Have you heard of the story of “The Weaving Princess and the Cowheard”? Every year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, two star-crossed lovers are allowed to meet for one day. Orihime, the daughter of the King of the Heavens, was skilled in weaving and made beautiful cloth for her father’s clothes. The king was very proud of having such exquisite clothing and had Orihime make new clothes for him every day but over time, the princess became lonely and sad. Working hard each and every day meant that she would never be able to find love!
The King took pity on Orihime and arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, the Cow Herder. They instantly fell in love and got married. However, the King did not expect the couple to love each other so much that they would neglect their duties! Orihime stopped weaving the King’s beloved cloth and Hikoboshi’s cows roamed aimlessly all over Heaven without their herder. Angered by the chaos, the King separated the couple with the river Amanogawa (Milky Way) between them.
Orihime resumed weaving cloth for the King but was so heartbroken she cried constantly. The King did not wish to see his daughter so distraught that he made a deal: If Orihime worked hard and finished her weaving, on the seventh day of the seventh month, she may meet Hikoboshi. However, with the great river between them, how would she cross? Orihime cried and cried until a flock of magpies came. Moved by her tears, they promised to form a bridge with their wings so that she may cross the Amanogawa. Orihime and Hikoboshi were finally reunited!
From then on, on the seventh day of the seventh month, Orihime waits patiently for the magpies to form a bridge so that she may see her husband. If it rains however, the magpies will not fly and the couple will have to wait till the next year to try to meet again.
This story is loved in Japan and in the year 775, the Empress Koken introduced Tanabata Matsuri. Since then, Tanabata festivals are held all over Japan every year. There are two chances to catch this festival, either July 7th or August 7th, as as ancient Japan went by the lunar calendar and modern Japan uses the Gregorian calendar. The biggest festival is in Sendai and runs from August 6th till the 8th.
The tradition during Tanabata is to write wishes on colorful pieces of paper, called tanzaku, and to tie them on bamboo branches. Many people write wishes that it will not rain on the 7th so that Orihime and Hikoboshi may meet! Bamboo trees fill up quickly with tanzaku and brightly colored streamers and decorations are hung outside. It’s really a beautiful sight!
Try making your own tanzaku at home and tie your wishes on branches of a tree or even a house plant. Also, look to the skies to see if you can find Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair) in the stars!