Tanabata, Japan’s annual Star Festival, celebrates the day that ill-fated lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the Vega and Altair stars), two deities usually separated by the Milky Way, get to meet up once a year. Usually held on the evening of 7 July, the seventh day of the seventh month – the name means Evening of the seventh – it’s commemorated by locals writing wishes on vibrant coloured strips of paper and hanging them from a bamboo tree alongside other origami ornaments.
This popular nationwide summer custom animates streets, stations and supermarkets, but you’ll discover the most impressive wish trees at shrines, such as Chiyoda’s major Shinto shrine Kanda-myojin, close to the Akihabara electronics district. Families also adorn bamboo branches at the entrance to their homes, while schools mark the occasion with skits based on the legend of the Cowherd and Weaver stars.
Originating from China’s Qixi Festival, this optimistic celebration crossed over to Japan during the feudal period, when it was blended with Imperial and local customs. You’ll find it takes place on different dates in July and August in various regions, incorporating streamers, illuminations and food stalls. While some folk pen poetry on their tanzaku – the small strips – you can just write a simple message. The following day around midnight you’ll see the pretty paper decorations set alight or afloat with lanterns on a river. Go on, make a wish…
7 Jul, 2017.