☆Today is Tanabata! ☆

Tanabata, or the ‘star festival’, is a Japanese festival based on a romantic fairytale.  Last year, this festival almost totally passed me by, so this year I have tried to make an effort to study it a bit more.  Actually, it turns out that Lesson 12 of Genki 1 (the textbook I was studying before I moved on to Genki 2) is all about Tanabata… sooooooo….. I’ve decided to make this a little translation project!  Rather than just paraphrasing what I read on Wikipedia (as I confess I sometimes do!), I am going to copy the story (in Japanese) from my textbook, and have a go at translating it into my own words!

First, the characters:

おりひめ (Orihime) – ‘weaving princess’

ひこぼし (Hikoboshi) – ‘cow herder star’

神さま (kamisama) – God

(Japanese directly copied from Genki 1, published by The Japan Times.  I have used kanji only where I can read them without assistance. Otherwise I have used hiragana.)


七月七日は七夕です。 これは七夕の話です。

July 7th is TANABATA.  This is the TANABATA story.

昔々、天に神さまが住んでいました。 むすめが一人いて、名前はおりひめでした。 おりひめはとてもまじめで、毎日、朝早く起きてはたをおっていました。

Once upon a time, God lived in the heavens.  He had one daughter, her name was ORIHIME. ORIHIME was very serious.  Every day, she got up early in the morning, and wove.

ある日、神さまは思いました。 「おりひめはもう大人だ。けっこんしたほうがいいたろう。」

One day, God thought “ORIHIME is already an adult. She should get married.”.


God found a serious man.  He was a man who lived on the other side of the Milky Way, his name was HIKOBOSHI. HIKOBOSHI used cows and worked on a farm.


ORIHIME and HIKOBOSHI got married.  They grew to really like each other. They were always together, and never worked.


God was angry.  But they didn’t do any work.


God was really angry, and he took ORIHIME back to her house.  They had to be separated. ORIHIME couldn’t see HIKOBOSHI, so she cried every day.

神さまは二人がかわいそうだと思って、言いました。  「おりひめひこぼし、あなたたちは一年に一度だけ会ってもいい。それは七月七日の夜だ。おりひめ、あなたはその日、天の川のむこうに行ってもいい。でも、朝までに帰らなくちゃいけない。」

God felt sorry for them, and said “ORIHIME, HIKOBOSHI, you can see each other once a year.  That will be the evening of July 7th.  ORIHIME, on that day, you may cross to the other side of the Milky Way.  But, you must return by the next morning.


Once a year, on TANABATA evening, ORIHIME and HIKOBOSHI meet  Their wish is realized.


On this day, we write our wishes on red, blue, and various coloured strips of fancy paper. People say your TANABATA wish will come true.  One child wrote “I want to get a good grade”.  Another person wrote “I want to meet a fantastic person”. What kind of wish will you write?


So there you have it, the Tanabata story! Please let me know if I’ve made any mistakes or bad translations!!

The story is basically a story about the stars, separated by the Milky Way.  Orihime and Hikoboshi are, according to Wikipedia, the stars Vega and Altair, respectively.  There’s one part of the story which is missing from the above summary.  Apparently, Orihime and Hikoboshi can only meet if the sky is clear.  Unfortunately, as it’s rainy season in Nagoya right now, I don’t suppose the sky will be that clear tonight!  If they don’t meet and have their wish come true, I think that means our wishes don’t come true either. 😦

In Japan, Tanabata is celebrated on either July 7th or August 7th, depending on the area you are in.  In Nagoya it seems to be July 7th (which also seems to be the most commonly quoted date), although I have seen both dates mentioned on posters.  I’ve read lots of blogs about various Tanabata celebrations across Japan, but I liked this one the best.  Gorgeous photos.  Apparently Tanabata is also celebrated in Brazil!

As the passage above says, people decorate strips of fancy paper (usually origami paper), called tanzaku, and write their wishes on the paper.  Unlike most Western traditions involving wishes, people usually write their names on the paper, and the wish is not a secret.  Why?  So God can grant the right wish to the right person, of course!  These pieces of paper are then usually hung on bamboo branches.  Why do we use bamboo?  Well, according to an absolutely excellent book which I happen to have (Japan: How we breathe and how our hearts beat), it’s because of the tanabata-tsumeTanabata-tsume, or ‘weaving maiden’, started weaving clothes for the spirits arriving for O-bon from the evening of July 7th, and they hung them on bamboo, which acted as a sort of guiding post for the arriving spirits.  The word ‘Tanabata’ for the festival came from these women, and therefore we hang our wishes on bamboo branches.

I haven’t had much time to go looking for Tanabata celebrations in Nagoya, but I managed to stumble upon some Tanabata decorations in Oasis 21 yesterday.  I vaguely remember seeing these last year and having to ask my students what it was all about.  At least this year I understood them!




I also found some fantastic Tanabata snacks in the local supermarket…



As you can see in the picture above, these snacks came with a little card to write my wish on.  What am I wishing for this year?  Well, I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours!  Please leave a comment telling me your Tanabata wish!  If I get ten different wishes posted below I will share mine too! ☆

7 thoughts on “Tanabata

  1. Very interesting. As for my wish, hmmmm not sure………. I think I will wish that the time between now and August goes quite quickly and then it slows down a bit ;-}


  2. 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.

    I wish for a walk-in wardrobe!!


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