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Tanabata (七夕) is the Japanese version of the Chinese Qi Xi (七夕) festival, aka "the Night of Sevens". It was exported to Japan about a millenia ago during the time of The Empire of The ('Northern' as we posthumously call them) Song, or what is known in Japan as the 'Heian' period. We're calling it Tanabata
and not Qixi
because Japan was a NATO-ally throughout the Cold War whereas Communist China did not align with NATO until the 1970s
, meaning that the Anglosphere's first mass-exposure to the festival was through the Japanese
The festival is based on the legend of two Star-Crossed Lovers
, Orihime (Zhinü) the weaver and Hikoboshi (Niulang) the cowherd, symbolized respectively by the stars Vega and Altair (both only visible in the northern hemisphere). Throughout the year they are separated by the river of the Milky Way, but for a single night each year - the seventh day of the seventh month of the most of the Chinese lunisolar calendars - one of them is said to be able to cross the void and they can be together. The method of crossing varies depending on the storyteller, but the most popular and romantic way is by a bridge of birds who serve them out of sympathy for their plight - often magpies, which are lucky birds in Chinese mythology.
In China, Japan, and Korea (where it's called Chilseok) the festival is a cultural equivalent of European Christianity's 'Day of Saint Valentine'. In China's south (of the Yanzi river), they celebrate the day by eating mooncakes (among other things), but the Japanese generally celebrate this day by writing wishes on tanzaku
paper and hanging them on bamboo, sometimes with other decorations. The bamboo and decorations are often set afloat on a river or burned after the festival (around midnight or on the next day).
Anime and Manga
- The Usagi Yojimbo story "Runaways" explicitly references the myth with Usagi and the princess he had fallen for even attending the festival.
- In the Reflections arc of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW), Princess Celestia's relationship with the King Sombra of the Mirror Universe is very similar to the folklore, both characters coming from opposite dimensions who can only meet through the use of a magic mirror. On top of that, Mirror King Sombra owns a wishing garden and in this garden, ponies write wishes on paper and hang them on trees much like those who celebrate the festival.
Live Action Television
- In the 2010 version of The Karate Kid, Mei Ying invites Dre on a date the night of the Qi Xi festival. They watch a shadow puppet play about the tale of Zhinü and Niulang.
- Kamen Rider Den-O uses Tanabata as the running theme for Kamen Rider Zeronos; his two primary forms are called Vega and Altair, and his Imagin partner is named Deneb and is modeled on tengu (among other things). The theme of Star-Crossed Lovers also applies to Zeronos' user Yuto Sakurai and his fiance Airi Nogami, separated because Sakurai is hiding in the timestream to protect their future child, and had to erase Airi's memory to keep her safe too.
- Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger has an episode focused around this festival. The MOTW uses this festival as a means to grant the wishes of anyone who wrote on his slips and then kills them the next day due with his powers. Five of the Kyoryugers are hit with this, and it's up to the leader Daigo to stop the MOTW before everyone else dies.
- Bridge of Birds: The actions of Master Li and Number Ten Ox become interwoven with the Qi Xi story, although the heroes don't realize this when they first set out.
- Nona celebrates this in the British children's book Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Nona's actually Anglo-Indian, but became interested in Japanese culture through her Japanese dolls.
- As a highly romantic story, it has been a popular topic in Chinese and Japanese poetry for centuries.
- Referenced in Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG with Stellaknight Bridge. "Satellaknight Altair and "Satellaknight Vega" appear in the artwork.
- We Love Katamari includes a stage where players roll up all the planets and stars they've created, with the rolling up of the sun as the ultimate objective. This stage includes numerous Easter Eggs, such as the stars Vega and Altair, on which ride small human forms that shout "Hikoboshi-sama!" and "Orihime!" as you collect them.
- Beautiful Katamari on the Xbox 360 features a downloadable stage called "Lovers' Loom", where you are asked to roll up fabric and wool to make the star Vega. When completed, the King turns your Katamari into a five-pointed star with Orihime and Hikoboshi sitting on the arms.
- Referenced in Persona 3: after SEES figures out how to predict when certain bosses will appear, Akihiko comments that one upcoming battle will be "a Tanabata special bout". Humorously it's the battle against the Hierophant and Lovers Arcana, which represent tradition and choice or the misuse of tradition and lack of choice, and also is the infamous Love Hotel battle.
- The plotline of the story is involved intimately in the background of Mega Man Star Force 2, and the involved characters have their names maintained appropriately across localizations. Orihime is the Main Villain of the game, and in English is named Vega for the star.
- This is complete with her lover being named Hiko (obviously from Hikoboshi) in Japanese and Altair in English. And mind you, they come from Kingdom Tannabata. This, and Altair being deceased, makes them a true pair of Star-Crossed Lovers.
- Jirachi is a star-shaped legendary Pokémon that is supposed to wake up once every thousand years, and people upon seeing it will write wishes that Jirachi will grant onto small pieces of paper and place them on Jirachi's head. Fittingly, it is often distributed in Japan around the time of the Tanabata festival.
- In Katawa Shoujo, Yamaku High School has a festival organized around Tanabata. You only get to see it in Shizune's route, though.
- Tanabata is heavily discussed in Lilly's route as Hiseo promises to take her to the festival. Appropriately, that does not happen because Lilly and Hiseo have their own Star-Crossed Lovers situation. Whether this is permanent depends on the player's actions.
- While this hasn't been played into plot, yet, BlazBlue's Litchi Faye-Ling had her birthday exactly at the Tanabata day (July 7th). She's also the resident Love Martyr.
- In Hatoful Boyfriend, the heroine gets to see the wishes of the birds she's the closest to at Tanabata and make a wish herself to conquer the world by force, rule the world from the shadows, gain the Mad Love of a Fallen Angel, or become a famous artist.
- In zOMG!, Shrine Maiden Katsumi asks you to deliver an off-season wish to a Wish Tree in Zen Gardens (she is wishing for the safety of others in the Animated attacks). The wishes in the Wish Tree turn out to be Animated themselves— but they were created almost completely in goodwill, so they're mostly neutral/benevolent towards humans.
- Super Robot Wars has two mechas named after the stars of Tanabata: Altairlion and Vegalion. Their pilots, Ibis Douglas and Sleigh Presty, aren't exactly lovers, they're more like best friends, but they went through hardships and misunderstandings a lot (especially on Sleigh's side) until they finally understand each other and eventually unite their mecha into Hyperion. This is referenced in Second Original Generation where the resident mecha Otaku Ryusei Date noticed the theme naming and asked why Hyperion isn't instead called Tanabatalion, in which his idea gets shot down.
- Also, according to Super Robot Wars Alpha 1, where the character originates from, Kusuha Mizuha (who is the full-blown protagonist of the Alpha series and a reasonably important character in the Original Generation series) was born on Tanabata. In OG, this connection isn't very meaningful or explored, but it ends up being rather more important symbolically in Alpha.
- Her default Alpha skillsetnote even has a subtle joke on Tanabata in it: she has a "spirit" skill which increases her movement speed substantially available for a far lower cost than many other characters. She can cross the otherwise vast distances between people very easily!