Guest Writer: Urusai_Uni#0007
One of the many highlights of Japan in the summer are the festivals! Throughout the summer there are several festivals that happen all across Japan, but one of the highlights is Tanabata (七夕), the Star Festival. With an interesting history and bit of mythology all about star-crossed lovers, the Star Festival is one you won’t want to miss!
Dating back to the 700s, Tanabata came over to Japan from China. Traditionally celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month, Tanabata is typically celebrated on July 1st. It is also sometimes held in accordance with the traditional Japanese lunisolar calendar, and therefore is sometimes held on the 7th of August in some places, such as Sendai, which hosts one of the largest Tanabata celebrations in Japan.
A festival of wishes, it often celebrates wishes and hopes for the future. Traditionally, it was used to wish for things like good crops and improvement in skills such as sewing, weaving, and penmanship. Nowadays, it can be all sorts of wishes!
Tanabata really gained popularity during the Edo Period, mainly because it had become somewhat mixed with another festival known as Obon, a festival to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. In modern day, Obon is held around the 15th of August so Tanabata and Obon are seperated!
While having deep historical roots dating back to China, Tanabata also has it’s roots in mythology. The celebration is based around the once-a-year reunification of Orihime the weaver and Hikoboshi the cowherd, represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively, thus giving Tanabata the name “the Star Festival”.
Orihime was the daughter of Tentei, the Sky King, and she wove beautiful clothing. She met and fell in love with a cow herder named Hikoboshi. The two were married, but soon started to neglect their duties, Orihime not weaving and Hikoboshi letting his cows roam the skies. This angered the Tentei, and he had the two separated to opposite sides of the Milky Way. The two were granted one day a year to meet, the seventh day of the seventh month, so long as they were diligent in their duties. However, if it rains, the two cannot meet and have to wait until the next year to try again.
Tanabata, like many other festivals, has its own set of traditions and customs to go along with it. Wishes are written onto strips of paper and hung off of bamboo. These are called Tanzaku. Bamboo itself is an important decoration for Tanabata, as it grows straight and tall to carry those wishes to heaven. Other decorations include fukinagashi and amikazari, both kinds of streamers to represent wishes for better weaving and for full fishing nets, respectively.
The traditional food for Tanabata is cold somen. Somen is a type of wheat noodle typically dipped into a dipping sauce called tsuyu. Many places in the summer often set up somen-nagashi, where somen noodles are sent down a bamboo slide where diners pluck them out of the stream and eat them.
Tanabata is a fun and exciting festival that you shouldn’t miss! If you’re planning on going to Japan in the summer, see if you can fit in a trip to a local Tanabata festival. And even if you can’t, check out your local areas and see if they’ll be holding one! It’s celebrated in many different ways in Japan. Tokyo Disney even holds a festival each year with Mickey as Hikoboshi and Minnie as Orihime. Tanabata is an important festival in Japanese culture and is held all around the world!