In Japan, the 7th of July is known as Tanabata (the 7th night). Some parts of the region, like Sendai, celebrate Tanabata in August.
Tanabata is a summer celebration that involves beautiful paper-folding (origami), eating delicious snow cones (kakigoori), and wish-making on tanzaku (strips of paper) that hang from bamboo branches.
This holiday is also celebrated in China, where it’s known as Qixi.
What's the Story of Tanabata?
The tale of Tanabata revolves around two lovers, Orihime (representing the Vega constellation) and Hikoboshi (the constellation Altair).
Once Orihime and Hikoboshi married, they ignored their responsibilities.
This prompted the God of the Skies to separate them.
Seeing how heartbroken the two were, the God took pity on them. Orihime and Hikoboshi are allowed to meet once a year.
Why Should Black People Care About Tanabata?
Tanabata is my alternative to celebrating the hypocritical holiday that is the 4th of July.
I say this not only as a Black woman but as the wife of an undocumented Mexican immigrant.
At the same time, however, I do not see celebrating Tanabata as a way to distance myself from conversations on race.
Black and Brown kids connecting with the other cultures leaves a huge impact on how they see the world.
So let’s get to how you can share this tradition with your family too!
5 Fun At-Home Tanabata Activities—Japanese Terms Included!
To make some of the decorations for Tanabata, you’ll need:
- Origami Paper
- Hole puncher
- Bamboo branch (I used leaf ribbon)
I’ll include the site where the instructions for making there are included. Heads up, it’s in Japanese!
There will also be a link to the YouTube videos which are follow-alongs.
Japanese language proficiency not required to watch those videos!
飾り (Kai-kazari) represent having enough harvest for the season. In Japanese, the seashells refer to money. It’s in the Chinese symbol or Kanji that they use. That’s why the symbol 買 (to buy) has a seashell component.
提灯 (Lantern) represents a lighting the pathway to one’s future. It also means filling one’s heart with joy (light). It’s Chris’s favorite!
“Sending off” lanterns down river streams was common in Japan but nowadays people recycle the decorations or use them as charms.
Tanabata celebrates the two lovers meeting at the Milky Way, known as 天の川 in Japanese. It’s all about stars and the power of love! I love this tradition.
These two only meet once a year and are still in love with each other. That’s relationship goals right there.
4. Practice Writing in Japanese (and Other Languages Too!) with Tanzaku
What Kind of Wish to Make for Tanabata?
You can wish for anything you want!
If you’re looking for good examples for inspiration, head over to Twitter or Instagram and use the hashtag #tanabata or #七夕
It’s really nice to read some of the other wishes that people have made.
The Significance of the Colors of Tanzaku
Blue (green) is for strengthening yourself
Red is gratitude for family and ancestors.
Yellow is for relationships (making friends)
White is for duty (protecting laws and rules).
Purple (black) is for wisdom (wishing to pass an exam)
Tanabata Wishes in Japanese
3. Make Homemade Kakigoori or Snow Cones
You can use the “ice crush” setting on your blender to make homemade snow cones!
Because I like making tres leches, I always have some 加糖練乳 (sweetened condensed milk) in my pantry! This goes great on top.
For the snow cone syrup, you can boil sugar and water and then add a flavored drink mix.
Summers here in Minnesota are pretty hot so these snow cones are always refreshing!
2. Get Social from a Distance: Share Your Tanabata Wishes Online!
I’m very active on Instagram, where I’ve seen lots of awesome examples of Tanzaku under these hashtags #七夕 or＃短冊.
It’s adorable seeing kids write their wishes!
1. Participate in a Japanese-English Language Exchange
Kokoro Communications offers Japanese-English Language Exchange on Zoom.
It’s not only a nice way to learn a language but it’s a way to connect with people from around the world without having to leave your couch.