A fairy tale might not have been what you were expecting when you opened this blog post, but we will tell you one anyway. It is a story of gods and love.
Orihime, the sewing princess, and daughter of the Sky King, was sewing beautiful clothes by the Heavenly River, known in our modern understanding as the Milky Way. The Sky King loved his daughter very much and also her beautiful handmade clothing, but Orihime wasn’t happy because she thought she would never find love due to her hard work.
So, the Sky King arranged a meeting between his daughter and Hikoboshi, the cowherd who lived and worked on the other side of the Milky Way. They fell instantly in love and married shortly after.
Once they were married Orihime and Hikoboshi spent all of their time together. Orihime stopped making clothes for her father and Hikoboshi did not take care of his cows as he should. They would walk freely all over the starry sky. This brought the wrath of the Sky King on them who separated them across the Heavenly River and forbade them to meet.
Orihime was heartbroken and pleaded with her father to let her see her husband again, and because the Sky King wasn’t without mercy and because he loved his daughter very much, he promised she could meet Hikoboshi if she worked hard and finished her weaving.
They were to meet again on the 7th day of the 7th month after Orihime had finished her weaving work as promised. But when Orihime tried to cross the Milky Way, to finally be with her love Hikoboshi she couldn’t because there was no bridge to cross. Orihime cried so hard in desperation that a flock of Magpie, black and white birds, came who promised to make a bridge with their wings. And so they did and Orihime and Hikoboshi could be together for one day once more before returning to their separate sides of the Milky Way and continuing their hard work for another year.
The day Orihime and Hikoboshi meet is known as Tanabata and in Japan, it has been transformed into a festival known as Tanabata Festival or Star Festival.
It is said that if it rains on Tanabata the magpie cannot come to make a bridge for Orihime and the two lovers have to wait for another year to see each other.
The Many Dates of the Tanabata Festival
The Tanabata Festival is the celebration of this love story woven in with other traditions taking place around the 7th of July each year in Japan.
Because the festival was based on the lunar calendar the date of Tanabata Festivals in different parts of Japan differs widely. Some are held on the 7th of July, others on the 7th of August (which roughly correlates with the 7th day of the 7th month on the lunar calendar), and others are held exactly on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar which differs from year to year. In 2023 it will be on the 22nd of August.
In present-day Japan, people usually celebrate the day by writing wishes on small pieces of paper and then tying them to bamboo rods. This so-called wishing tree is also decorated with other paper crafts and once Tanabata is over it is often set afloat on a river or burned in a bonfire to assure the wishes come true.
Wearing a summer Yukata at a Tanabata Festival is a great experience. Here are a couple of places in Nagoya where you can rent one.
Spectacular Tanabata Festivals in and Around Nagoya You Shouldn’t Miss
Some of Japan’s biggest Tanabata Festivals are held not far from Nagoya. Check them out for the full Tanabata experience or visit some of the smaller festivals held in Nagoya itself.
Ichinomiya Tanabata Festival
The Ichinomiya Tanabata Festival, also known as Star Festival or Textile Thanksgiving, is one of the biggest festivals of its kind in Japan. It is a festival to show gratitude to the deity of Hatori Shrine, the god of textiles. As the leading industry in Ichinomiya is textiles, the Textile Thanksgiving festival has been an important one since its first installment in 1956.
The festival lasts for four days, from the last Thursday to the last Sunday in July. It includes beautiful gigantic paper decorations called Fukinagashi and handmade decorations made by children in the city.
Events such as parades, Bon dances, and stage shows are held throughout the city on the four days of the festival. Don’t forget to write your wish for the year on a strip of colored paper and hang it on one of the wishing trees made from bamboo decorated with papercrafts.
Ichinomiya Tanabata Festival (一宮七夕まつり)
Date: 27th to 30th of July 2023
Access: From Nagoya Station, it is only a 10-minute ride on the Rapid JR Tokaido Line bound for Ogaki or 16 minutes on the Local JR Tokaido Line bound for Gifu. Get off at Owari-Ichinomiya Station.
Website (Japanese only)
For more beautiful shrines and temples worth a visit in Nagoya check out this post.
Anjo Tanabata Festival
The Tanabata Festival in Anjo City is another excellent Star Festival close to Nagoya. It is held over 3 days at the beginning of August each year and attracts more than one million visitors. The festival has music and dance performances, parades, local idols, and even its own mascot, a wish fairy called KI-BO-.
More than 1,000 bamboo wishing trees are set up throughout the city. You can write your Tanabata wish on a ‘Tanzaku’ paper strip and hang it. At night you can not only experience Bon dancing but also admire the illuminated bamboo trees. These are truly wonderful sights as well.
Anjo Tanabata Festival (安城七夕まつり)
Date: 4th – 6th (Fri – Sun) August 2023
Access: From Nagoya Station, it is a 25-minute ride on the Rapid JR Tokaido Line bound for Toyohashi. Get off at Anjo Station.
Website (Japanese only)
Other Tanabata Festivals in Nagoya
The Ozone Tanabata Festival is an annual event held at Oz Mall (Ozone Shopping Street) and Ozone Avenue in Nagoya.
Various events such as Awa dance, brass band performance, and Japanese drum performance are held. Large-scale events such as a Cosplay Parade are also held, and the venue is crowded with many visitors every year.
The 66th Endoji Tanabata Festival will again be held in the Endoji Shopping Streets. Decorated with colorful festival streamers and featuring many stalls from local shops, it will see this usually quiet shopping street come alive with color and the laughter of children. Endoji Shopping Street is one of the locations on the Nagoya Kimono Old Town Walking Tour.
At the Tobe Jinja Tanabata Matsuri, bamboo wishing trees are lined up in the precincts of the Tobe shrine and you can write your wishes on a strip of paper and hang them there.
On the final day a night market is usually held and many food stalls are set up.
Tobe Jinja Tanabata Festival (富部神社七夕祭)
Date: not decided yet for 2023
Location: Tobe Jinja Shrine
Access: From Nagoya Station, take the Meitetsu Line bound for Higashi-Okazaki. Get off at Sakura Station. From there it’s a 6-minute walk.
Celebrating Tanabata at Home
No matter if you live in Nagoya or Japan or in any other country around the world, here are some tips on how you can celebrate the Tanabata Festival at home to bring a little bit of Japan into your life.
- You can celebrate Tanabata any time between July 7th and August 22nd in 2023, so choose a day you like and get ready for some family fun.
- Tell the story of Orihime and Hikoboshi and hope for good weather or else the two lovers won’t be able to meet this year.
- Find a bamboo branch with many twigs and leaves, if there is no bamboo in your country, no problem just use a different kind of wooden branch with twigs and leaves. This will be your wishing tree.
- Place your wishing tree either at the entrance of your home or the backyard.
- Decorate it with paper crafts such as Origami.
- Write down your wishes on colorful paper strips and hang them on your wishing tree using some yarn.
- On the next day (or after a couple of days enjoying your wishing tree) make a little bonfire and burn your wishing tree including all the wishes for them to come true.
This post has last been updated in July 2023.
Although we strive to provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information possible, please note that changes may occur nonetheless. Therefore, we recommend you confirm any relevant information such as event cancelations or changes, opening hours, or possible restrictions using a direct source. Please keep in mind that these sources might be in Japanese only.
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