Around the World in 12 Dishes: Japan: Tanabata

Tanabata 七夕 is a Japanese holiday that is celebrated on July 7th every year. (Although in some places in Japan it is celebrated in August).  This holiday came about because of a romantic story that was created based on the stars Vega and Altair who are closest to each other on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar.

There are many versions of this story,  but the main gist of the story is:

A long long time ago there lived a beautiful princess named Orihime (Vega). She could weave very beautiful cloth and worked very hard, so hard that she couldn’t meet anyone to fall in love with.  Her father felt sorry for her, so he introduced her to Hikoboshi (Altair, he is also known as Kengyu), a cow herdsman who lived on the other side of the Amanogawa River (known as the Milky Way).

It was love at first sight for Orihime and Kengyuu, and they spent so much time together that they neglected their responsibilities.  Orihime’s father, Tenkou, the god of the sky, became so angry that he separated them by taking Orihime back across the Amanogawa  River.  This made the two lovers very sad, and so Tenkou decided that he would allow them to meet once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month.  However if it is raining on that day, the river (milky way) is too flooded to cross, so they must wait another year to meet.

According to Tsuku blog “A strange turning point in the history of Tanabata was surely the adoption of the western calendar by the Meiji Government after 1868. The seventh month is August according to the lunar calendar, but is July in the new calendar. These days the 7th day of the 7th month is NOT the time when Vega and Altair meet. This occurs in August. And more to this, the beginning of July is still the rainy season and stars can rarely be seen at all! Sounds ridiculous, but it is true. The festival is celebrated a month too early.  The great Sendai Festival, however sticks with the correct timing, as do the festivals in Yamaguchi City and Oita. For major NEW CALENDAR events (I mean in July) head for the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival in Kanagawa.”

To celebrate Tanabata, people write their wishes on paper (tanzaku) and hang them from bamboo branches along with other decorations-it really can be beautiful!  When I was a child, we celebrated Tanabata on July 7th, but since there are many cities that celebrate in August, it’s not too late to make your own wish tree.  Here’s how you can celebrate Tanabata:


  • Bamboo branch (if not available, use any tree branch, or perhaps they have artificial bamboo branches at the craft store).
  • Origami paper (or other colorful scrapbook paper)
  • Scissors
  • Hole punch
  • String (we used curly ribbon)
  • Glue


First go to this great Origami website that will teach you how to make beautiful decorations for your Tanabata tree.  (It’s in English)  The difficulty level is rated by the stars below, so the easier decorations have one star and the hardest one has four stars.

My son is making a simple ring chain.  He was excited about making this because he already knew how to make them from his Kindergarten class.

Here he is hanging his finished decoration.

Here is a lantern that I made.

Next, cut your origami into rectangular strips.  These are called tanzaku and people use them to write their wishes.  Kind of like the wishes you make when you throw a coin into a fountain.
One of my son’s wishes  was…..”I wish my life would last forever”and one of my daughter’s wishes was….. “I wish for a new camera”.

After you are done writing your wishes (one wish per tanzaku), punch a hole at the top, cut a long piece of string and pull it through the hole of the tanzaku.  Tie a knot at one end, and then hang it on the tree.

When there is a summer festival in Japan, girls & women dress up in a yukata, which is a light cotton kimono, that is ideal for the hot, humid weather Japan has during the summer.  I don’t have a yukata for my daughter, so I dressed her up in a beautiful kimono that belonged to her grandmother (my mother) when she was a child.

What kind of wishes will you write on your Tanzaku?

We hope that  you enjoyed our Tanabata celebration.  Please check out the other links below for more fun ways to discover Japan.