When is Tanabata? Always July 7th!
Tanabata (七夕, tanabata?, meaning "Evening of the seventh") is a Japanese star festival, derived from the Chinese star festival, Qi Xi (七夕 "The Night of Sevens")．
What is this holiday about?
"It celebrates the meeting of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair). The Milky Way, a river made from stars that crosses the sky, 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. Since the stars come out at night, the celebration is held at night."
"The festival originated from The Festival to Plead for Skills (乞巧奠; きっこうでん), an alternative name for Qi Xi, which was celebrated in China and also was adopted in the Kyoto Imperial Palace from the Heian Period. The festival spread to the general public by the early Edo period, became mixed with various Obon or Bon (盆）traditions (because Bon was held on 15th of the seventh month then), and developed into the modern Tanabata festival. In the Edo period, 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 as further separate events."
"The name Tanabata is remotely related to the Japanese reading of the Chinese letters 七夕, which used to be read as "Shichiseki" (しちせき). 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 (たなばた) near waters 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 乞巧奠（きっこうでん, (The Festival to Plead for Skills) and became Tanabata 七夕. Oddly the Chinese writing 七夕 and the Japanese reading Tanabata (たなばた) joined to mean the same festival, although originally they were two different things, an example of ateji."
"Like Qi Xi and Chilseok, Tanabata was inspired by the famous Chinese folklore, The Princess and the Cowherd."
"Orihime (織姫, Weaving Princess?) the daughter of the Tentei (天帝, Sky King, or the universe itself?) wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Milky Way (天の川 Amanogawa). Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, she 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, Cow Herder Star?) sometimes called Kengyuu (牽牛, Chinese name of Hikoboshi?) who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa River (Milky Way). When the two met, they fell instantly in love with each other and were married shortly there after. However, once married, Orihime no longer would weave cloth for Tentei and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa River 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 Orihime 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. If it rains, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait till next year."
"The following variation of the story is known in China and Japan: A young farmer named Mikeran discovered on his farm a robe which, unbeknownst to him, belonged to a goddess named Tanabata. Soon after, Tanabata visited Mikeran and asked if he had found it. He lied and told the goddess that he hadn't but would help with her search. Eventually the pair fell in love, were wed and had many children. However, one day Tanabata noticed a piece of cloth which had once belonged to her robe on the roof of Mikeran's hut. His lie discovered, Tanabata agreed to forgive him on the condition that he weave a thousand pairs of straw shoes, but until that time, she would leave him. Mikeran was unable to weave the shoes in his lifetime and thus never met Tanabata again. However, it is said that the pair meet once a year when the stars Altair and Vega intersect."
"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. The bamboo and decorations are often set afloat on a river or burned after the festival, around midnight or on the next day. This resembles 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:
Sasa no ha sara-sara (笹の葉さらさら)
Nokiba ni yureru (軒端にゆれる)
Ohoshi-sama kira-kira (お星様キラキラ)
Kingin sunago (金銀砂子)
The bamboo leaves rustle, rustle,
shaking away in the eaves.
The stars go twinkle, twinkle;
Gold and silver grains of sand.
"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 July 7, some are held on a few days around August 7, 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:
2012-08-24 (The Chinese date is 2012-08-23 because of the time difference.)
"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 August 5 to August 8. In the Kantō area, the biggest Tanabata festival is held in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa for a few days around July 7. A Tanabata festival is also held in São Paulo, Brazil around the first weekend of July."
"Although Tanabata festivals vary from region to region, most festivals involve Tanabata decoration competitions. Other events may include parades and Miss Tanabata contests. Like other Japanese festivals, many outdoor stalls sell food, provide carnival games, etc., and add to the festive atmosphere."
Sendai Tanabata Festival
"The Sendai Tanabata 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 August 6 to August 8."
"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 Tohoku region and became a major tourist attraction. The festival now includes a fireworks show that is held on August 5."