At this Kyoto shrine, be careful what you wish for—and how—, because you just might get it

This shrine has built up a reputation for granting wishes, but not in the way you want it to.

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What did Japan wish for at this year’s Tanabata festival?

Held each year on July 7, the Tanabata festival has its roots in the folktale of a young married couple, symbolized by two stars in the night sky, who toil away at their trades separately, able to meet just once a year. It’s a little like the situation in many Japanese families where the husband gets transferred by his company to another prefecture and his wife stays behind to continue her own career or look after the kids. Just replace “office workers” with “cowherd and daughter of the king of heaven” and “prefectural border” with “the Milky Way,” and you’ve got a close approximation.

The story of the two lovers finally being able to see each other has taken on a broader connotation of wishes coming true, and Tanabata is commonly celebrated by writing a wish down on strip of paper, then tying it to a stalk of bamboo.

Department stores and shopping centers usually have displays where visitors post their wishes. Since they’re then on display for others to see, you can get a glimpse of current trends by checking them out. “My family’s safety,” “success in business,” and “health” are three old-standbys of Tanabata wishes, but what else were people hoping for this year?

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Lanterns Fill the Night Skies of Thailand During the Breathtaking Yi Peng Festival

Every year during the summer solstice, the night skies of Poland are filled with thousands of paper lanterns being released into the heavens. People write their wishes on the lanterns before sending them up into the sky in the hope that their wish will some day come true.

Yi Peng is a similar festival that takes place in Thailand, but instead of being used to make a wish, lanterns are used to symbolize the release of one’s troubles. It’s true that the customs and traditions surrounding these two festivals are different, but the sight of thousands of paper stars embracing the night sky is surely a universal beauty.

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