Ancient Chinese legend has it that the celestial lovers Hikoboshi & Orihime (represented by the stars Altair & Vega) are separated by the vast Milky Way and can meet up only once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month. This festival was brought to Japan during the Nara Period (710 to 794) and became mixed with Japanese Obon traditions of weaving a cloth on a loom to offer to ancestral spirits. More recently people celebrate by writing wishes, on small pieces of paper called tanzaku, and hanging them on decorated bamboo wish trees.
Ever traditional, Kyoto City celebrates the Tanabata star festival according to the old lunar calendar (which effectively means we get to celebrate it twice) and this year that is from Saturday August 2nd until the 11th.
By the Horikawa river there will be a series of illuminated artworks, bamboo wish trees and the highlight is the “Milky Way of Lights” – which we went to see last year.
For more details of what’s on in the Horikawa & Nijo Castle area visit the 京の七夕 website. Here are some more pictures from our visit last year.
Similarly, the Kamo river also will be decorated with lights and bamboo wish trees, however the highlight for me is the two-day 鴨川納涼 (Kamogawa Nōryō – or “Cool Evening by the Kamo River”). This takes place on Saturday August 2nd from 17：00〜22：00 and Sunday the 3rd from 17：00〜21：30. There will be stalls selling food and drink from around the country, some musical (and magical!) acts and a demonstration of yuzen dyeing in the river. Again, we went to this last year and we really enjoyed it. Check the official 京の七夕 site for more details.
Here are the lyrics to a rather sweet Tanabata folk song, 七夕さま (Tanabata-sama), and the song itself in a video below. Sing along if you like!
The bamboo leaves rustle,
shaking away in the eaves.
The stars twinkle
on the gold and silver grains of sand.
The five-colour paper strips
I have already written.
The stars twinkle,
they watch us from heaven.*