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Celebration in Tokyo, 2010
SignificanceCelebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi
Begins7 July
DateJuly 7
2023 date22 August
2024 date10 August
2025 date29 August
Women dressed in yukata at Tanabata
Tanabata festivities in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa in 2023

Tanabata (Japanese: たなばた or 七夕, meaning "Evening of the seventh"), also known as the Star Festival (星祭り, Hoshimatsuri), is a Japanese festival originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival.[1][a][b] It celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively). According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar. The date of Tanabata varies by region of the country, but the first festivities begin on 7 July of the Gregorian calendar. The celebration is held at various days between July and August.


The festival was introduced to Japan by the Empress Kōken in 755.[4] It originated from "The Festival to Plead for Skills" (乞巧奠, Kikkōden), an alternative name for Qixi[5]: 9  which is celebrated in China and also was adopted in the Kyoto Imperial Palace from the Heian period.

The festival gained widespread popularity amongst the general public by the early Edo period,[5]: 19  when it became mixed with various Obon or Bon traditions (because Bon was held on 15th of the seventh month then), and developed into the modern Tanabata festival. Popular customs relating to the festival varied by region of the country,[5]: 20  but generally, girls wished for better sewing and craftsmanship, and boys wished for better handwriting by writing wishes on strips of paper. At this time, the custom was to use dew left on taro leaves to create the ink used to write wishes. Incidentally, Bon is now held on 15 August on the solar calendar, close to its original date on the lunar calendar, making Tanabata and Bon separate events.

The name Tanabata is remotely related to the Japanese reading of the Chinese characters 七夕, which used to be read as "Shichiseki" (see explanation about the various kanji readings). It is believed that a Shinto purification ceremony existed around the same time, in which a Shinto miko wove a special cloth on a loom called a tanabata (棚機) and offered it to a god to pray for protection of rice crops from rain or storm and for good harvest later in autumn. Gradually this ceremony merged with Kikkōden to become Tanabata. The Chinese characters 七夕 and the Japanese reading Tanabata joined to mean the same festival, although originally they were two different things, an example of jukujikun.


Japanese woodblock print of Tanabata festivities in Edo (Tokyo), 1852, by Hiroshige
Yashima Gakutei
Display of Edo Tanabata at Fukagawa Edo Museum

Like Qixi and Chilseok, Tanabata was inspired by the famous Chinese folklore story, "The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl". Some versions were included in the Man'yōshū.[5]: 25 

The most popular version is as follows:[5]: 1 [6][7][8]

Orihime (織姫, "Weaving Princess"), daughter of the Tentei (天帝, "Sky King", or the universe itself), wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (天の川, "Milky Way", literally "heavenly river"). Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, Orihime was sad that because of her hard work she could never meet and fall in love with anyone. Concerned about his daughter, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (彦星, "Cowman"/"Cowherd Star", or literally "Boy Star")(also referred to as Kengyū (牽牛)) who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. When the two met, they fell instantly in love with each other and married shortly thereafter. However, once married, Orihime would no longer weave cloth for Tentei and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa and forbade them to meet. Orihime became despondent at the loss of her husband and asked her father to let them meet again. Tentei was moved by his daughter's tears and allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if she worked hard and finished her weaving. The first time they tried to meet, however, they found that they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come because of the rise of the river and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet. The rain of this day is called "The tears of Orihime and Hikoboshi".



Orihime and Hikoboshi are called various names in the different versions of the story.[5]: 10 

Orihime 織姫 Hikoboshi 彦星
Birth name 棚機津女 or 棚機つ女 - Tanabata-tsume 牽牛 – Kengyū ("Cowherd")
Title 女七夕 – Me-Tanabata ("Female Tanabata") 男七夕 – O-Tanabata ("Male Tanabata")
Various names and epithets 秋去姫 – Akisari-hime ("Going to Autumn Princess")

朝顔姫 – Asagao-hime ("Morning Glory Princess")
糸織り姫 or 糸織姫 – Ito-ori-hime ("Thread-Weaving Princess")

百子姫 – Momoko-hime ("Peach-Child Princess")
薫物姫 – Takimono-hime ("Incense Princess")
蜘蛛姫 – Sasagani-hime ("Spider Princess")

梶葉姫 – Kajinoba-hime ("Paper Mulberry Princess"), the washi paper made from the paper mulberry

琴寄姫 – Kotoyori-hime

灯姫 – Tomoshibi-hime ("Luminous Bright Light Princess")

妻星 – Tsuma-boshi ("Wife Constellation/ Star")

機織姫 – Hata'ori-hime ("Weaving Princess")

星の妻 – Hoshi-no-tsuma ("Constellation/ Star Wife", i.e.: wife of Kengyū)

飼星 – Kai-boshi ("Herder/ Shepherdman Star")
犬飼星 – Inukai-boshi ("Dog Herder/ Shepherdman Star")

牛引星 – Ushihiki-boshi ("Cow-tender Star")

Constellation title 女星 – Me-boshi ("Female Constellation/ Star") 男星 – O-boshi ("Male Constellation/ Star")


The Festival of Tanabata is also known by various names:

Name Transliteration Meaning
秋七日 Aki-nanoka "Seventh day of Autumn"
芋の葉の露 Imo-no-ha-no-tsuyu "Dew from the leaves of the Yams or Potatoes"
七夕雨 Tanabata-ame "Rain of the Tanabata"
七夕送り Tanabata-okuri "Embarking Tanabata"
七夕紙 Tanabata-gami "Paper of the Tanabata", i.e. paper which carries the wishes
七夕色紙 Tanabata-shikishi "Colored paper of the Tanabata"
七夕竹 Tanabata-take "Bamboo of the Tanabata", i.e. the bamboo that carries the decorations or wishes
七夕竹売 Tanabata-take'uri "Bamboo of the Tanabata which offers and carries"
七夕棚 Tanabata-dana "Rack of the Tanabata"
短冊竹 Tanzaku-dake "Bamboo of the Tanzaku"
星今宵 Hoshi-koyoi "Evening of the Star"
星宮祭 Hoshi-no-miya-matsuri "Festival/ Celebration of the Star Palace" – i.e. the twin star Altair and Vega
星祭 Hoshi-matsuri "Star Festival"

Other stories[edit]

Human male and Heavenly female[edit]

Japanese scholars pointed out that some tales of the Tanabata cross over with the character of the Celestial Maiden (otherwise known in Japan as Tennin Nyoobo or Hagoromo).[9][10]

Comparative scholarship on the Japanese variants points that at the beginning of the story, the human male goes near a lake for a variety of reasons (a prayer to the gods for a wife; a vision sent in a dream; a grateful animal points him the way). Over the course of the story, the human partner reaches the celestial realm where his wife and her family live. Once there, he is forced to perform tasks before they reunite. At the end of the narrative, the husband breaks a taboo (he should not eat a certain melon/gourd, but he does and is washed away) and he and his celestial wife are separated, only to reunite again during the night of 7 July.[11]

James Danandjaja relates the Japanese tale of Amafuri Otome ("The Woman who came from the Sky"), as a similar tale of the unmarried mortal man, named Mikeran, who withholds the kimono from a bathing lady so she cannot fly home to the sky. Years after they marry, she finds her kimono and flies home with their children. Mikeran fashions a thousand straw sandals to reach the sky world and find his wife. When he meets his parents-in-law, the father-in-law forces him to perform some tasks, and tricks the human with cutting a thousand watermelons in one day. The human's sky wife knows it is a trap, but he does it anyway and is washed away by a flood created from the watermelons. Thus, they can only meet on the night of the Tanabata festival.[12]

Human female and Heavenly male[edit]

Professors Masako Satō and Noriko T. Reider provided a narrative analysis of an ancient tale involving a human female and her future consort, Prince Ame-waka-hiko. In this tale of the Otogi-zōshi genre, the Prince takes the form of a serpent and marries a human woman. He later reveals he is a heavenly deity named Dragon Prince. After some time, he disappears and his human bride must seek him out (akin to the Graeco-Roman myth of Cupid and Psyche), even reaching the heavenly realm, where his father, an oni, lives. At the end of this tale, the lovers are forcibly separated by the oni father and can only reunite during the Tanabata.[13][14][15]

Noriko T. Reider draws attention to a second story of this combination: the "Qian Luwei Tale". In this version, the human wife's father is identified as Qian Luwei, and the male deity is Hikoboshi, the son of "Bontennō", Brahma.[16]


Tanzaku hanging on bamboo

In present-day Japan, people generally celebrate this day by writing wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on tanzaku (短冊, tanzaku), small pieces of paper, and hanging them on bamboo, sometimes with other decorations (see also Wish Tree). The bamboo and decorations are often set afloat on a river or burned after the festival, around midnight or on the next day.[17] This is analogous to the custom of floating paper ships and candles on rivers during Obon. Many areas in Japan have their own Tanabata customs, which are mostly related to local Obon traditions. There is also a traditional Tanabata song:[18]

Simple[19] Poetic[19] Transliteration Translation

ささのは さらさら
のきばに ゆれる
お星さま きらきら
きんぎん すなご
ごしきの たんざく
わたしが かいた
お星さま きらきら
空から  見てる

笹の葉 さらさら
軒端に 揺れる
お星様 きらきら
金銀 砂子
五色の 短冊
私が 書いた
お星様 きらきら
空から  見てる

Sasa no ha sara-sara
Nokiba ni yureru
Ohoshi-sama kira-kira
Kingin sunago
Goshiki no tanzaku
watashi ga kaita
Ohoshi-sama kirakira
sora kara miteru

The bamboo leaves rustle,
And sway under the eaves.
The stars twinkle
Like gold and silver grains of sand.
The five-color paper strips
I have written them.
The stars twinkle,
Watching from above.


The original Tanabata date was based on the Japanese lunisolar calendar, which is about a month behind the Gregorian calendar. As a result, some festivals are held on 7 July, some are held on a few days around 7 August (according to the "One-Month Delay" way), while the others are still held on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the traditional Japanese lunisolar calendar, which is usually in August in the Gregorian Calendar.

The Gregorian dates of "the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the Japanese lunisolar calendar" for the coming years are:

  • 2018: August 17
  • 2019: August 7
  • 2020: August 25
  • 2021: August 14
  • 2022: August 4
  • 2023: August 22[20]
  • 2024: August 10
  • 2025: August 29
  • 2026: August 19


The Sendai Tanabata Festival in 2005

Large-scale Tanabata festivals are held in many places in Japan, mainly along shopping malls and streets, which are decorated with large, colorful streamers. The most famous Tanabata festival is held in Sendai from 6 to 8 August. In the Kantō area, two of the largest Tanabata festivals are held in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa (around 7 July) and in Asagaya, Tokyo immediately prior to the start of the Obon holiday in mid August. A Tanabata festival is also held in São Paulo, Brazil around the first weekend of July and Los Angeles, California in the beginning of August.

Although Tanabata festivals vary by region, most festivals involve Tanabata decoration competitions. Other events may include parades and Miss Tanabata contests. Like other Japanese matsuri, many outdoor stalls sell food, provide carnival games, etc., and add to the festive atmosphere.

Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea often celebrates the Tanabata Festival featuring a greeting parade with Minnie Mouse as Orihime and Mickey Mouse as Hikoboshi.[21]

Sendai festival[edit]

The Sendai Tanabata Festival is the most famous in Japan. Tanabata has been celebrated in the region since the time of Date Masamune (1567–1636) who was the first warlord in the Sendai area.[22] The festival began shortly after the city was founded in the early Edo Period. The Tanabata festival gradually developed and became larger over the years. Although the festival's popularity started to dwindle after the Meiji Restoration, and almost disappeared during the economic depression that occurred after World War I, volunteers in Sendai revived the festival in 1928 and established the tradition of holding the festival from 6 to 8 August.

During World War II it was impossible to hold the festival, and almost no decorations were seen in the city from 1943 to 1945, but after the war, the first major Tanabata festival in Sendai was held in 1946, and featured 52 decorations. In 1947, the Showa Emperor Hirohito visited Sendai and was greeted by 5,000 Tanabata decorations. The festival subsequently developed into one of the three major summer festivals in the Tōhoku region and has become a major tourist attraction. The festival now includes a fireworks show that is held on 5 August.

At the Sendai Tanabata Festival, people traditionally use seven different kinds of decorations, which each represent different meanings. The seven decorations and their symbolic meanings are:[23]

The ornamental ball (薬玉; Kusudama) often decorated above streamers in present-day Tanabata decorations was originally conceived in 1946 by the owner of a shop in downtown Sendai. The ball was originally modeled after the dahlia flower. In recent years, box-shaped ornaments have become popular alternatives to the ornamental ball.

G8 summit in 2008[edit]

Participating leaders at the 34th G8 summit

In 2008, the 34th G8 summit in Tōyako, Hokkaidō coincided with Tanabata.[24] As host, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda invited the G8 leaders to participate in the spirit of the festival. They were each asked to write a wish on a piece of paper called tanzaku, to hang the tanzaku on a bamboo tree, and then to take the necessary actions to change the world for the better.[25] As a symbolic gesture, the actual writing and the act of hanging up that note is at least a first step.[26]

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs made colored strips of paper and a bamboo tree for G8 wishes available in Roppongi during the summit.[27] Protesting organizations in Sapporo during the G8 summit also tried to use the spirit of Tanabata to focus attention on a somewhat different set of wishes. Non-governmental organizations including Oxfam and CARE International set up an online wish petition campaign to coincide with the G8 Summit and Tanabata.[28] Outside Japan, Fukuda's timely gesture had unanticipated consequences. For example, the Indian nationally circulated newspaper, The Hindu, picked up on this festival theme by printing an editorial featuring unconventional Tanabata wishes.[29]

Fukuda also invited his fellow citizens to try turning off the lights in their house and stepping outside to enjoy with their family the sight of the Milky Way in the night sky.[30] On 7 July, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment anticipated that over 70,000 facilities and households across Japan would switch off their lights from 20:00 to 22:00 as a symbolic step and as a wish for the future.[31]

See also[edit]

Explanatory footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "The Tanabata Festival is the Japanese version of the Chinese festival of the cowherd and the weaving girl, celebrated on the 7th of July."[2]
  2. ^ "The Chinese legend, so popular in Japan, of the Heavenly Spouses, the Cow-Herd and the Weaver Maiden (who weaves the clouds) ...".[3]


  1. ^ Brown, Ju; Brown, John (2006). China, Japan, Korea: Culture and customs. North Charleston: BookSurge. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-4196-4893-9.
  2. ^ Eder, Matthias. "Review of Reviews". In: Folklore Studies 20 (1961): 301. Accessed June 23, 2021. doi:10.2307/1177332.
  3. ^ Katō, Eileen, and Kanze Motokiyo Zeami. "Kinuta". In: Monumenta Nipponica 32, no. 3 (1977): 341 (footnote nr. 27). Accessed June 24, 2021. doi:10.2307/2384372.
  4. ^ Sargent, Denny. Shinto and Its Festivals.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Hearn, Lafcadio (1905). The Romance of the Milky Way, and other Studies & Stories. Houghton Mifflin and Company.
  6. ^ James, Grace (1910). Green Willow and other Japanese Fairy Tales. Macmillan & Co. p. 65.
  7. ^ Kaneko, Sōshū (1984). きょうのおはなし なつ [Today's story: Summer] (in Japanese). Suzuki Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 4-7902-4005-3.
  8. ^ Rupp, Katherine (2003). Gift-giving in Japan: cash, connections, cosmologies. Stanford University Press. p. 140. ISBN 0-8047-4704-0.
  9. ^ Takagi Masafumi. "[シリーズ/比較民話](二)天人女房/白鳥処女" [Series: Comparative Studies of the Folktale (2) Tennin Nyoobo/The Swan Maiden]. In: The Seijo Bungei: the Seijo University arts and literature quarterly 223 (2013-06). pp. 35–55. (In Japanese)
  10. ^ Yanagita, Kunio; Translated by Fanny Hagin Meyer (1986). Yanagita Kunio Guide to the Japanese Folk Tale. Indiana University Press. pp. 25–27. ISBN 0-253-36812-X.
  11. ^ 노영근. "설화의 유형 분류와 비교 연구 試論 -<선녀와 나무꾼> 유형을 중심으로-" [A Trial Research for Classification and Comparative Study of Folktales -Focused on Swan-Maiden Type-]. In: 온지논총 no.24(2010): 83–85. UCI: G704-001782.2010..24.010
  12. ^ Danandjaja, James. "A Comparative Study of Japanese and Indonesian Folklores". In: Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 33, No.3, December 1995. pp. 210–211.
  13. ^ Satō, Masako. "Transforming an Ancient Myth into a Popular Medieval Tale". In: Japan on the Silk Road. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017. pp. 339–345. doi:10.1163/9789004274310_018.
  14. ^ Reider, Noriko T. "A Demon in the Sky: The Tale of Amewakahiko, a Japanese Medieval Story". In: Marvels & Tales 29, no. 2 (2015): 265–82. Accessed June 28, 2021. doi:10.13110/marvelstales.29.2.0265.
  15. ^ Reider, Noriko T. "Tale of Amewakahiko (Amewakahiko Sōshi): A Demon in the Sky, a Maiden in Search of Her Husband". In: Seven Demon Stories from Medieval Japan. Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado, 2016. Accessed June 28, 2021. pp. 135–155. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1g04zg4.9.
  16. ^ Reider, Noriko T. "A Demon in the Sky: The Tale of Amewakahiko, a Japanese Medieval Story". In: Marvels & Tales 29, no. 2 (2015): 272–274. Accessed June 28, 2021. doi:10.13110/marvelstales.29.2.0265.
  17. ^ Mishima, Shizuko. "Japanese Tanabata Festival". About.com. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  18. ^ "MIT Japanese "culture-notes" – Song-Tanabata, July". Japanese Language and Culture Network. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 5 March 2002. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  19. ^ a b Tanabata-sama
  20. ^ Qixi Festival, 2022. Travel China Guide, https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/qixi.htm. Retrieved on July 7, 2022
  21. ^ "Celebrate Disney Tanabata Days at Tokyo Disney Resort". Disney Parks Blog. Retrieved 4 February 2018.
  22. ^ "Sendai Tanabata Matsuri". Japan National Tourism Organization. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  23. ^ "Sendai's Tanabata Matsuri: Four Centuries of Vivid Colors". Nippon Communications Foundation. 9 June 2018. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  24. ^ Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA): Schedule Archived 19 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine; Reuters (India): "Factbox – Schedule for G8 Summit and Surrounding Events News." 3 July 2008.
  25. ^ 2008 Japan G8 Summit NGO Forum. " About Tanzaku Action – One Million Wishes," Archived 20 July 2008 at archive.today July 2008.
  26. ^ Saito, Mari and Sophie Hardach. "G8 leaders to wish upon a bamboo tree at summit," Reuters. 2 July 2008.
  27. ^ Japan, MOFA: "Setting up of the Public Relations Booth for the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit," 16 June 2008.
  28. ^ Oxfam: "Tanabata: Your wishes to the Summit!" July 2008.
  29. ^ Cooper, Andrew F. and Ramesh Takur. "Wishing on a star for the G8 summit," The Hindu (Chennai). 7 July 2008.
  30. ^ Japan, Prime Minister of Japan: "Before Tanabata, the Star Festival," Fukuda Cabinet E-mail Magazine No. 38 (3 July 2008).
  31. ^ "Lights to be turned off at 72,000 facilities on Tanabata night," Hokkaido Shimbun (Sapporo). 4 July 2008.

Further reading[edit]

  • Como, Michael. Weaving and Binding: Immigrants Gods and Female Immortals in Ancient Japan. University of Hawai'i Press, 2009. Accessed June 30, 2021. JSTOR j.ctt6wqcr3.

External links[edit]