Today is the romantic holiday of Tanabata (the Star Festival) in Japan. It's the story of star-crossed lovers, Orihime the Weaver Princess and Hikoboshi the Celestial Cow Herder who only get to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month.
Want to hear the whole story of Tanabata? This short video in Japanese with subtitles tells you the tale, including why the lovers pray that it won't rain on Tanabata night.
Tanabata didn't originate in Japan though. Like many aspects of Japanese culture, its roots are Chinese. The folktale and festival originated in China as the Qixi Festival and came to both Korea (Chilseok Festival) and Japan (Tanabata Festival). The Chinese and Koreans celebrate the Star Festival using the lunar calendar. In Japan, they mostly celebrate it on July 7th, though some places use August 7th instead.
Though Tanabata came out of China, the Japanese have added their own special touches to this holiday. The biggest difference, to me, is the decorations. All over Japan in late-June until Tanabata, you'll find bamboo with little bookmark-like papers on them. These tanzaku are wish papers. I've made many wishes on tanzaku over the years, and several of them have come true (including a certain book)! I included Sky's tanzaku from TANABATA WISH at the top.
Because I wanted to include a Tanabata Matsuri (festival) in my book, I needed to go to one. Several years ago, I went to the famous Tanabata Matsuri in Hiratsuka which is about 30 miles outside of Tokyo. I sent Sky, Ryouhei, and their classmates to the Ichinomiya Tanabata Matsuri in TANABATA WISH, but I changed the date of the festival to fit my plot’s timeline. If you are going to be near Nagoya (where TANABATA WISH is set) in July, the matsuri is always the last weekend in July. If you go, please take a picture and tag me in it.
If you've read the chapters about the matsuri, you will recognize these pictures, including the man who brought his rabbit (!!) to the festival and carried it around on his shoulder. Just like Sky and friends, I tried all kinds of matsuri food--in the name of research, of course. My favorite festival food was the taiyaki ice cream. In the fish's tail are sweet, red azuki beans. Vanilla ice cream is coming out of its mouth. Nom nom nom.
Son (17) and I are leaving on Tuesday for our annual summer trip to visit his paternal grandparents in rural Japan. If you love Japanese culture, Japanese food, or want to see more behind-the-scenes stories from TANABATA WISH, stick around.
Want to read Sky and Ryouhei's romantic scene (and the rest of the book, of course) at the Ichinomiya Tanabata Matsuri? You can buy TANABATA WISH in paperback or eBook here.
BONUS: Are you a budding astronomer? Hikoboshi and Orihime have different names and backstories in other cultures. If you are looking at the Summer Triangle, they are known better as Altair (Hikoboshi) and Vega (Orihime).