Tanabata, a Japanese festival of love and wishes

Tonight, as the stars shine bright above us in the dark sky, two forlorn lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi shall finally meet again.

They can only be together once a year – on the seventh night of the seventh month – as Orihime’s father, the King of the Skies himself, Tentei forbade them to meet and so the lovers spend their days separated by a deep river, the Amanogawa.

On this magical night magpies gather and spread their wings wide to form a bridge across the river, the two lovers can cross the river, and finally they are reunited.

tanabata festival 7 july

Throughout Japan around this time of the year people come together to celebrate hope and love. There are several customs associated with this festival called Tanabata (七夕, lit. evening of the seventh). One of the most popular ones involves writing your wishes on thin strips of paper and hanging them up on bamboo branches and praying that they come true.

Various other paper ornaments are prepared and hung, such as cranes, kimono, fishing nets, purses and even fancy paper trash bags! Each stand for something, for example, purses are for good business and trash bags symbolise cleanliness.

According to the old Chinese story where the festival originates from, Orihime or the Weaving Princess spent her days weaving a beautiful cloth by the bank of the Amanogawa river. She was very lonely and longed for a husband. When she met Hikoboshi, the cow herder, she instantly fell in love. Hikoboshi felt the same and, as it might happen with love-struck couples, they both neglected their duties to spend all their time together. Orihime stopped weaving and Hikoboshi left his herd wonder away. Orihime’s father has become furious and separated the lovers. Orihime went back to her work but wept bitterly. The King of Skies saw her suffering and for one night of the year, he let them meet again.

In the story, Orihime is no other than the star Vega, and her lover, Hikoboshi is Altair. And the river, Amanogawa? Well, that’s the Milky Way!

So look up the sky tonight and if you are lucky, you might see the two lovers meet again…

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