The gist of the story goes: A long time ago a woman was weaving by a river, the Milky Way, though she desperately wanted love. Her father had her meet a cow herder who lived on the other side of the river, and the two fell in love so much they forgot to weave clothes or tend to their cows. The father was angered by this and separated them using the river, but the woman pleaded until the father took pity. Once a year, he decided, he would make a bridge that would let them cross the river and see one another.
Japan celebrates that day when they can finally see each other again and calls it Tanabata.
The story, the holiday and the tradition all originally come from China, which celebrates the holiday on August 7th, I have been told. There are a couple of places in Japan that keep to that, too, and celebrate on August 7th.
Mostly, though, Japan decided July 7th would be Tanabata.
To celebrate, people put up some bamboo branches (real or fake) in their house. You can buy or make a long slip of colorful paper and write your wish on it. Then you punch a hole through the top, put some string through it and tie it to your bamboo tree. The idea is that whatever you write will come true.
A lot of shopping centers here and condominium complexes have gotten into the spirit of it by having fairly large bamboo trees plopped into the middle of their lobbies, and trays of paper slips on which you can write your wishes for free. It has all the feel of decorating a tree for Christmas, I think.
Some people also like making food that has star shapes in it to celebrate, but that’s as much as people really do for the occasion here, I think.
As I’m a huge fan of stars, I’m a huge fan of this holiday. I love any excuse to decorate with stars.