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The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd"

The Tanabata Festival

The Tanabata Festival or Hoshi Matsurori (star festival) is celebrated  during summer either on July 7 or August 7 depending on the regions of Japan.  Empress Kōken introduced Tanabata to Japan in 755. Adapted from “The Festival to Plead for Skills” (Qixi festival) from China and adopted in the Kyoto Imperial Palace from the Heian period. Tanabata became popular among the Japanese during the Edo period when it was incorporated into various Bon or Obon traditions and later evolved into the modern Tanabata festival.

Tanabata 1

The love Story of Orihime and Hikoboshi

Inspired by the Chinese folktale, “The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd.” The festival celebrates the meeting of the Japanese deities Orihime and Hikoboshi. Based on the lunar calendar, the 7th month of the year is August, while the Gregorian calendar has July as the 7th month. As the story goes, there was once a princess named Orihime (Weaving Princess) who was the daughter of Tentei (Sky King). Orihime knew that her father loved the cloth she weaved which was used to make beautiful clothes for her father. She spent most of her time weaving by the banks of the Amanogawa River (Milky Way). Tentei was saddened by the amount of time Orihime spent weaving, for she could never find the time to meet anyone and fall in love. So Tentei arranged for Orihime to meet Hikoboshi (Cow Herder) who lived on the other side of Amanogawa. When the two met, they immediately fell in love with each other and married soon after.

Once married, Orihime no longer weaved cloth for her father, and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over the heavens. This angered Tentei so much that he separated the couple using the Amanogawa River and forbade them to meet. Orihime cried and begged her father to allow her to meet Hikoboshi again. Tentei softened upon seeing his daughter’s tears and he allowed the couple to meet once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month if she finished her weaving duties. On that very night once a year, the lovers, represented by two actual stars named Altair and Vega, are said to meet along the heavenly river that separates them and cast longing gazes upon one another in hopes to lessen the emptiness of their lonely hearts for the rest of the year, hence the tradition of celebrating Tanabata.

Traditional japanese paper decoration at Tanabata festival, Sendai, Japan

Popular Tanabata traditions include hanging pieces of paper and other decorations on bamboo. The bamboo decorations are usually set afloat on a river and burned after the festival.

There are several other festivals to enjoy during the month of July in Japan! A perfect way to spend the summer.


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Read all about Japanese immersion learning and studying abroad. Check out our eZasshi archives for more articles!