The Origins of Tanabata Japanese Festival Simply Explained
Every year on July 7th, Japanese people celebrate Tanabata.
Tanabata is one of the five traditional Japanese festivals, along with January 7th Jinshitsu celebration, March 3rd Hinamatsuri girls' festival, May 5th Tango boys' festival, July 7th Tanabata, and September 9th Chrysanthemum festival. On these matsuri occasions, Japanese people decorate bamboo branches, make offerings, and pray under the night sky.
There are many theories about the origins of Tanabata, but we will start by explaining the "star legend".
The Star Legend at the Origins of the Tanabata Festival
The legend comes from China. It is said that the daughter of the emperor of the sky, Shokujo (or "Orihime" in Japan), and a cowherd called Kengyu (or "Hikoboshi" in Japan), got along so well that they forgot their job. The emperor of the sky, angry about it, decided to separate the two by a divine river, and gave them the opportunity to meet only once a year.
During this time of the year, there is a divine river between the star Altair from the constellation of the Eagle, and the star Vega from the constellation of Lyra that appears in the night sky. Altair is said to represent the cowherd, and Vega the daughter of the emperor of heaven.
The prayer of Tanabata festival: Kikkouden
The term "Kikkouden" refers to the act of praying for the two stars, Hikoboshi and Orihime, to improve the art of sewing. This is an ancient Chinese practice. Orihime is considered to be the deity of handicrafts, such as weaving, and for this purpose offerings are prepared for her on July 7. Strips of paper decorated with 5 colors, songs and letters are hung up to pray for improved calligraphy and sewing skills. This custom spread in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1867) and has been perpetuated until today.
The origins of the word "tanabata”
In Japan, there is an ancient custom of weaving and offering clothes for the souls of ancestors. The word "tanabata" is said to come from the name "tanabatatsume", which referred to the women who wove these clothes.
Which offerings are done for the Tanabata festival?
The Engishiki, an ancient Japanese compilation of administrative regulations, states that soumen (a type of Japanese noodle) should be offered on Tanabata Day.
Tanabata also refers to the wheat harvest festival, and the custom of eating soumen made from wheat is still present. It is also said that eating this kind of noodles during Tanabata festivities would help to protect yourself from some diseases and keep you in good health.
Eggplants and cucumbers are sometimes used as offerings on Tanabata Day, as they are particularly delicious summer vegetables in this season.
When should Tanabata decorations be hung and when should they be taken down?
In the Edo period (1603-1867), the call of the small bamboo seller resounded through the streets of the capital before the Tanabata festival. The bamboos were decorated with various objects including paper strips and they were laid out on the evening of July 6, the eve of Tanabata, as a mark of the heavenly deities.
These decorations were then placed on a river in the evening of July 7th, but this practice cannot be done anymore. Today, Japanese people take care to get rid of these decorations by themselves.
With this article, we hope you will enjoy a wonderful Tanabata festival. Don’t forget to make your wishes according to the legends and customs presented above!
If you want to know more about Japanese offering culture, TOMO Japanese online store has a range of gourmet gifts on this concept, including small bottles of Hakutaka Brewery sake, also known as "omiki".
Feel free to taste these sakes after making your wishes for Tanabata!
For more information, click here or on the picture below!