The Japanese calendar is filled with holidays and observances, and Tanabata, celebrated each year on July 7, is one of the most romantic. As with most aspects of Japanese culture, the basis of Tanabata (which means “night of the seventh”) is rooted in Chinese folklore.
Princess Orihime (the star Vega) weaved night and day, so much so that her father, the emperor of the galaxy, arranged for his workaholic daughter to meet handsome cowherd Hikoboshi (the star Altair). 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.
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 tale weaved its way into American pop culture in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, with astrophysicist Raj Koothrappali referring to Tanabata as “romantic astronomy.”
Also known as the Star Festival, the tradition of Tanabata is being observed at several places in New York City. So throw on your yukata and make a wish!
“TANABATA” Summer Festival @ Café Caribeana
Thursday, July 7 from 2:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.
Café Caribeana – 634 Park Place, Crown Heights, Brooklyn
This Caribbean-inspired Japanese coffee shop will celebrate Tanabata with Japanese traditional storytelling called Kamishibai, origami folding, and yo-yo tsuri (water balloon fishing). New York-based children’s book author and illustrator Naoko Stoop will have an autograph session. In addition to a special summer menu, the café will sell tenugui, a Japanese traditional washcloth. It’s a great event for children! Kamishibai times are 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. (in Japanese) and 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. (in English).
No reservations necessary.
Tanabata: Japan’s Star Festival
Sunday, July 10 at 2:00 p.m.
Japan Society – 333 E. 47th Street (between First and Second Avenues)
Tickets: $15/$8 members/Free children ages 2 or under
A child-friendly theatrical performance, directed by Sonoko Kawahara, introduces Japan’s famous Tanabata legend of Hikoboshi and Orihime in an interactive setting filled with song and dance. Following the performance, families will make paper ornaments and their own traditional tanzaku to hang on the bamboo branches in Japan Society’s lobby.
Healthy Japanese light meals, snacks and festival-related refreshments will be available for purchase by BentOn Café.This program is recommended for children ages 3 through 10 and accompanying adults. Space is limited, so advanced ticket purchase is recommended at Japan Society’s website.
Tanabata Festival at Riverside Park
Wednesday, July 13 from 8:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.
Riverside Park and 116th Street Overlook
The Amateur Astronomers Association of New York will partner with the Japanese American Association of New York (JAA), the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Japanese Americans and Japanese in America (JAJA) and the Origami Therapy Association to hold the first-ever star gazing Tanabata Festival.
AAA members with telescopes will show the public the night sky and tell the folk tale of Tanabata. As it gets darker, Vega (Princess Orihime) and Altair (Hikoboshi) will appear, and the objects, including the waxing gibbous moon and the planets Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn will be visible.
Members of the Origami Therapy Association will fold and teach participants origami. Members from Japanese American groups will describe the tanzaku colored paper, upon which visitors can write their wishes and tie them to a tree branch.
For a detailed map of the location, please visit AAA’s website.
Celebrate Tanabata at Ootoya
Now through Thursday, July 7
Ootoya locations – 8 West 18th Street, 141 West 41st Street, and 41 East 11th Street
Popular Japanese chain Ootoya encourage diners to write a wish on a strip of paper and place it the restaurant’s bamboo display. Customers wearing a yukata on July 7 will receive a free refreshing, sparkling Tanabata Cocktail made with fresh watermelon granite, Calpico, and cava (non-alcoholic version is available).