One of the best parts about being based in Vancouver is the opportunity to celebrate diverse cultural events. Maybe you’ve heard about Tanabata, the Japanese festival that is currently being celebrated in Japan and other places around the world. Find out what Tanabata is, the story behind it, and how to celebrate Tanabata 2023 in Vancouver.
Tanabata translates to evening of the seventh in Japanese, and the festival celebrates a legend about separated lovers that occurred on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar.
The exact timing of the Tanabata festival varies in different parts of Japan, with festivities in some cities beginning as early as July 7th and continuing into late August, which was the seventh month in the previous lunar calendar.
Tanabata is celebrated to honour the day of the year when the two stars Altair and Vega, which represent star-crossed lovers, can meet. This Japanese festival has been celebrated since the 17th century and is originally thought to have been inspired by the Chinese legend Qixi, which was adapted to Japanese folklore.
According to the legend, two lovers were separated by the heavenly river (the Milky Way). The beautiful Princess Orihime is represented by the star Vega and a cow herder called Hikoboshi is represented by the star Altair.
When they married, they neglected their duties, which angered the princess’s father Tentei, the Emperor of the heavens. To punish them, Tentei barred them from seeing each other, bringing his daughter great sadness. Eventually, he allowed the couple to meet on the seventh day of the seventh month as long as his daughter worked on weaving the cloth that he so loved.
In Japan, people celebrate Tanabata by writing wishes on colourful strips of paper called tanzaku and hanging them on trees crafted from bamboo branches. These trees may be floated in rivers or the ocean or burned as an offering. Cities come alive with festive food stalls and vibrant decorations.
The team at the H.R. Macmillan Space Centre is excited to be partnering with the Powell Street Festival Society to hold events for Tanabata in August. This annual community arts festival is held in Vancouver’s historic Japanese Canadian neighbourhood, Paueru Gai (now known as the Downtown Eastside) to celebrate Japanese Canadian art and culture.
There will be a Tanabata Star Show event held at the Planetarium Star Theatre at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre on August 4th. Special guest Miho Wakai, a UBC Astronomy graduate student, will present about Tanabata and tell us about his dark matter research before we have a look at the night sky to look for the objects of the story. Attendees will be treated to special visuals by artist and curator Raymond Nakamura. Get your tickets here.
The next day, you’ll be able to enjoy our inflatable planetarium at the Powell Street Festival on August 5th, among other free events. For more information click here.