Wish upon the stars on 7th July, the Star festival day

伝統行事(でんとうぎょうじ): Traditional events

Japanese article is here; https://japaneselanguagesalonbymikapanda.com/star-festival-825

What do we do on “Tanabata”, Star festival day?

Hello, this is MIKA!

The rainy season has finished around Tokyo, and we have very hot days. Japanese summer is too hot and humid, so be careful not to get a heat stroke!

By the way, 7th July is “Tanabata”, the star festival day in Japan. It’s one of the days of “Gosseku” like “Hina-matsuri”, “Doll’s festival” on 3rd March and “Children’s day” on 5th May.

*The article about “Gosseku” is here

On the day of “Tanabata”, we write our wishes on colored papers called “Tanzaku” to hang it on bamboo tree. Also we decorate a bamboo tree with some ornaments made by Origami.

Anyway, why do we have these customs?

“Tanabata” has come from China

The reunion of “Orihime” and “Hikoboshi”

Actually, there is the story of the reunion of separated husband and wife on “Tanabata”.

Around 7th July on the lunar calendar, we can watch the two shining stars of the first magnitude which sandwich the Milky Way; they are the part of the great summer triangle, Vega of Lyra and Altair of Aquila.

Antient Chinese people personified them and Japanese called Vega as “Orihime” and Altair as “Hikoboshi”.

“Orihime” is the daughter of “Tentei”, the emperor of the sky and she is good at weaving and sewing; “Orihime” is “織姫” in Kanji and it means “The princess who is good at weaving”. And “Hikoboshi” is a cowboy who works hard everyday.

“Tentei” let them married, but they have been deeply in love and neglected their own job.

“Tentei” got angry and separated them by the Milky Way not to meet each other. “Tentei” tought they will work hard again, however, they felt too sad to make efforts to work.

As a last resort, “Tentei” permitted their date only at once on 7th July. They were highly pleased and work hard again looking forward to the reunion.

“Kikouden”, the custom to wish a progress of weaving and sewing

“Orihime” is an expert of weaving and sewing which are very important jobs of women; that’s why there was the custom to wish a progress of weaving and sewing on 7th July in ancient China.

On that day, in accordance with Chinese cosmology, they offered 5 colors threads; blue, red, yellow, white and black or purple with needles on the altar.

At first, they wished only their progress of weaving and sewing; however, they became to wish their progress of other arts as time goes by.

“Tanabata” has been arranged in Japan

Why do we call it “Tanabata”?

The legend of “Orihime” and “Hikoboshi” and the custom of “Kikouden” had come to Japan in Heian era, about 1000 years ago. At first, Japanese people called the star festival as “Shichiseki”, not “Tanabata”.

The reason why we call it “Tanabata” is that the star festival has been combined with the Japanese original event which the lady called “Tanabata-tsume” weaved the clothes with “Tanabata”, the weaver machine for their God and performed her ablution to wish their good hervest and exorcize.

Because there are many common points, Chinese legend and custom has been mixed up with Japanese event on 7th July; thus the star festival is called “Tanabata”, not “Shichiseki”.

Why do we write our wishes on “Tanzaku”?

After the legend and custom have just come from China, they held the event only in the Court.

Also there is the opinion that the nobility wrote their wish or tanka, one of the styles of Japanese poem on a leaf of a paper mulberry with Japanese ink which is made from a night dew by a leaf of a taro root, because they tought it was the benefit from “Tentei”.

After this custom has been spreaded to ordinary people, they became to use Tanzaku instead of a leaf of a paper mulberry because it was too precious to use for them. Finally we hang it on a bamboo tree, because it’s lucky and holly plant in Japan.

Also the colors of Tanzaku are originally blue or green, red, yellow, white and purple same as the 5 colors threads which were offered on the day of “Kikouden”.

The meaning of colors of Tanzaku

And then, each colors of Tanzaku has the field of wishes.

・Blue or green is for wishes of a progress of personality.

・Red is for wishes of the happiness of the person which you appreciate.

・Yellow is for wishes of the improvement of human relations.

・White is for wishes such like to keep to the regulations, perform your own duty, or improve bad habits.

・Purple is for wishes to acquire or brush up your knowledge or skill.

Final comment

How was it?

“Tanabata” is originally the event came from China, however, the custom to write wishes on Tanzaku and hang it on a bamboo tree is only in Japan! Now 7th July in China(on the lunar calender) is the day for lovers like Valentine’s day.

At the end of June, we often see bamboo trees which have many Tanzaku at some places like a shopping street. When you have a chance to join “Tanabata”, try to write your wishes upon the stars!