In the legend of Tanabata, Princess Orihime weaved night and day, so much so that her father, the emperor of the galaxy, arranged for his workaholic daughter to meet a handsome cowherd named Hikoboshi. It was love at first sight, and the couple married immediately. Busy being a devoted wife, Princess Orihime neglected her weaving to the point that the emperor separated the young lovers, sending Hikoboshi to the other side of the Amanogawa, or the Milky Way. Beside herself with loneliness, Princess Orihime cried and cried, beginning the rainy season with her tears. Her father couldn’t stand to see his daughter in this state, so he allowed her to visit her beloved one day a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month.
This legend is known as Tanabata, or the Star Festival. To honor the star-crossed lovers, the Japanese write their wishes on thin strips of paper called tanzaku and hang them from bamboo branches. They wait for July 7 so that their dreams will come true.
The tradition of Tanabata is being observed at the following places in New York City, so throw on your yukata and make a wish!
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York’s Tanabata Festival
Saturday, July 7 from 7:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.
Riverside Park – 116th Street Overlook
The Amateur Astronomers Association of New York will partner with Japanese and Japanese American groups to hold the third annual star gazing Tanabata Festival. AAA members with telescopes will show guests the night sky and tell the folk tale of Princess Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are represented by the stars Vega and Altair, which are prominent in the summer sky.
Members from the Japanese American Association of New York (JAA), the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Japanese Americans and Japanese in America (JAJA) will hand out tanzaku, and guests can write their wishes, tying the tanzaku to the bamboo branches. Volunteers from the Origami Therapy Association will teach participants how to fold different kinds of origami.
As it gets darker, Vega and Altair will appear and the other objects will be visible, including the moon and the planets Jupiter and Saturn.
For more information, please visit AAA’s website.
Tanabata: Japan’s Star Festival
Sunday, July 8 from 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m.
Japan Society – 333 E. 47th Street (between First and Second Avenues)
Admission: $15/$8 members/Free children ages 2 and under and for Cool Culture families
Japan Society will also exploree the Tanabata legend through through storytelling and craft-making. After an interactive storytelling session filled with songs, create your own paper ornaments and tanzaku wish strips to decorate the bamboo branches in Japan Society’s lobby.
- 2:00 p.m. – Create paper ornaments and tanzaku wish strips to decorate bamboo trees and enjoy festival-related food available for purchase from BentOn
- 2:30 p.m. – Storytelling performance
- 3:15 p.m. – Create paper ornaments and tanzaku wish strips to decorate bamboo trees
- 4:00 p.m. – Close
Recommended for children ages 3-10 and accompanying adults. Space is limited; advance ticket purchase recommended. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit Japan Society’s website.