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7 Reasons Why You Should Go To The Biggest Summer Festival in Japan

July 03, 2015 3 min read

7 Reasons Why You Should Go To The Tanabata Festival in Japan

The Tanabata Festival, otherwise known as the "Star Festival," (七夕祭) is one of the biggest Japanese Festivals held in the summer.  From the festival’s origins to the activities people do on this day, everything seems to be so interesting and fun!  The streets will be filled with color and joyous memories will be made.  So let’s take a look on the 7 reasons why you should go to the biggest summer festival in Japan.

1. The Tanabata Festival comes from arguably the saddest love folktale of all time (maybe second to Greek mythology).

Here’s a quick summary of the folktale:

There was a princess named Orihime who wove the most beautiful clothing in the Heavens.  She usually wove these clothing by the Amanogawa River (Milky Way).  Orihime’s father, Tentei, loved the cloth she made, so she worked hard to keep making clothes for her father. 

But, Orihime was sad.  All she ever wanted was to fall in love and get married, but she was SO busy weaving all the time.  Therefore, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, a cow-herding prince who lived on the other side of the Amanogawa River.  It was love at first sight.  Orihime and Hikoboshi instantly got married!

But, this happiness soon came to an end.  Once, Orihime and Hikoboshi got married, Orihime stopped weaving clothes and Hikoboshi let his cows roam free around the Heavens.  So, Tentei, in anger, separated the two with the Amanogawa River and forbade them to meet.  Orihime cried.

Orihime and Hikoboshi separated during Tanabata in Japan

Feeling sad for his daughter, Tentei allowed Orihime and Hikoboshi to meet once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th month, as long as Orihime finishes her weaving.

And thus, Tanabata was created to celebrate the meeting of Orihime (represented by the star Vega) and Hikoboshi (the star Altair).

*Side Note* In Tokyo Disneyland, there is a Tanabata parade where Mickey is Hikoboshi and Minnie is Orihime!  How magical!

Mickey and Minnie in Disneyland Japan during the Tanabata Festival

2. Tanabata literally translates to "The Evening of Seven," representing the day when Hikoboshi and Orihime meet.

Who knew that July 7th was such a romantic day!

Orihime and Hikoboshi loving the Tanabata Festival in Japan

3. People write wishes on paper strips, tanzaku, and hang them on bamboo.

After the festival, the tanzaku are usually set afloat on a river or burned resembling the custom of floating paper ships and candles on Obon, a Japanese festival for honoring the dead.

Check out these Disney-themed tanzaku!

Disney tanzaku in Tokyo Disneyland for the Tanabata Festival in Japan

4. People hang fun decorations outside their houses for good fortune and for the spirits.

The Tanabata festival is one of the most colorful and festive holidays in Japan. Traditionally, Japanese people put up seven different types of decorations. Each type of decoration symbolizes different ideals that are important for the Japanese peole.

Colorful streams of paper, fukinagashi, represents Orihime's weaving.

Colorful Decorations outside during Tanabata Festival in Japan

A paper purse, kinchaku, for the good fortune of business.

Paper purse, kinchaku, for Tanabata Festival in Japan

A paper net, toami, for the good fortune of fishing.

Paper net, toami, for Tanabata Festival in Japan

A paper trash bag, kuzukago, for the good fortune of cleanliness.

Paper trash bag, kuzukago, for Tanabata Festival in Japan 

A paper kimono, kamigoromo, for the good fortune of sewing.

Paper kimono, kamigoromo, for Tanabata Festival in Japan

And paper cranes, orizuru, for good health.

Paper cranes, orizuru, for Tanabata Festival in Japan

There are a total of 7 decorations (including tanzaku) for the spirit of the "seven".

5. There are Tanabata Festival contests, such as best decorations and Miss Tanabata.

Check out the Miss Tanabatas of the past!

Miss Tanabatas from the Tanabata Festival in Japan

6. There’s a carnival atmosphere, with several vendors, game stalls, and more!

Food is always the highlight amongst vendors.  You can eat delicious yakitori, takoyaki, cotton candy, and much much more!

Enjoy some awesome food, play some fun games, and buy some toys and souvenirs while looking at the colorful decorations spread across the streets of Japan.

Tanabata vendor selling a toy at Tanabata Festival in Japan

7. And last, but not least, FIREWORKS!

Men and women wear a yukata, a summer kimono, to these summer fireworks! Who doesn’t like fireworks?!

Tip: if you do wear a yukata, keep in mind that you should wrap the left side over the right. Wrapping it right over left usually is done only at funerals. Also, make sure to either just tuck the excess sash/bow away or tie it with the bow in the back. Traditionally, bows tied in the front was reserved for prostitutes. 

Tanabata yukata fireworks


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