A Japanese Event in July – The Star Festival – Tanabata (七夕・たなばた)

Japan is an country of many events. Today is the Star Festival – Tanabata.

A table of contents

What is The Star Festival (Tanabata 七夕)?

7th of July is Tanabata in Japan. People decorate bamboo trees with streamers and other decorations for たなばた/Tanabata (the star festival), and often write their wishes on colorful papers and attach these to the bamboo trees as well. This festival originated from a Chinese legend about the stars in the summer sky.

When I went back to Japan in summer 2016 I was luckily welcome by this beautiful Tanabata decorations at Heneda Airport.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20150707_204721.jpg
TANABATA AT HANEDA AIRPORT Photo by MK

History of Tanabata

The Chinese Legend

As I have mentioned earlier, The Tanabata originated from the Chinese Legend about the stars in summer sky. So I must explain about it first.

In China during Nanbokucho period it was written on the [keisosaijiki], which was a list of yearly events, that Kengyu (Altair star) and Orihime (Vega star) meet at night of 7th July. It was also written that on that night, women put beautiful colorful threads into seven needles and gifts were displayed at a garden for celebrating their improvement in sawing works. It is obvious that there was a relation between Kengyu, Orihime and the event held on 7th of July.

It has been said that Orihime/織り姫 (vega), who was a daughter of the God of a weaving expert, got married to Hikoboshi/彦星 (Altair), who was a hardworking cattleman, with God’s attraction. They were living together ever after. However they enjoyed their life too much without working hard at all. The god was extremely agreed about it. So the god separated them by pulling away to both ends of the Milky Way. After that, two of them became less and less energetic and lost their energies completely due to deep sorrow. The God was unbearable to see a state of two depressed so much that he allowed them to meet each other one a year at the night of 7th July. How romantic!

Milky Way – Amanogawa/天の川

If you look at the summer sky in west, you might be able to see Vega and Altair stars twinkling with a joy of reunion. I watched the stars last night!

This story traveled to Japan.

Japanese Tanabata

This Chinese original event came to Japan in Nara period. At that time there was a legend called [tanabatatsume/たなばたつめ] in Japan. Tanabatatsume was a miko [shrine maiden] who made a woven for God and prepared herself to spend a night with God, praying to God in order to protect a village from illness and disaster. It has been said that the miko was usually virgin.

The Japanese Tanabata is a mixed cultre of Japanese legend and the Chinese legend. And this event was widespread among the general public by Edo period. There are similarities between [Tanabatatsume/たなばたつめ] and [Orihime/おりひめ].

The origin of Tanabata decorations(七夕飾り)

Why does Japanses do Tanabata decorations?

Generally, girls wished for better sewing and craftsmanship, and boys wished for better handwriting by writing wishes on strips of paper, which calls tanzaku(短冊).

The image of Tanzaku wishes are written/短冊

Nowadays, people write any wishes on the strips or papers and attach them.

5 colors of Tanzaku (短冊) and the meaning of each color

Generally, five colors of the Tanzaku were used for writing wishes. The five colors were blue (green), red, yellow, white and black (purple). The five colors derived from the way of thinking of Yin Yang and five Elements Theory.

  • Blue/green – elevate human power and receive benefits. E.g. 「I want to change my bad habbits」「Hope I will be able to cook」
  • Red – attitude to gratitude one’s parents. E.g. 「Thanks always」「Take good care」
  • Yellow – trust people and cherish them. E.g.「I want to make new friends」「Hope my relationship will work out」
  • White – follow the duties and rules. E.g.「I will do that!」「Please let me wake up on time」
  • Black/purple – improve one’s study. E.g. 「I want to improve my English」「please pass my exams」etc.

Individually each person has different wishes, therefore the different colors are used for those different wishes to maximum its effect. Then your prayer would be answered.

The reasons for hanging Tanzaku on a bamboo leaf

A Bamboo Tree with Tanzaku

A bamboo tree and a bamboo leaf are strong, therefore it has a full of energy. Because it grows straight it has been said that the bamboo as a sacred plant. Furthermore, it has been thought that the bamboo leaf would protect from evils.

Other items being hung and the meaning of them

Apart from Tanzaku other items are also hung and each item has its meaning.

  • A Lantern -sincere wish for brighten up one’s heart.
  • A Fukinagashi (windsock) – represents as Orihime’s thread and sincere wish for long life and improvement of sewing skills.
  • Ami kazari (fish net) – a wish for a big catch and also a wish for obtaining happiness.
  • An Orizuru (origami crane) – a wish for good health, long life, family safety.
  • A purse – a wish for saving money, prosperity in business
  • A bin – a wish for tidiness, cleanness
  • A Orihime and Hikoboshi – a wish for a long relationship
  • A Star – a wish for prayers to be answered
  • A Kamigoromo (paper cloth) – a wish for improvement in sewing skills and machinery. Also it has a meaning of children’s healthy grow. This wish is to hang at a tip of a bamboo tree.

The most famous Japan’s Tanabata Festivals

All over Japan Tanabata festival (七夕祭り)are held. The below are Japan’s three well-known major Tanabata Festivals.

  • Sendai Tanabata Festival [仙台七夕祭り] Miyagi Sendai
Origami Crane 折鶴
  • Shounan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival [湘南ひらつか七夕祭り] Kanagawa
  • Anjyo Tanabata Festival 「安城七夕まつり」Aichi

This festival was begun in 1954..

Those three are specially famous as the greatest biggest top three Tanabata Festivals in Japan.

Event Foods for Tanabata Festival

そうめん/SOMEN

Somen [そうめん] is a very thing Japanese dried vermicelli white noodle made of wheat flour. Usually eaten cold during summer like a photo above or can be eaten with hot soup.

Why Somen? The Japanese eat Somen[そうめん] for Tanabata because Somen has a image of Milky Way and threads. Somen was a must food at a palace at Heian period. Even now Somen are eaten as a event food.

In my opinion, if you eat somen itself it can be boring taste as usually dip into noodle sauce so it would be nice to prepare something else. Some Japanese prepare Chirashi sushi (ちらしずし )or Chawan mushi(茶碗蒸し).

Chirashizushi (ちらしずし)is made of sushi rice with bright, colorful topping, such as raw fish, seafood, eggs, vegetable , normally seen in rolled sushi. This dish is great for parties and special occasions because it is normally served in a bowl. By the way Chirashi – masu means to sprinkle. The word “chirashi” came from this.

ちらしずし/chirashi zushi

Chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) is a Japanese steamed egg custard dish and full of fullings such as ginnan (ぎんなん/ginkgo), kamaboko (かまぼこ/a type of cured surimi) , prawn (えび), mitsyba (みつば/Cryptotaenia japonica) , and a traditional Japanese appetizer. Chawan means literally “tea cup” and mushi means “steamed. This is my favorite!

茶碗蒸し/chawan mushi

Thanks for reading my blog. ありがとう。

About mkchatinjapanese

I am a native Japanese who teaches Japanese to non-Japanese speaker as a private tutor. Teach from a beginner to Intermediate level. location in London.
This entry was posted in Japanese custom, JAPANESE EVENTS, JAPANESE FOOD, Japanese Language, JAPANESE LIFE, JAPANESE SOCIETY and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s