Tanabata – Festival of Star Crossed Lovers
Separated by the milky way, two star crossed lovers are only able to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month based on the lunisolar calendar. The legend of Hikoboshi (the star known as Alter) and Orihime (the star known as Vega) has roots in China but has been associated with Japan’s Tanabata festival since the sixth century.
Orihime, the daughter of Emperor Tentei, was a skilled weaver and made lovely clothes for her father. One day as she sat alongside the the river of heaven ( amanogawa – the milky way) she was overcome with sadness as she had been so busy with her weaving that she hadn’t had time to fall in love. Tentei, believed to be the ruler of the heavens, witness her woeful state and arranged a marriage for her with Hikoboshi who lived across the river. The couple was very much in love and were very happy but Orihime was neglecting her weaving. This angered Tentei so much that he decided to separate the couple putting them back on opposite sides of the river.
Tentei decreed that the couple would only be allowed to see each other on one night each year – on the seventh day of the seventh month. On that evening a boatman (the moon) comes to ferry Orihime over the river to her beloved Hikoboshi. But if Orihime has not given her best to her weaving Tentei may make it rain causing the river to flood so the boatman cannot make the trip. In this case the kasasagi (a group of magpies) may still fly to the milky way to make a bridge for Orihime to cross.
The Tanabata festival (also know as the star festival) celebrates the reuniting of these lovers separated by the milky way and the word tanabata can be translated as “weaving with the loom (bata) placed on the shelf (tana)”.
During the Tanabata festival sprigs of bamboo, sometimes small and sometimes the size of a tree, are hung with tanzuku, papers upon people write their wishes. Traditionally people wish for improved technical skills and abilities in homage to the legend of Hikoboshi and Orihime.