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Tanabata

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).
Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, there is a side-story called "The Witches' Tanabata", in which the audience learns about the witches' philosophies when it comes to granting Tanabata wishes.
  • Aoi of Ai Yori Aoshi was born on the day of Tanabata, and at one point is seen hanging tanzaku on bamboo.
  • Suzumiya Haruhi revolves around this trope. On July 7, on one Tanabata, Haruhi meets the mysterious John Smith, actually Kyon who went back in time, making her start to have beliefs in supernatural beings, thus driving the show - not to mention she was trying to write letters to Hikkoboshi and Orihime at the time. Three years later, she forces the SOS Brigade to write wishes and even calculates the exact amount of time it will take said wishes to reach Vega and Altair (25 and 16 years, respectively), and tells them to expect them to receive the responses to those wishes at that time. She then starts to think about the mysterious person she met those years ago, to an oblivious Kyon, who hasn't gone back in time yet. Also, in the Disappearance timeline, Kyon returns to the Tanabata of three years ago to make sure Haruhi remembers "John Smith", although this trip is mainly to meet Yuki and the older Mikuru in order to ensure his universe is restored to normal.It also probably worth noting that "Kyon" could be a mangled derivative of the name of the male of the pair in the Korean legend.
  • In Bakemonogatari, Senjougahara is born on 7th of July, and on their first date she shows Araragi where the Summer Triangle (Formed by Deneb, Altair and Vega) is located. The Summer triangle is also mentioned in the ending, with Altair's and Vega's japanese names (Hikeboshi and Orihime) mentioned in it also.
  • The anime and the manga versions of Ranma ½ have two different filler stories based around Tanabata. In the manga, a variant of the habit of writing wishes on leaves is used as the basis for a Red String of Fate effect, with Ranma having to struggle to keep his and Akane's leaves together and avoid their leaves being tied to those of other people. The anime episode is a tale where Akane falls off of a roof and then meets Princess Orihime (referred to in the dub simply as "Princess Ori") in person, who has descended from the Milky Way to seek out Hikoboshi ("Kengyu the Cowherd" in the dub), her fiance, who has gone missing. As she explains over the course of the episode, the two of them are intended to wed and carry on the Milky Way School of Martial Arts, but she got into a fight with Hikoboshi over his lacksadasical manner and laidback attitude, so now he's come to Earth in a huff to challenge and defeat earthly dojos to prove he is a strong fighter after all... but the Princess's father will make her marry another man if he hasn't returned to the Milky Way by the end of the festival. The episode ends with Akane waking up to discover she apparently was having a dream while concussed after falling off of the roof at the episode's beginning, though there is an Or Was It a Dream? twist.
  • A particularly heartwarming episode of Hidamari Sketch takes place on Tanabata. Sae and Hiro have an argument and spend the day avoiding one another until Miyako and Yuno help them patch up their differences, and in the evening they decorate a bamboo together and hang wishes on it.
  • Karara's first appearance in the Keroro Gunsou anime included her learning about Tanabata and making a wish. This directly ties into Tamama and the others finally learning her real gender, as her wish was to become Tamama's bride.
  • In Chūka Ichiban!, Mao is inspired by the legend of Tanabata (the original Chinese version, of course) in making a noodle dish made of squid ink to represent the night sky and pearl dust to represent Orihime and Hikboshi, respectively.
  • In Lucky Star, this is the Hiiragi twins' birthday. It's also Ponytail Day because the legend says Vega had a ponytail, so they try wearing their hair in ponytails for a bit.
    Tsukasa: Vega and Altair... I hope they meet this year... twinkle twinkle twinkle...
  • The anime version of Rurouni Kenshin had an episode where Kaoru expected Kenshin to treat her to something special for the holiday but Kenshin, who forgot about the holiday, mistook her hints for reminders of her birthday (which was months away). To make matters complicated, Kenshin found a ring inside a fish he caught and, not only forgetting about Tanabata but also not knowing about the Western tradition of engagement rings (which Kaoru and Tae were familiar with), gave her the ring... so Kaoru was now believing Kenshin proposed to her. Later on, by chance, Sanosuke meets the man who lost the ring (and is about to commit suicide because he threw the ring away in the middle of a fight with his girlfriend and fell into depression when he realized what he did) and learn about the tradition. Seeing Kenshin's face when he understood the mess he got himself into, it was hard to remember he's a feared assassin. It all ended more or less well: the ring was retrieved from Kaoru and then given back to the dude (who handed it to his girl), and Kenshin gave Kaoru a flower bouquet to make up for it. (And Tsubame and Megumi also got flowers from Yahiko and Sano).
  • Inoue Orihime of Bleach had a running Tanabata theme given her name. This was lampshaded a couple of times in colorspreads: One by strategically giving her a 7/7 (the seventh day of the seventh month) and another by having her alternate name translated as Vega Highwell (Vega being the star pertaining to Tanabata's Orihime).
  • In .hack//Legend of the Twilight, the Tanabata festival is an event in The World, where male avatars have to cross a raging river to reach a female avatar and win a "date" with her. Rena ends up being the female, and Shugo tries to win, but is beaten by Balmung.
  • Anpanman has multiple episodes that take place during Tanabata. Each of these episodes feature the characters Negai-hoshi and Kanae-hoshi, twin stars that fly town to grant (most of) the wishes. Some wishes they never grant are Baikinman's (to finally defeat Anpanman) and Dokinchan's (to finally get Shokupanman to reciprocate her love).
  • A comedic side story in the Sailor Moon manga centered around the Tanabata festival.
  • Kaworu and Shinji are depicted as Orihime and Hikoboshi in Rebuild of Evangelion. Both Sadamoto’s poster for Q and Honda’s artwork have set Shinji and Kaworu in a sky full of stars with each under Vega and Altair and with the Milkyway running between them. A direct allusion to the star crossed lovers from the legend and the stars associated with them. Furthermore the official theater booklet for 3.0 held interviews by the Khara staff including Megui Ogata and Akira Ishida that described Kaworu and Shinji as having been linked through “past cycles” and only being able to be around each other for a brief time.

Comic Books
  • 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.

Film
  • 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.

Live Action Television
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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.

Tabletop Games
  • Referenced in Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG with Stellaknight Bridge. "Satellaknight Altair and "Satellaknight Vega" appear in the artwork.

Video Games
  • 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 from Pokémon 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 placing them on Jirachi's head.
  • 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!

QipaoUsefulNotes/ChinaTaoism
World TreeImageSource/OtherStar-Crossed Lovers
Christmas in JapanUsefulNotes/JapanKawaisa
Talk Like A Pirate DayAdministrivia/Useful Notes Pages in MainTexture Compression

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