The Tanabata festival, also known as the Star Festival (星祭) or Hoshi Matsuri, is a traditional summertime celebration in Japan that originated from the Chinese Qixi Festival.
Tanabata means “evening of the seventh,” but the festivities can take place over multiple days, sometimes starting as early as July 7th and other times as late as the end of August. The exact date varies by region, depending on which calendar is being followed (Georgian calendar or the lunar calendar).
Though the details of how this festival is celebrated differs a bit across the country, they all feature colorful decorations, have rich origins, and honor a legend about two lovers.
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, if the skies are clear.
The story of Tanabata originated from a Chinese legend called Qixi and was brought to Japan in the 8th century. It tells the story of two lovers: Princess Orihime and Hikoboshi. Princess Orihime was a seamstress who 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 became 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 begged and pleaded. Because he loved his daughter, 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, the Milky Way river was 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 people always wish for good weather on Tanabata. There are many variations of this story, but this version is the most widely held.
On Tanabata, people write their wishes on small pieces of colored paper called tanzaku and hang them on beautiful bamboo “wish trees.”
On the next day, the decorated trees are floated on a river or in the ocean and burned as an offering. All over Japan, there are many celebrations, including parades, food stalls, colorful decorations, and fireworks. You can honor Orihime and Hikoboshi by simply reflecting on your wishes, however ambitious, however mundane.
Share your wishes with us on our Instagram @shikohin.rituals in a comment below our giveaway post! Tag your friends for a chance to win our summer skincare bundle!
This year, Shikohin is excited to partner with the Nova Vita Foundation for a beach clean up and evening Tanabata celebration to share our wishes for a better world. We are so inspired by these motivated young people who are working toward a brighter future!