Millions of Japanese celebrated a mythical story of star-crossed lovers as part of a nationwide festival on July 7.

The so-called Tanabata festivals honor the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi. Legend holds the two lovers are separated for eternity by the Milky Way, but are allowed to meet once yearly on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

The Japan Times says the Tenmabashi and Nakanoshima areas of Osaka commemorated the event by recreating the stars of the Milky Way, the heavenly symbol of the lovers separation, by floating 50,000 LED light balls dubbed “Prayer Stars” on the evening waters of the Okawa River.

Passersby participated in the romantic ritual by writing wishes on strips of paper and placing them in a Prayer Star before releasing it into the Okawa.

Okawa River Tanabata Festival

The Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival, was inspired by the famous Chinese folk tale, “The Weaver and the Cowherd.”

In the most popular version of the story, Princess Orihime, the daughter of the Sky King, wove beautiful silken cloth by the banks of the Milky Way — which Japanese call the River of Heaven. She worked so hard to weave the cloth her father loved that she could not meet a man to fall in love with. Pitying his daughter, the Sky King arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, a handsome cow herder, who lived on the other side of the heavenly confluence. The two fell passionately in love and married. Not long after, Orihime stopped weaving her cloth and Hikoboshi was so distracted by Orihime that he allowed his cows to wander all over heaven.

Angered, the Sky King separated the two lovers with the Milky Way and forbade them to meet. But moved by his daughter’s tears, the king relented and allowed her to meet Hikoboshi on the 7th day of the 7th month each year if she had finished her weaving.

Orihime and Hikoboshi

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