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Tanabata (七夕) is a Japanese festival derived from the Chinese festival Qi Xi (七夕), "the Night of Sevens". It was imported to Japan around the Heian era.
The festival is based on the legend of the two lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi (Zhinü and Niulang in Chinese), symbolized respectively by the stars Vega and Altair. Throughout the year they are separated by the river of the Milky Way, but on one single night every year a bridge of birds appears between them, and they are allowed to be together.
In China, Korea and Japan, the festival is the traditional equivalent of Valentine's Day in the Western world (though some of them also celebrate Valentine's Day as well). The Japanese generally celebrate this day by writing wishes on tanzaku (small pieces of 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.