Exploring traditions from other cultures is one way to expand your family’s view of the world and cultivate a heart for the peoples God loves. Learn about the Star Festival, an important annual holiday in Japan.
On July 7, families across Japan celebrate Tanabata (TAH-nuh-BAH-tah), or the Star Festival, just like their ancestors have for thousands of years. This festival with Chinese roots is based on a legend about two stars in the night sky – a girl star who was an excellent weaver and a boy star who was a cow herder.
The girl’s father, the Emperor of Heaven, arranged a marriage between them. The newlyweds were so much in love that they began to neglect their work. In his anger, the girl’s father banished the couple to opposite ends of the Milky Way. When the girl pleaded with her father, he agreed to allow the couple to see each other one evening a year when their stars crossed paths–July 7. Tanabata means “evening of the seventh.”
Celebrations along streets, around shopping malls, and in parks include carnival games, parades, firework displays, and music. The city of Osaka creates its own version of the Milky Way, floating thousands of twinkling blue lights in the river.
Everywhere, food stalls sell delicious snacks. Cold sōmen noodles are popular during this summertime celebration. These long, thin noodles represent both the cluster of stars in the Milky Way and the long threads woven by the girl in the legend. They are usually served with a dipping sauce and sometimes topped with star-shaped slices of boiled okra.
Family members write their wishes on long, thin strips of colorful paper called tanzaku (TAHN-zah-koo ). Using string or ribbons, families hang these streamers on the branches of bamboo trees. Since bamboo branches point upwards, families hope their wishes will reach the heavens, and be granted by the gods. In cities where trees are scarce, bamboo poles strung with these colorful streamers decorate shops, train stations, and public squares.
Along with these streamers, Japanese families often hang brightly-colored kinchaku (KIN-chah-koo). Symbolizing a purse, these drawstring bags are believed to bring wealth and prosperity. Making and hanging folded paper cranes that represent long life is also common.
The Star Festival is all about wishes. Make tanzaku streamers and add prayers for Japanese families.
You will need:
-construction paper or color copy paper
-colored markers or crayons
-thin string, yarn, or ribbon
- Cut the colored paper into rectangles (3 x 11 in/8 x 28 cm).
- With the short sides of your paper at the top and bottom, punch a hole near the top center.
- Read these verses together: John 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 3:9. We learned some things that Japanese families wish for. What is God’s greatest desire for Japanese families?
- On your paper, write prayers for Japanese families that reflect God’s desire for them.
- Cut a piece of string for each person (6 in/15 cm). Thread your string through the hole and tie a knot. Hang your tanzaku on branches of a tree.
The characters in the Star Festival legend represent real stars–Vega and Altair. These stars form part of the Summer Triangle, a pattern of three bright stars which can be seen in the night sky from late June through August. Each star is actually part of a separate constellation. On a moonless night, try to locate the Summer Triangle with your family.
You will need:
- Find a place for star gazing, away from lights. Lie down on your blankets.
- Search the night sky for a triangle of three stars. Look east for a sparkling blue-white star. That is Vega (weaver girl).
- Now look to the lower right of Vega to locate Altair (herder boy). The remaining star on the lower left is Deneb.
- Go back inside and read these verses together: Genesis 1:16 and Psalm 137:4 Who creates, counts, and names the stars? Who created us?
- Pray that Japanese families will come to know God, the one who created and loves them.