Tanabata – Festival of Star Crossed LoversJul 2nd, 2009 | By Shane Sakata | Category: Featured Articles, Festivals
Separated by the milky way, two star crossed lovers are only able to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month based on the lunisolar calendar. The legend of Hikoboshi (the star known as Alter) and Orihime (the star known as Vega) has roots in China but has been associated with Japan’s Tanabata festival since the sixth century.
Orihime, the daughter of Emperor Tentei, was a skilled weaver and made lovely clothes for her father. On day as she sat alongside the the river of heaven ( amanogawa – the milky way) she was overcome with sadness as she had been so busy with her weaving that she hadn’t had time to fall in love. Tentei, believed to be the ruler of the heavens, witness her woeful state and arranged a marriage for her with Hikoboshi who lived across the river. The couple was very much in love and were very happy but Orihime was neglecting her weaving. This angered Tentei so much that he decided to separate the couple putting them back on opposite sides of the river.
Tentei decreed that the couple would only be allowed to see each other on one night each year – on the seventh day of the seventh month. On that evening a boatman (the moon) comes to ferry Orihime over the river to her beloved Hikoboshi. But if Orihime has not given her best to her weaving Tentei may make it rain causing the river to flood so the boatman cannot make the trip. In this case the kasasagi (a group of magpies) may still fly to the milky way to make a bridge for Orihime to cross.
The Tanabata festival (also know as the star festival) celebrates the reuniting of these lovers separated by the milky way and the word tanabata can be translated as “weaving with the loom (bata) placed on the shelf (tana)”.
During the Tanabata festival sprigs of bamboo, sometimes small and sometimes the size of a tree, are hung with tanzuku, papers upon people write their wishes. Traditionally people wish for improved technical skills and abilities in homage to the legend of Hikoboshi and Orihime.
Celebrate Tanabata in Japan
Bright and cheerful Tanabata decorations like those pictured above can be found throughout out Japan during July. Look for festivals and other events, large and small, celebrating tanabata in the area you are visiting. Here are just two:
From July 1st-12th if you wear a yukata to Tokyo Tower you will gain free admission to the main observatory where you will see an illumination of the Milky Way along with the great city views. You may also write attach your own tanzuku to the tanabata bamboo. If it isn’t raining, free rickshaw rides and a souvenir picture will also be offered on July 4th (2PM – 6PM) and July 5th (11AM – 4PM). Tokyo Tower itself will be illuminated in five Olympic colors on July 4th.
The Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival will take place in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture from July 2nd through the 5th. Over 3,000 bamboo tanabata decorations will line the streets of the city and will be lit each night until 9:30PM.
Events during the festival period include a Kiyari-Matoi (firemen’s chant) parade on July2nd at Noon, a parade of Sennin Odori (a thousand of folk dancers) from 1PM – 3PM on July 3rd and a parade of “”Miss Orihime Tanabata”" (Beauty Queens) with brass bands marching from 10:30 am on July 4th.
Hiratsuka Station is located about 70 minutes outside of Tokyo on the JR Tokaido Line.