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Home » CURIOSITIES » Culture & Society » Tanabata festival: where Japanese dreams take flight among the stars

Tanabata festival: where Japanese dreams take flight among the stars

July is the prime time for festivals in Japan, making it the perfect opportunity to delve into the captivating customs and legends that enliven these celebrations. If you happen to be in Japan this July, don’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in the enchanting magic of Japanese festivals!


One of the most remarkable celebrations is Tanabata, also known as the “Star Festival“, which is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and revolves around wishes and aspirations. During this festive occasion, the streets come alive with colorful displays representing various hopes, like longevity, wisdom, and love. Local residents contribute to the vibrant atmosphere by creating traditional hanging decorations called Fukinagashi.

Festivities include parades, decoration contests, and live music that fills the air with joy. Delight your taste buds with traditional Japanese delicacies and witness the sky light up with breathtaking fireworks displays. Tanabata is celebrated in different cities throughout Japan, offering a unique and immersive experience into the heart of Japanese culture and traditions. So, if you find yourself in Japan this July, don’t miss the chance to be a part of this extraordinary and meaningful celebration!

Origin and meaning of the Tanabata festival

The tale of Orihime and Hikoboshi

The Tanabata festival has its origins in a Japanese legend known as the tale of Orihime and Hikoboshi. According to this ancient story, Orihime, a gifted young weaver, resided by the celestial river, represented by the Milky Way. One fateful day, she fell deeply in love with Hikoboshi, a star herder residing on the opposite side of the river.

Their love for each other grew so intense that they began to neglect their divine duties and responsibilities. This angered the gods, particularly Orihime’s father, the celestial king Tentei. As a consequence, they were forbidden from seeing each other, except for once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month.

The annual meeting of these star-crossed lovers is celebrated during the Tanabata festival, where it is believed that Orihime and Hikoboshi finally reunite. They cross the Milky Way on a bridge made by the gods, resembling a bridge formed by birds. This beautiful festival commemorates their touching love story and their brief reunion after a year of longing.

Orihime y Hikoboshi
(Image: Inoutviajes)

The custom of Tanzaku: wishes written on paper strips

During the Tanabata festival, one of the most delightful highlights is the long-standing tradition of writing wishes on colorful strips of paper called ‘tanzaku.’ These charming pieces of paper are then hung on Tanabata trees, crafted from bamboo branches, as a heartfelt way to send these wishes to the heavens with the hope of making them come true.

People use the tanzaku to pen down their dreams, hopes, and aspirations, ranging from personal desires such as good health and happiness, to wishes for prosperity and success in various endeavors. Alongside the tanzaku, you’ll also find other decorations like paper stars and lanterns adorning the trees, symbolizing the collective wishes and aspirations of the people.

This beautiful tradition of adorning the trees with wishes has been cherished and passed down from one generation to another. It holds a profound significance, offering a meaningful way to express hopes and dreams for the future during the enchanting Tanabata festival.

Tanabata festivals in different cities

In Japan, various Tanabata festivals are held in different cities, and some of the most notable ones include the Sendai, Kanagawa, and Aichi festivals. Each of these celebrations features beautiful Tanabata decorations adorning the streets, and colourful parades that draw in enthusiastic crowds of visitors.

  • Sendai Festival: renowned as one of the most famous Tanabata celebrations. It takes place annually from August 6 to 8 in the city of Sendai.
  • Tanabata Shonan Hiratsuka: this festival takes place in the city of Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, and lasts from July 5 to 7
  • Tanabata Ichinomiya: held in the city of Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture, this festival spans from August 4 to 6. It stands out as one of the most remarkable and well-known festivals during the fourth gosekku in Japan.

Activities and traditions during the festival

Another highlight of the Tanabata festival is the live music, enchanting visitors with traditional Japanese melodies played on various instruments. For food enthusiasts, there are numerous traditional Japanese food stalls offering a wide array of delicious dishes to savor and relish during the festive celebration.

In addition to the musical performances, the festival also features captivating demonstrations of traditional Japanese dances. These graceful dancers exhibit their dexterity and elegance through beautifully synchronized movements.

Undoubtedly, the pinnacle of the Tanabata festival is undoubtedly the breathtaking fireworks displays that illuminate the night sky on August 5. These fireworks add an extra layer of excitement and beauty to the festivities, creating a magical and joyous ambiance. The colors and bursts of light craft a spellbinding and festive atmosphere, leaving spectators in absolute wonderment.


Traditional Japanese food during celebrations

During the Tanabata festival, visitors are treated to a delightful array of traditional Japanese food dishes. They can savor the delectable takoyaki, deep-fried octopus dumplings, as well as the irresistible yakisoba, a mouthwatering stir-fried noodle dish with vegetables and meat, offering a diverse range of dining options to please every palate.

Another not-to-be-missed delicacy is okonomiyaki, a unique Japanese pizza made from a flavorful combination of flour and egg dough. It’s generously filled with ingredients like pieces of pork, seafood, or vegetables, all topped off with a tasty okonomiyaki sauce that adds an extra layer of deliciousness to this savory treat.

And for those who love skewers, yakitori is an irresistible option: grilled chicken served on bamboo sticks, marinated in a tasty soy sauce.

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