Do you know what Tanabata is?

Today is July 7, Tanabata.

Tanabata is a Japanese annual event held on seasonal milestones, and is one of the five most important seasonal festivals, along with March 3 (Girls’ Festival) and May 5 (Children’s Day).

Various events and festivals are held in various parts of Japan in honor of the legend that Orihime (Princess Orihime) and Hikoboshi (Prince Hikoboshi) cross the Milky Way on the night of July 7 and meet only once a year. The Sendai Tanabata Festival in Miyagi Prefecture and the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival in Kanagawa Prefecture are among the most famous.

During the Tanabata Festival, people usually hang tanzaku (paper strips) on which they write their wishes and Tanabata decorations made of origami on bamboos. In fact, each decoration has its own meaning. Here are some of the meanings behind the tanzaku decorations.

In ancient times, people wrote waka poems on tanzaku, which were hung on bamboo branches, to wish for improvement in studies, calligraphy, and other subjects. Nowadays, people write their personal wishes and hang them on the bamboo branches, regardless of whether they are academic or not. Although it is not so much considered nowadays, tanzaku strips for Tanabata decorations are generally five colors: red, black (purple), blue, white, and yellow.

The reason why the strips of paper used for Tanabata decorations are five colors is due to the Chinese theory of the five elements. The Five Elements Theory is a philosophy of nature that says everything in the world falls into one of the five elements (fire, water, wood, metal, and earth), and that each element influences the other. Fire corresponds to red, water to black, wood to blue, gold to white, and earth to yellow.

In Japan, the color black was changed to purple, a noble color, because it was considered bad luck. The Japanese word for blue was also used to describe the color green, so the color green was included.

Tanabata is a major event in the Japanese summer. Even if you have been casually looking at Tanabata decorations or writing on tanzaku strips, you will be able to enjoy Tanabata more if you know its origin.