Japan has many fantastic traditions to enjoy in summer, but the Tanabata is one of the most important. This Star Festival brings together thousands of people every year in different celebrations that celebrate the reunion of two lovers from the stars. Throughout the months of July and August you can enjoy events and different events in many parts of Japan with fireworks, delicious food and large doses of happiness. Of course, there is no shortage of yukatas everywhere, the garment used at this time of the year that has less and less presence among Japanese society right now, but that is still alive by tradition and also by the support given by tourists visiting the country.
An adopted tradition
Japan is a country used to absorb every thing from outside as a sponge. Japanese society learns from the traditions of other countries and introduces them into their daily lives, happening too with food or customs. That is why it is not surprising that the Tanabata is actually a festival that comes from China, where it was adopted in 755. Over time it gained more popularity and the original Chinese festival, known as Qixi, was changing and mixing with japanese traditions to result in what we know today as Tanabata.
The reunion of lovers
The Japanese tradition, which is inspired by a similar Chinese story, tells how Orihime and Hikoboshi meet during the celebration of Tanabata. The story talks about how a girl is dedicated to knitting clothes so well and in such a dedicated way that she feels sad because she doesn’t have time to meet a special person. Her father prepares a meeting between her, Orihime, and a nearby villager named Hikoboshi. The encounter is a crush and they fall in love instantly. But after getting married, Orihime no longer work for her father, Tentei, and he gets angry, separating the couple from each other on each side of the river where they met and forbid them from seeing each other again. The sadness leads Orihime to a desperate situation and asks her father to allow her to see her beloved again. This tells her that she can see him on the seventh day of the seventh month, as long as she finishes all her work.
But when the day comes, the couple cannot find each other because there is no bridge to cross. Some birds tell Orihime that next year they will build the bridge so that she can meet Hikoboshi, but only if it doesn’t rain, since if it rains the river will it grow and it will be impossible to build the bridge. Every year, when the night of Tanabata is celebrated, the japanese look at the stars and imagine the meeting of Orihime and Hikoboshi. But only if it doesn’t rain. If it rains that year the couple will not meet and will have to wait for the next one. In the stars the river that separates them is the Milky Way, while Orihime is Vega and Hikoboshi Altair.
What are the current traditions?
The most frequent in Tanabata is to write our wishes on pieces of paper that we will hang on bamboo trees. These trees are full of the wishes of the people who have participated in them and gather the illusion of life and the purest ambitions of the people. When the festival reaches its climax, trees with desires are burned or floated in a river to represent part of the tradition. However, due to how the Tanabata came to be combined with japanese Obon traditions, it is common that in different parts of the country there are alternative customs to celebrate these dates.
Some of the main areas of Japan decorate its streets to celebrate the Tanabata at different times. In Tokyo the Asakusa Tanabata is well known for its proximity, ease of access and tourist attraction. Food stalls, street dances and parades make attending this type of event a great recommendation for those in Japan. It is also advisable to enjoy the many fireworks shows that are organized.