Every summer when a blue-white sapphire-of-a-star appears overhead at dusk and, when darkness falls, a celestial river flows beside that star, the Tanabata Festival is celebrated in Japanese culture.
Based on various ancient Asian traditions, the legend of Tanabata (or Orihime), the daughter of the Sky King or of the universe itself, fell in love with Kengyu (Hikoboshi); after a time of blissful marriage they were wrenched apart and placed in the sky, separated by what is sometimes called the Silver River.
A version of the legend holds that magpies form a bridge across this river of stars one day each year, making it possible for the lovers to reunite. This day is marked by Tanabata Festivals, which are held on July 7 in most regions of Japan and Aug. 7 in others, like Sendai, due to differing calendar calculations.
Look up to spot the very same stunning blue-white star on the shore of what we know as the Milky Way: we call it Vega, the second brightest star in the summer sky. Across the magnificent Milky Way, to Vega's right, we see Altair and are stirred by these distant suns that are significant in the lives of the Japanese people, young and old. We, too, can be a part of the spirit of Tanabata that affirms our connection to the cosmos and our innate longing for love.
Vega and Altair, with nearby Deneb, form an unmistakable triangle, the Summer Triangle, that is visible all night, even in towns where light pollution blocks out dim stars. To see the glowing Milky Way, go to a dark sky area, a place where artificial light is at a minimum.
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