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‘Tanabata’, the romantic Japanese festival

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2021.07.01 (Thu)

By Charlotte, long-term Tokyo resident & history-loving traveler

In Japan, July 7th is the day of the festival called ‘Tanabata’, during which people write their wishes on thin, long strips of paper called ‘tanzaku’ and hang them as decorations on bamboo branches, praying to the stars in the night sky to make their wishes come true.

This event has its origins in a legend that was introduced to Japan from China long ago. July 7th of the lunar calendar originating in China is the day when the two stars Vega (in the constellation Lyra) and Altair (in the constellation Aquila) are shining the most brightly on opposite sides of the Milky Way. In China, Vega was known as the weaving girl star in charge of sewing work, while Altair was known as the cowherd star in charge of agricultural work, and the two stars were thought of as a married couple. This led to the legend that July 7th of the lunar calendar is the one day in the year when the husband and wife are able to reunite after being separated on opposite banks of the Milky Way river. When this legend was first introduced to Japan, ‘Tanabata’ was a festival for enjoying poetry and music under the starry sky, but it gradually turned into a festival of praying to the stars for the fulfillment of one's own wishes.

Although it was cancelled this year due to the impact of COVID-19, the Shitamachi Tanabata Festival is normally held every year during ‘Tanabata’ on the Kappabashi Street in Taito City. During the festival, the streets turn into a lively scene, decorated with ‘Tanabata’ decorations such as colorful streamers made out of paper balloons and long strips of tape, and with street dance performances such as Awa-Odori being held.

Why not consider making your own wish to the stars during this year's ‘Tanabata’?

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