Let’s enjoy summer festivals as a family! What are the origins of “Tanabata”? What should we write on the paper slip?


During the “Tanabata” season, children may ask questions about the festival. It is important that parents are prepared with the answers and know the origin and meaning of the festival. Let’s learn about the festival and how to explain it to our children in an easy-to-understand manner. In this article, we will explain the origin of “Tanabata” and how to celebrate the festival as a family.

七夕の由来や短冊の書き方とは? 子どもと一緒に季節行事を楽しもう!

First, let’s go over the “Legend of Tanabata”

The “Tanabata” story about Altair (Cowherd star) and Vega (Weaver star) is famous. Let’s go over the story together so you are prepared to explain it to your child.

“Once upon a time, lived a young boy named Altair and the daughter of a God named Vega. Although they were hard workers, once they got married they began to slack off. As a result, the angry God created a “Milky Way” to separate them. When the God saw the two of them crying he/she changed his/her mind and said that if they work hard they can see each other once a year. This encouraged Altair and Vega to work hard all year and look forward to seeing each other once a year. If it rains on “Tanabata” the God builds a bridge so that they can still reach each other.”

What is the origin of “Tanabata”?

Let’s try to understand not only the origin but also what the “Tanabata Story” was based on. The “Tanabata Story” was transferred to Japan from China during the Nara period. In Ancient China, it was tradition to pray to the Gods on July 7th to improve their fabric sales. The machine used to make fabric was called “Tanabata” so the festival continued to be called the same name. In current times, the festival is celebrated as a romantic holiday and an event for beggars. When you are asked by your child about the festival please try to answer in a way they can easily understand.

The meaning of the strips of paper and how to write on them

“Tanabata” was originally held on 7/7 and was an event where merchants brought thread and needles to show God and pray for improved sales. From a certain time, the holiday became an event to pray and wish upon the stars for good luck. As a result, children began to write what they want to improve on and/or what they wish for the future on strips of paper. This was the start of the tradition of writing wishes on strips of papers during “Tanabata”.

Let’s enjoy the strips of paper during “Tanabata” with our children!

How about preparing a bamboo tree at home this year and try decorating it with your child? When writing on the strips of paper tell your child to avoid writing “I wish to become rich” or “I want ____” and instead write what they want to improve on or what they want to work on. It is a good idea to write what they want to improve on at their school or after school activities. If they are learning English, they can try writing their wish in English instead of Japanese.

Although the official “Tanabata” is on July 7th, some areas of Japan follow the old calendar and celebrate the festival in August along with the Obon festivities. Please enjoy this special festival with your child this year!