七夕 [たなばた] – Tanabata Festival

  • 七 [シチ・なな] – seven
  • 夕 [セキ・ゆう] – evening

Tanabata is a seasonal festival celebrated in Japan and other Asian countries on 7/7, and was always one of my favorites.  Summer had come, people were frolicking in the streets, and there was great Japanese festival food to be had everywhere!  But what is Tanabata?

According to legend, 七夕 represents the story of the literally star-crossed lovers 織姫 [おりひめ], the “weaving princess” (the star Vega), and 彦星 [ひこぼし], the “cow herder star” (the star Altair).  織姫 spent her days weaving beautiful fabric for her father 天帝 [てんてい], the King of Heaven, along the banks of 天の川 [あまのがわ], the Milky Way (lit: “river of heaven”).  Because she did nothing but weave, she feared she would never fall in love.

To remedy this, her father arranged for her to meet 彦星, the cow herder who worked on the other side of the Milky Way.  They fell in love instantly and married, and 織姫 stopped weaving.  This angered her father, and he forbade them to cross the Milky Way.  Moved by her sadness, the King of Heaven gave them permission to meet once a year, on the 7th evening of the 7th month.

You’ll notice that 七 is not pronounced たな, nor is 夕 pronounced ばた.  The pronunciation たなばた comes from the 棚機 [たなばた], or loom, used by 織姫 to weave the beautiful fabric her father loved.  Another pronunciation for 七夕 is しちせき.  Anecdotally, I don’t recall having heard anyone refer to the festival as such, but that is likely only a reflection of my own limited experience.

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