Tanabata: Legend of the Stars

Long, long ago, there lived a princess named Orihime. She was the daughter of a god of the heavens, and lived by a vast river of stars known to us as the Milky Way. She diligently wove cloth to make clothes for the people in her kingdom.

One day, her father realised Orihime was no longer a little girl, but a young woman who longed to be in love. Wishing to see his daughter happy, he set out to find her a suitable partner.

After searching high and low, he came across a boy tending his cow by the bank of the river. His name was Hikoboshi. He was a noble, hard-working young man. It was inevitable that as soon as he and Orihime met, they would fall in love. Before long, they were married and enjoying life to its fullest.

However, the couple were having so much fun together that they neglected to do their work. Without Orihime, the people’s clothes became ragged. Without Hikoboshi, his cow became weak and sick. The celestial god became very angry at the pair for their recklessness. He decided the best solution would be to have them live apart, on opposite sides of the river. Hikoboshi was sent to the east side, and Orihime was sent to the west. The separation devastated them.

Seeing Orihime so sad was hard for her father. So, the god made one final decision. Once a year, on the night of the 7th day of the 7th month, Orihime was permitted to see her beloved husband. Over the years, Orihime worked tirelessly on her loom and Hikoboshi took great care of his animals. Their love stayed strong and they worked hard knowing they had this one special day to look forward to.


This tale of Orihime (Vega star) and Hikoboshi (Altair star) was originally adapted from a Chinese legend. Today, it is celebrated as a traditional festival known as Tanabata.

At Zojo Temple in Tokyo, a special display made up of hundreds of candle-lit paper lanterns was set up last week on July 7th. These lanterns represented the Milky Way ‘river’. It was beautiful with Tokyo Tower in the background! As well as the river, hundreds of lanterns decorated by elementary school children were also displayed. Their drawings depicted what they want to be in the future – bakers, dressmakers, teachers, train drivers, Anpanman! Many of the children came to the temple with their parents. It was so touching seeing them earnestly search for and find their creations!

As a custom of Tanabata, people write their wishes and prayers on colourful strips of paper and tie them to bamboo tree branches. Ceremonies are conducted at many shrines and temples, like Kanda-Myojin Shrine, where musicians play traditional instruments, girls perform a traditional dance, and priests pray for all of our wishes to come true.

17 thoughts on “Tanabata: Legend of the Stars

  1. Hi Celia,
    Your posts provide wonderful insights into life in Tokyo and I keep adding to my “to visit” list haha. I particularly like your shots of the Milky Way lanterns snaking towards Tokyo Tower. Legend meets modernity – so emblematic of Japan. Cheers …


    1. That’s an awesome compliment, thanks John!
      Actually, I didn’t even know about these lanterns until I got to the temple and saw them setting it up! There’s never a dull moment in Tokyo :)


  2. 天(あま)の川のロマンスを 思い出しながら、紙灯篭(とうろう)の 流れを 
    眺(なが)めていると、童話(どうわ)の世界で 夢を みているようです。
    そして 子供たちの夢が かなえられると いいですね。セリアさんは 
    色紙に どんな願い事(ねがいごと)を 描きましたか。ないしょ でしょう?


    1. 私が短冊に書いた願い事はないしょでーす。そんなに面白くなかったのです。(笑)


  3. Stories on legend, the mythology are so intriguing to hear. Very interesting thoughts. Diving deep into the culture and festivity of Tokyo, it forces to reflect we keep forgetting about us past. I really love those galaxy of beautiful pictures…


    1. Thanks Nihar!
      That’s one of the things I love about Japan – there’s so much tradition even in the modern cities. I hope they never lose that part of their culture. :-)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s so great to see that this beautiful place can be found in the middle of Tokyo. The atmosphere seemed to be so familiar and peaceful. I love Tokyo for having those places to escape from daily routine. Great pictures!


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