Celebrating Tanabata

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tanabata: THe Star Festival

Tanabata celebrates an ancient Chinese legend which came to Japan around 700 C.E. The story starts with a Princess named Orihime, who was daughter to the God of the heavens, Tentei. She was a seamstress who spent her days weaving tirelessly near the banks of the Amanogawa (heavenly river). Orihime was so devoted to her work, that she abandoned all hope of ever finding love. Seeing his daughter resigned to such sadness, Tentei arranged a meeting for her and a cow herder from across the river. The man’s name was Hikoboshi. Orihime and Hikoboshi fell in love immediately, and it was not long before the two were married. However, their love and devotion were so intense that it soon caused the pair to stray for their work. Hikoboshi let his cows roam the heavens, and Orihime stopped weaving. This angered Orihime’s father, and he forbade the lovers from seeing each other, sending Hikoboshi back across the river. Devastated, Orihime begged that she be able to see her husband, even just for a day. Tentei relented, unable to bear the pain of seeing Orihime’s heart ache. He said the two would be able to meet once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th month. But upon their first yearly meeting, the two realized that they could not cross the river on their own. Nearby, a flock of magpies noticed Orihime in her grief. They flew to the river and formed a bridge with their wings so that the two could step across and meet. Each year, the magpies help the lovers reunite. It is said that rain on the day of Tanabata means the magpies will not come, and the lovers must wait another year to be reunited.

Though ancient, the story of Tanabata is written in the stars and can still be seen today. The heavenly river in the story is said to be the milky way, and the lovers are the stars Vega (Orihime) and Altair (Hikoboshi).

During the Tanabata festival, wishes are written on pieces of coloured paper and hung on bamboo stalks and sometimes trees. These Wish Trees are then floated on a river or along the ocean and burned as offerings. Celebrations may also include parades, decorations, and fireworks. Although some areas in Japan recognize August 7th to be Tanabata (by way of the older Chinese calendar), many regions celebrate this event on July 7th, in accordance with the modern calendar. Similar traditions with Wish Trees are found across Asia.

our Wish Tree


To celebrate Tanabata, Text-A-Tree will launch on July 7 and include a Wish Tree with a modern twist. A large Japanese Katsura tree has been selected in the Halifax Public Gardens, and everyone is invited to send their wishes …by text! The only way to get the phone number is to come and meet the tree in person and use the number posted on it’s sign. For every day that the project runs, we will select one wish to post (anonymously) as the Wish of the Day on our Facebook and Instagram feeds. The Wish Tree will continue receiving wishes as long as the sign is up.

Make a wish on our Wish Tree!

Make a wish on our Wish Tree!

Orihime and Hikoboshi wished for nothing more than to be together; it is our wish that, through Text-A-Tree, even more people (and trees!!) will be brought together. The Tanabata story is a perfect reminder of the importance of reaching out to one another. If two stars can meet once a year and cross the heavenly river, perhaps two star-fort cities can come together as well to wish for peace.