Visitors to Japan can “wish upon a star” at a traditional family festival rooted in ancient legend.
Held annually in August, the Kyo no Tanabata event offers a month-long timetable of magical activities and displays delivered in true Japanese style.
Festive and elegant, Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival, blends ancient customs and beliefs with contemporary lighting techniques and traditional bamboo designs.
The popular festival falls in the lunar calendar coinciding with August, and visitors from around the world are encouraged to participate by wearing traditional yukata (summer kimono) and making wishes.
The Tanabata legend tells of two lovers, Hikoboshi (Altair star) and Orihime (Vega star), who are separated by the “river of the heavens” (the Milky Way). They are symbolically allowed to meet once a year.
The occasion is celebrated by hanging up small pieces of paper with wishes written on them, which are tied to bamboo branches. Visual illuminated installations, light shows, artistic soundscapes, and festive food stalls add color to the occasion.
The festival has its roots in China, where it was called Kikkoten, and people would pray to the star of Orihime for proficiency in skills such as needlework and calligraphy.
It is believed that the tradition then traveled to Japan during the Nara period. Subsequently, it combined with a Bon Festival (holiday) and became known as Tanabata, which involved loom-weaving for ancestral spirits.
The events are designed around the theme of “wishes,” to honor the tradition of “making a wish once a year.” Throughout the festival, spectacular productions of bamboo and lights give visitors a real taste of Kyoto.
The bamboo branches are then collected and burnt at the famous Gozan no Okuribi bonfire. This marks the symbolic sending away of the wishes to heaven to make them all come true.