Japan Atlas: Festivals

Tanabata Festival


Sendai Tanabata Festival
Location: Sendai City, Miyagi Pref.
Date: August 6-8
Number of Visitors:
2.2 million(1997)

Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival
Location: Hiratsuka City, Kanagawa Pref.
Date: July 3-7
Number of Visitors:
3 million(1997)

Colorful Displays Joyfully Celebrate Annual Encounter of Legendary Couple

Tanabata, or the Star Festival, is held on the evening of July 7. The festival traces its origins to a legend that the Cowherd Star (Altair) and Weaver Star (Vega), lovers separated by the Milky Way, are allowed to meet just once a year--on the seventh day of the seventh month. People write their wishes on narrow strips of colored paper and hang them, along with other paper ornaments, on bamboo branches placed in the backyards or entrances of their homes. They then pray hard that their wishes will come true.

The Tanabata festival is thought to have started in China. It was transmitted to Japan during the feudal period and combined with traditional local customs to become an official event at the Imperial court. Commoners soon began observing this festival, with different localities developed their own distinctive ways of celebrating.

Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture) and Hiratsuka (Kanagawa Prefecture) are particularly famous for their elaborate Tanabata displays. Shopping arcades in these two cities feature huge decorations that are sponsored by local shops, which try to outdo one another in the size of their displays.

Some areas of Japan, including Sendai City, celebrate Tanabata a month later, on August 7, since this is closer to the seventh day of the seventh month on the traditional lunar calendar. Such communities frequently perform the services for Bon, a period in mid-August when deceased relatives are thought to return, together with the ceremonies for Tanabata.

Photo: Tanabata Festival in Sendai City (Miyagi Prefecture).

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