. Zojoji Tanabata Festival (Shiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo) – From today, July 1st – July 7th (Tanabata Day in Japan) you can enjoy the Tanabata Festival at Zojoji Temple in Shiba, Minato-ku. Tanabata is the night when two lovers separated by the Milky Way meet. Until the 7th you can enjoy various festival foods, and writing your wishes on colourful paper to hand in the bamboo. On the 7th, grab a friend or bring you family and appreciate the hundreds of candles displayed on the walkway and steps of the Temple. The Shiba area is a great area to play and relax, check out Shiba Park Playground, Le Pain Quotidien or Tokyo Tower.
Zojoji Tanabata Festival Details
Address: Zojoji Temple, Shiba-Koen
Date: Friday, July 1, 2016 – Thursday, July 7, 2016 (Candles are lit up on July 7)
Time: 09:00 – 20:00
Access: Metro to Shiba-Koen Station (Mita Line) A4 exit or Daimon Station (Asakusa Line, Oedo Line) A6 exit
3. Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Matsuri ( Hiratsuka City, Kanazawa-Ken) – This is one of the largest Tanabata festivals in the Kanto area. It is well know for the huge size of the tanbata decorations, lively parade and illuminations. I have never had the chance to attend, but my friends speak highly of the event.
Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Matsuri Details
Dates and hours: Friday, July 8 – Sunday, July 10, 2016; Runs from around noon to 21:00 on Saturday and until 20:00 on Sunday
Address: Whole city around JR Hiratsuka Station north exit mall (Beniyacho, Hiratsuka-shi, akasityou play a key role.)
Official website: http://www.tanabata-hiratsuka.com/
Access: 2 min walk from JR Hiratsuka Station north exit
It is approximately 60 minutes by … JR Tokaido Main Line from Tokyo Station.
It is approximately 65 minutes by … JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line from Shinjuku Station
Cools creations to inspire your creativity this Tanabata
Fun jello and fruit from Mai’s Smile Kitchen.
Did you enjoy this article? If yes, please sign-up for the Best Living Japan newsletter so you don’t miss any great info. It is easy to sign-up just click here, and enter your email.