tanabata festival hanging your wishes on tree

Tanabata (Japanese: たなばた or 七夕, meaning “Evening of the seventh”), also known as the Star Festival (星祭り, Hoshimatsuri), is a Japanese festival originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival. The festival gained widespread popularity amongst the general public by the early Edo period,[5]: 19  when it became mixed with various Obon or Bon traditions (because Bon was held on 15th of the seventh month then), and developed into the modern Tanabata festival. The festival, rich in history and folklore, involves tying wishes to trees—a practice that seamlessly blends romance with spirituality. Let’s explore the origins, story, and customs of the Tanabata Festival, uncovering how this ancient celebration serves as Japan’s unique expression of love and hope.

The Origins of the Tanabata Festival

The Tanabata Festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month, traces its roots back to Chinese mythology and the Qixi Festival, which also celebrates the meeting of star-crossed lovers. The story of Tanabata was introduced to Japan in the 8th century during the Nara period through cultural exchanges between China and Japan. Over the centuries, it evolved to incorporate local beliefs and customs, becoming a distinctly Japanese festival that is celebrated with great enthusiasm.

The Tanabata Story: A Tale of Star-Crossed Lovers

At the heart of the Tanabata Festival is the poignant tale of Orihime and Hikoboshi.

Orihime and Hikoboshi: Orihime, the daughter of the Sky King (Tentei), was a skilled weaver who created beautiful fabrics by the banks of the Amanogawa River (the Milky Way). Despite her talent, Orihime was lonely, spending her days tirelessly weaving. Concerned for his daughter’s happiness, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, a diligent cowherd who lived on the other side of the Amanogawa.

The two fell deeply in love and were soon married. However, their love caused them to neglect their duties—Orihime stopped weaving, and Hikoboshi’s cows roamed the heavens unattended. Angered by this, Tentei separated the lovers, placing them on opposite sides of the Milky Way and forbidding them to meet. Heartbroken, Orihime pleaded with her father to allow them to see each other. Moved by her tears, Tentei permitted them to meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, provided they completed their tasks.

The Celestial Meeting: On this special night, it is believed that a bridge of magpies forms over the Milky Way, allowing the lovers to reunite. If it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot form the bridge, and the lovers must wait another year. This legend adds an element of anticipation and longing to the festival, making it a deeply emotional and romantic celebration.


Festive Celebrations

Explore our open events that immerse you in the vibrant celebrations of Asian cultures, right here in London. Join us to experience the rich traditions and festive spirit of various Asian communities.

Customs and Celebrations of Tanabata

The Tanabata Festival is marked by a variety of customs and traditions that reflect its celestial origins and romantic theme. The most iconic tradition involves writing wishes on colorful strips of paper called tanzaku and hanging them on bamboo branches.

Writing Wishes: During Tanabata, people inscribe their wishes—ranging from personal aspirations to hopes for love and happiness—on tanzaku. These wishes are then hung on bamboo branches, which are often decorated with other paper ornaments, creating a vibrant and festive display. It is believed that the wishes will be carried up to the heavens and granted by the celestial lovers.

Festive Decorations: Cities and towns across Japan are adorned with elaborate Tanabata decorations. In places like Sendai and Hiratsuka, massive Tanabata festivals feature towering bamboo poles draped with streamers, paper lanterns, and other intricate paper crafts. These decorations transform the streets into a kaleidoscope of colors and bring the legend to life.

Traditional Celebrations: In addition to writing wishes, the Tanabata Festival includes various traditional events such as parades, musical performances, and fireworks. People dress in yukata (summer kimono) and participate in festivities that highlight Japanese cultural heritage and community spirit.

Regional Variations: Different regions in Japan celebrate Tanabata with their own unique customs. For example, in Sendai, the Tanabata Festival is celebrated in August, aligning with the lunar calendar. This festival is one of the largest in Japan and features stunning decorations and vibrant street performances.

The Cultural Significance of Tanabata

Tanabata is more than just a celebration of a romantic legend; it embodies profound cultural values and beliefs.

Hope and Aspiration: The act of writing wishes on tanzaku and hanging them on bamboo branches symbolizes hope and aspiration. It reflects a deep-seated belief in the power of the written word and the possibility of divine intervention in fulfilling personal dreams.

Nature and Spirituality: The use of natural elements, such as bamboo and paper, in Tanabata decorations underscores the connection between nature and spirituality in Japanese culture. The festival’s timing during the summer also emphasizes the seasonal beauty and the importance of living in harmony with nature.

Community and Celebration: Tanabata fosters a sense of community and collective celebration. It brings people together to share their hopes and dreams, creating a supportive environment that celebrates individual and communal aspirations.

The Tanabata Festival is a beautiful testament to Japan’s rich cultural tapestry, where ancient legends, spiritual beliefs, and communal celebrations intertwine to create a unique and enchanting expression of love and hope. The tradition of tying wishes to trees during this festival encapsulates the essence of Tanabata, highlighting the enduring power of love and the universal human desire for connection and fulfillment. As we explore the origins, story, and customs of the Tanabata Festival, we gain a deeper appreciation for how this ancient celebration continues to inspire and enchant people in Japan and around the world. At Dear Asia London, we also celebrate the festival with our students. Students have the chance to write down their wishes and hang it up.

Quick Japanese Test

Take a 5 mins quick test to find out where you Japanese level is!

Book a trial lesson

Book a trial lesson to join one of our popular group classes!

Similar Posts