Monday, July 7, 2008
Tanabata - Star Festival
Tanabata is a Japanese festival, not a national holiday.
According to legend, two stars in love, Orihime (Altair or Cowherd Star) and Hikoboshi (Vega or Weaver Star), residing on opposite sides of the Milky Way, were allowed to meet just once a year, on the evening of July 7. There are multiple variations of this story told in different parts of Japan. This festival originated from China (Qi Xi -Night of the Sevens), the Japanese story mixed the Chinese version with that of Tanabatatsume, a celestial weaving maiden. On the occasion of this festival, fresh bamboo branches are set up outside of homes, from which long slips of paper and paper decorations are hung. On the slips of paper are written romantic poems and wishes. In many regions in Japan, Tanabata is celebrated on August 7th (which is near July 7th on the lunar calendar) instead of July 7th.
Wikipedia's article on this festival is pretty good: Wikipedia Tanabata.
One of the story lines in the Ranma manga is based on this festival. The manga also makes use of the tradition of people writing their wishes on tanzaku papers (colorful, small strips of papers) and hang them on bamboo branches.