Tanabata matsuri (七夕祭り), or the Star Festival, is a Japanese festival celebrated on July 7th, where people write their wishes on colorful strips of tanzaku paper and hang them on bamboo branches. These bamboo branches, with other colorful paper decorations, are hung outside homes or along streets in large festival displays.
The origin of tanabata can be traced back to the Chinese Qixi Festival and is more than 2,000 years old. The festival celebrates the meeting of the two stars Vega (Orihime) and Altair (Hikoboshi) once a year on July 7th. The Japanese legend goes that Orihime (織姫), the daughter of Tentei (天帝) the sky king, wove cloth by the bank of the Amanogawa (天の川) or Milky Way (heavenly river). Orihime worked hard everyday weaving, and thus could never meet and fall in love with anyone, and so she became sad.
Her concerned father arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (彦星), who worked on the other side of the Amanogawa tending cattle. They met and fell in love instantly, and were married. After they married, Orihime stopped weaving cloth and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to wander freely. This angered Tentei, who separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa and forbade them from meeting.
Orihime was devastated and begged her father to let them meet. Tentei was moved, and allowed them to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if Orihime finished her weaving. However, the first time they tried to meet, there was no bridge and they could not cross the Amanogawa. Orihime cried and a flock of magpies came to her rescue. They made a bridge with their wings so that Orihime could cross the river. If it rains on Tanabata, it is said that the magpies cannot come and Orihime and Hikoboshi must wait another year to meet. Thus, people wish for good weather and ask for their own wishes to come true on that day.
Tanabata is celebrated on the 7th of July, and many cities and towns have their own festivals with colorful displays on the main streets.