Tanabata, commonly referred to as the “star festival,” occurs on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. According to the traditionally established lunar calendar, the seventh month of the year roughly corresponds to August rather than July, hence in certain parts of Japan, Tanabata is still observed on August 7th, while it is observed on July 7th in other parts.
The Tanabata story
The romantic tale of Vega and Altair, two star-crossed lovers, serves as the foundation for the Tanabata festival. Only under clear skies are they able to meet each other once a year.
In reality, the tale is based on the Chinese myth Qixi, which was introduced to Japan in the eighth century. Princess Orihime, a lovely seamstress, and Hikoboshi, a cow herder, are the central characters of the tale of two lovers. They resided on opposing sides of the Milky Way, which served as a metaphor for the heavenly river.
Because of their commitment to one another, Orihime’s father, the God of the Heavens, became enraged and barred them from ever seeing one another. Orihime begged him, and in exchange for a concession, he agreed to let them get together once a year.
The Tanabata celebration was carried over into the court noblemen-centered life of the capital and developed into a tradition of wishing for better calligraphy and successful love relationships. This became an annual tradition under the Edo Shogunate, was adopted by the samurai, trickled down to the populace, and is now known as the Tanabata Festival, which is unique to each region.
Tanabata festivities are being held in front of Tokyo Tower. On the path leading to the well-known Zojoji Temple, 3,700 candle-lit lanterns are used to create a representation of the Milky Way. The festival runs from 5:30 p.m. on each evening of July 6 and 7 and lasts two days. Visitors can pay ¥100 to put up one of the many colorful prayer strips that decorate the temple. The Tanabata Prayer Party starts at 5:30 p.m., and the Milky Way is at its most beautiful at 6 p.m.
The largest of Kanto’s three major Tanabata festivities, which annually draws 1.7 million guests, celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. From July 8-10, the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival takes place at the Hiratsuka Station north entrance shopping district. There are no food or drink stands because of Covid-19. However, visitors can still take in the 500 vibrant Tanabata decorations that are lit up at night. Numerous events are included in the festival. A bamboo painting class, a drone park experience area, and a traditional procession with dancing are all included.
The Sayama City Irumagawa Tanabata Festival in Saitama takes place a bit later, in August. On August 6 and 7, events take place from 3 pm to 8 pm. This is the festival’s first appearance since 2019, when it usually draws about 130,000 visitors. Despite the festival’s cancellation of the firework show, a bamboo decoration contest with voting will go place on August 6. There will also be about 140 Tanabata decorations including streamers and other paper decorations.
Saitama is home to the Ogawamachi Tanabata Festival in addition to one of the three major Tanabata celebrations in Kanto. The 74th anniversary of it is this year. The festival runs from 11 am to 8 pm both days on July 23 and 24. Visitors can enjoy the colorful washi paper Tanabata decorations as well as performances by the Ogawa Wind Ensemble, a Taiko drum show, and children’s dancing performances. They can also experience Taiko drumming for themselves.