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Kimono-clad woman decorating tanzaku strips for the Tanabata Festival.

July, Lovers Meeting across the Milky way on Tanabata Day

The month of July is known as Fumizuki in Japan. There are various theories as to the origin of the name Fumizuki, but the most popular is that it was associated with the custom of "Fumi (literary matters)" such as offering poems on July 7, the Tanabata Festival, and drying books.

In modern Japan, Tanabata is a popular event for people to pray for the stars, by writing their wishes on tanzaku strips of paper and hang decorations on bamboo leaves. This articles introduces the origin of Tanabata and how to enjoy it.


Origin of Tanabata

Tanabata refers to the evening of July 7. Tanabata is a combination of various legends from China and Japan, which have been passed down to the present form.

The most famous of them is the Tanabata legend of the Weaver Girl "Orihime" and The Cowherd "Hikoboshi", which came from China.

Long ago, near the Milky Way, there lived the greatest god in the sky, called the Celestial Emperor. Orihime, the emperor's only daughter, was a skilled weaver and hard worker, weaving the god's kimono every day. The cloth she wove was said to be very beautiful, shining in five different colors.

When she was old enough, the emperor chose Hikoboshi, a young cowherd, as her son-in-law. He, too, was a hard-working young man who devoted himself to taking care of the cows.

Orihime and Hikoboshi fell in love with each other at first sight and got married. However, they were so engrossed in their love that they gradually stopped working. Because of this, the gods' kimonos become tattered and the cows become scrawny.

The emperor, enraged by everyone's complaints, decides to separate the two from each other east and west of the Milky Way. However, Orihime was so grief-stricken that she cried every day. Taking pity on his daughter, the emperor allowed the two to meet only once a year, on the night of July 7.

This legend of Orihime and Hikoboshi is still told in Japan as a romantic love story.

Milky Way as seen from Shiretoko Pass, Hokkaido, Japan


Tanzaku, decorative strips of paper to make wishes on Tanabata

The practice of making wishes on Tanabata originated from the Chinese court event Qiqiao Festival. In China, there was a custom of offering wine and fruits to the altar on July 7 to pray for improvement in handicrafts and sewing, in honor of the weaver princess who was a skilled weaver.

This custom was introduced to Japan around the Nara period (710-794). It was initially a courtly event, but by the Edo period (1603-1867), the custom had spread to the general public and changed to the current practice of writing wishes on tanzaku strips.

Officially, there are five colors of tanzaku, each with its own meaning. These five colors are blue (green), red, yellow, white, and black (purple), and are derived from the Yin-Yang and Five Elements theory, a natural philosophical thought that originated in China.

If you are going to write your wishes on tanzaku, why not use different colors?

Meanings of the five colors of tanzaku
  • Blue (green) ... wishes to enhance your potential
  • Red ... to thank ancestors and parents
  • Yellow ... wishes related to human relationships
  • White ... wishes to develop determinations and sense of responsibility
  • Black (purple) ... wishes related to intellectual abilities

Colorful Tanabata paper strips filled with wishes are hung on bamboo branches


Foods associated with Tanabata

Soumen (fine white noodles)

Soumen is a type of noodle made from wheat flour. It is often chilled in running water or ice water and dipped in soy sauce-based sauce. It is fun to decorate Soumen as if it were the Milky Way. The reason why people started eating Suomen on Tanabata Festival comes from Sakubei rice cake, which is the origin of Suomen. Sakubei rice cake is a Chinese snack made of kneaded wheat and rice flour, and was eaten to pray for protection from evil. Incidentally, July 7 is also "Soumen Day" in Japan.

Tanabata Soumen noodles decorated with star-shaped vegetables


Chirashi-sushi is also popular as a dish that symbolizes the Milky Way. Chirashi-sushi is a type of sushi, named after the ingredients that are scattered ("chirasu" or put on) on top of the vinegared rice. Compared to nigiri-sushi and maki-sushi, chirashi-sushi may not be as familiar to foreigners, but it is visually gorgeous and creates a festive atmosphere when placed on the dining table. It is also recommended as a party menu.

Okura Cooking

Okura is a popular ingredient for Tanabata Festival because the cut end of the okura is shaped like a star. Okura is not only visually pretty, but also helps prevent summer fatigue. Use okura in a variety of dishes to create a starry sky.


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