Home » 12 Months of Japanese Holidays: July’s Tanabata and Doyo No Ushi No Hi
July brings two significant holidays to Japan: Tanabata and Doyo No Ushi No Hi. One celebrates the fated reunion of two stars, while the other has less epic origins—but equally delicious food traditions.

Tanabata

Also known as the star festival, the holiday celebrates the annual reunion of two stars, Vega and Altair. They represent the separated lovers Orihime (the former), the weaver and patron of silk farming, and Hikoboshi (the latter), the cowherd and agricultural messenger. Tanabata originally happened on the seventh day of the seventh month according the old Chinese lunar calendar. Today, people celebrate it on July 7. However, some regions choose to honor the original timing, which is typically around mid August.

Tanabata sees Japanese towns decked out in brightly colored strips of paper known as tanzaku and other ornaments, which are strung on bamboo branches (thought to have become a part of the tradition for its propensity to grow straight upward, bearing wishes to heaven). Before hanging, people write their wishes on each tanzaku. They are sometimes sent down the river on decorations or bamboo sticks for even more good luck (although this particular aspect has become rarer due to environmental concerns).

Tanabata Food

Among the foods traditionally eaten during Tanabata, cold somen noodles are one of the most popular. A refreshing summertime treat—somen’s pale strands resemble Orihime’s weaving threads as well as the Milky Way that separates the two lovers. Tanabata somen noodles have toppings that are somewhat unique in Japanese cuisine. They include okra (whose star shape elevates the theme), and eggs or ham thinly sliced into star shapes. People often serve Tanabata somen on a bed of ice, to keep it chilled, alongside dipping sauces.

Find out more about somen noodles and tanabata here!

Doyo No Ushi No Hi

In mid to late July, eel-eating day takes places across Japan. The tradition of eating eel goes back to a superstition in the beginning of the Edo period. People believed that eating food beginning with “u” character is good for one’s health. As the legend goes, one particular restaurateur was finding it difficult to sell his unagi. So, his friend—a well-known author, painter, physician and pharmacologist named Hiraga Gennai—advised that he advertise the fact that unagi starts with the “u.”

Legends aside, unagi actually does have particular nutritional benefits during the dog days. Packed with protein, calcium and vitamins, unagi is an easy way to consume enough nutrients in the summer.

Doyo No Ushi No Hi Food

Unagi bowls, unadon, are one of the most widespread dishes during Doyo No Ushi No Hi. Chef covers the unagi with a special sweet sauce and sprinkles sansho pepper on top, then serves it on a bowl of rice. Although steamed unagi is popular in areas like the Kanto prefecture, skewer-grilled unagi (kabayaki) is also common in other regions, such as Kansai. Traditionally cheap, eel is no longer as plentiful, and thus now a delicacy on special days.

Find out how healthy unagi is.