The Tanabata (七夕) is a Japanese tradition in which people write their wishes on tanzaku (strips of colored paper) and hang them from bamboo branches. People also decorate these trees with various types of paper ornaments and place them outside their houses.

The Tanabata originated over 2,000 years ago and is based on an ancient chinese tale. It is said that a long time ago there was a princess who knitted, called Orihime, and a cowherd named Hikoboshi. They both lived in space. After they were reunited, they both spent time together and forgot their chores. The king got angry and decided to separate them. Then he put each one on one side of the Amanogawa River (the milky way).

Orihime and Hikoboshi

But Princess Orihime became so sad that the king’s heart softened and he decided to allow them once a year to see each other in the seventh day of the seventh month. This date corresponds to July 7 in the Gregorian calendar. The first time they met the tributary of the river was very strong, and they could not meet. However a flock of cranes who was passing by made a bridge that allowed them to meet. It is believed that Orihime and Hikoboshi cannot be seen on rainy days as the cranes cannot make the bridge. Tanabata literally means “The night of seven”, and it is also known as the festival of the stars.

tanabata festival

Depending on the region, Tanabata can be celebrated on July 7 or August 7, according to the Moon’s calendar. Many cities and towns hold festivals and color the streets. In some regions, people light lanterns and float them on the river.