Tanabata is precursor to Obon season, and day for wishes
Tanabata, also known as “Shichiseki” that takes place on July 7th, is one of the five season-related celebrations in Japan. Empress Koken is credited to have imported Tanabata to Japan in 755 from China where it was known as Qixi and started to celebrate the event at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto that was the the capital of Japan at the time.
Although Tanabata originally took place on July 7th of the Chinese lunar calendar and used to be a part of ‘Bon’ (Festival of the Dead) related events, people in mainland Japan now mostly celebrate Tanabata on July 7th of the Gregorian calendar. Likewise, the ‘Bon’ has been shifted from the lunar calendar to the current schedule.
In Okinawa Tanabata mostly is the day to clean the ancestors’ grave, put flowers, beverages and incense in front of the grave to guide the ancestors’ spirits to come to one’s house on July 7th of the Lunar Calendar.
The day of Tanabata is also considered an auspicious day for giving clothes and grain an airing, because it is the time of the strongest sunrays of the year. In old times pepople believed that on Tanabata day one could fix and move the grave, if necessary, and clean the ancestors’ bones for storage.
In the present day, Tanabata is usually celebrated as a school event, when students decorate bamboo branches with ornaments and hang strips of colorful paper with their wishes written on them. Ornaments made of origami paper have a variety of shape like windsock, stars, lanterns and net-motif decorations. They all have a meaning, for example, a net-shaped paper means a river.
Depending on region the story behind Tanabata has several versions, but in general is tells a story of a young woman named Orihime, who was good at weaving cloth and worked very hard to the delight of her father. However, as she worked very hard she became afraid that se would never meet a man she could fall in love with and marry. Her father, Tentei (Sky King), who was a god, saw that and arranged for her to meet a hard working cattleman Hikoboshi who lived across Amanogawa River on the eastern side while Orihime and her father lived on the western side.
The two married, but subsequently she forgot about weaving and he let his cattle to wander all over on both sides, and that made Tentei angry. He ordered the two to separate each to live on a separate side of the river. However, Tentei relented a little, and allowed the two to meet once a year, on the night of the seventh day of the seventh month.
In the story Orihime is the star Vega and Hikoboshi is the star Altair, while the river Amanogawa is the Milky Way that separates the two lovers.