JULY - Tanabata Festival Japan: The Paper and Bamboo Celebration

JULY - Tanabata Festival Japan: The Paper and Bamboo Celebration

Japan is known for having many festivals throughout the year (200,000 to be exact!). These festivals are deeply rooted in history and tradition, often featuring ornate decorations, unique backstories, and delicious food, like the Tabata Festival (Japan).

This festival was initially based on the lunar calendar (and the traditional Japanese lunisolar calendar), leading to celebrations on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. As these calendars change annually, the date for Japanese Tanabata festivals ranges from July to August, depending on the region. Below, we explore the Tanabata celebrations and Tanabata traditions, which are said to be the most elegant festival in Japan.

What Is Tanabata?

The Tanabata Festival is believed to date back to the Date Masamune era, between 1493 and 1590. It was inspired by an ancient Chinese star festival, landing on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

Tanabata is one of five traditional seasonal festivals in Japan, also known as gosekku. During the Japanese Tanabata celebration, everyone gathers and celebrates the story of two star-crossed lovers. It is said they meet once a year during Tanabata.

Why Is Tanabata Also Known as Star Festival?

Tanabata's nickname of Star Festival traces back to the festival's history. According to legend, Japan's Star Festival is based on a romance between Orihime and Hikoboshi. These two lovers lived across the Milky Way (also known as the Heavenly River). Orihime's dad, the God of the Sky, paired his daughter with Hikoboshi for marriage. The couple fell in love instantly and got married. Unfortunately, they were so in love that they stopped keeping up with their cow herding and kimono-making duties.

The God of the Sky was angered and forced to separate the lovers by keeping them on separate sides of the Heavenly River. Orihime's father did relent to his daughter's tears and now allows them to see each other once per year on 7/7. The lovers are also known as Vega and Altair, two stars in the Milky Way. During this festival, many people keep their eyes out for these two stars and remember the story of Orihime and Hikoboshi.

How Do Japanese Celebrate Star Festival?

Many events occur during the Star Festival. One of the most popular includes the Wish Writing Corner, where festival attendees write their wishes on colorful streamers and attach them to bamboo branches. Of course, these won't be the only decorations you see for this holiday! Depending on the location of the Tanabata festival, you may even see Tanabata decoration competitions.
Besides this popular activity, traditional songs and dances are performed during the holiday. Traditional foods are available, and folk dances like the sunset Bon-Odori occur. This festival typically lasts a few days, as many Japanese celebrations usually do.

What Is the Sendai Tanabata Festival?

Sendai, Japan, annually holds one of the largest Tanabata festivals (and one of the most well-known). This Tanabata celebration is one of the three major festivals in the Tohoku region. There are quite a few attractions at this Tanabata festival, including a large stage with live entertainment, vendors selling traditional foods like ox tail, and beautiful Tanabata decorations.  This celebration is only rivaled by the Sitamachi festival, the largest Tanabata Festival in Japan.

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