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Sendai Tanabata Festival – the Most Famous Star Festival in Japan!

Satomi

Writer

Sendai Tanabata Festival in Miyagi prefecture is one of the three major festivals in the Tohoku region. You can see many big colorful streamers displayed at each shopping street in Sendai city such as the arcade in the central area. The festival takes place annually from the 6th to the 8th of August, and about 2 million tourists visit to see these gorgeous decorations. In this article, I would like to tell you more about what Tanabata Festival is like and about its highlights.


The Origin of Sendai Tanabata Festival

The 7th of July is the day of Tanabata in Japan. The Japanese believe and celebrate that Vega and Altair meet once a year on this day. Vega and Altair are the star names. The reason why they believe so is that there is a legend which comes from Chinese folklore.

A long time ago, there were a man named Hikoboshi and a woman named Orihime. Hikoboshi represents Altair and Orihime represents Vega. They fell in love and they were crazy about each other. They ended up neglecting their work. The heavenly god got angry and pulled the two apart. However, the god allowed them to meet each other just once a year on Tanabata day. Now, on this day, children write their wishes on colorful strips of paper and tie them onto the branches of bamboo for display. They believe that if they do so, their wishes will come true.

In every region of Japan, Tanabata festivals take place on a day around the 7th of July. Sendai Tanabata Festival is the biggest festival among them. It comes from a combination of the Chinese legend, a local event where people pray to the god of rice fields for good harvest, and the indigenous Japanese legend of “Tanabatasume”. “Tanabatasume” are women who used to make textiles using a machine called “tanabata”.

Sendai Tanabata Festival Origin

Sendai Tanabata festival takes place from the 6th to the 8th of August, not around the 7th of July. from the festival originated in the beginning of the Edo period. Date Masamune, who was Sendai ’s first feudal lord, promoted the festival. The lunar calendar was popular in those days. When the Showa period began, people started using the solar. Sendai Tanabata Festival started becoming obsolete due to both the solar calendars introduction and the recession after World War 1.

Sendai merchants held a big Tanabata Festival to reinvigorate the city in 1927. The next year the festival was held on the same day as the present date, and the decoration competition also started taking place at the festival. This was the beginning of the gorgeous Sendai Tanabata Festival. That’s why Sendai Tanabata Festival takes place from the 6th to the 8th of August to synchronize with the season of the festival in the past, which is one month later than the lunar calendar.

The Highlights of the Festival

Sasa-kazari – Decorations Symbolizing the Festival

The most outstanding thing at the festival is the gorgeous handcrafted Tanabata decoration – “sasa-kazari”. The local shopkeepers, schools, other companies, and groups make many kinds of sasa-kazari of various sizes every year. You will notice about 3000 sasa-kazari in the city.

The biggest sasa-kazari in the shopping districts are about ten meters long. The shopkeepers handcraft them for several months before the festival starts. In the early morning on the 4th of August, they cut down about 10-meter-long bamboo poles in the mountains and display the sasa-kazari that they poured their souls into over the past months. Displaying a set of five sasa-kazari is the custom of the festival. You’ll be surprised to know that one sasa-kazari costs from hundreds of thousands of Yen to a few million Yen!

There are seven essential kinds of ornaments – “nanatsu kazari” for the sasa-kazari. Each ornament has a different meaning and contains wishes as below.

Strips: for calligraphy and school improvement
Paper kimono: for warding off illness and misfortune, also for sewing skills
Paper crane: for home safety and longevity
Drawstring pouch: for wealth and good business
Net: for abundant harvest and fishing
Wastebasket: for cleanliness and economy
Streamers: for weaving skills and handicrafts

It will be fun to walk around to see the Tanabata decorations while looking where to put each of the seven ornaments.

Omatsuri Hiroba (Festival Square)

On the Festival Square, you will see many kinds of stage performances such as Japanese drum performance, concerts by famous singers, bon-odori dance, and a character show for children. Also, you will see educational exhibitions about the history of Tanabata. There is also a section where you can experience making nanatsu kazari and write your wishes on a paper strip. When you get hungry, try something in the festival food stalls that serve dishes including Miyagi’s specialties. My recommendation is the beef tongue, which is one of the local delicacies. Anyone from adults to children will enjoy various attractions here for sure.

Night Events at Zuihoten and Sendai Castle

The festival has not only daytime events but also nighttime ones. I would like to introduce two popular events to you. One event is “Zuihoten Tanabata Night”. Zuihoden is the mausoleum of Date Masamune. During the festival period, about 1200 bamboo lanterns glow along the path and inside the mausoleum. The main hall and the gate are also illuminated. There are also some live music performances on the stage surrounded by cedar trees. The live music in the natural setting wraps you up in a mystical and dream-like atmosphere. It’s very soothing!

The place where another night event takes place is Sendai castle. It is the castle where Date’s family used to live for many generations. It is the best place in Sendai to see the scenic night view. During the festival period, you can see the illuminated equestrian statue of Date Masamune. Moreover, “Date Bushotai” (It is a group who impersonates Date Masamune and other historical figures from Sendai) gives a dynamic martial art demonstration and special performances for this event.

Details and Access

Dates: August 6th ~ 8th. *Held annually on the 6th ~ 8th of August.

Place: To see sasa-kazari: The front of Sendai Station ~ Chuo-dori (Central Street), Arcade shopping street of Ichibancho-dori.

International Reception and Info:

Sendai Tourist Information Desk is on the first floor of the” Fujisaki honkan”. Building. There is English speaking staff, and they also support Chinese and Korean customers using electronic translation.

Sendai Tourist Information Desk Home Page: https://www.i-sendai.jp/about

Official website: https://www.sendaitanabata.com/en

Address: Kotodai Park Citizens’ Square “Festival Square” 3-9-2 Honcho Aoba-ku Sendai-shi,

Miyagi-ken

Access:

  1. Take the Subway Namboku line and get off at Kotodai Koen Mae station
  2. Walk for about 15 minutes from JR Sendai Station
  3. Drive for about 15 minutes from Sendai Miyagi Interchange of Tohoku Expressway

Sendai Tanabata Fireworks Festival

Tanabata Fireworks Festival takes place on the 5th of August. It has become a very popular event since it took place on the eve of the Tanabata festival in 1970. The fireworks festival takes place around Sendai West Park. It is one of the biggest fireworks festivals in the Tohoku region, and it is very rare for a fireworks festival in Japan to be held in the central area of the city.

Approximately 500,000 people come to see the festival every year. The fireworks festival livens up the Tanabata festival that starts from the next day. The fireworks festival starts at 19:00 and finishes at 20:30. About 16,000 fireworks are set off and you can see many kinds of fireworks like colorful and huge “Star Mine” fireworks (a rapid-fire series of bursts). The shapes, colors, and impressive power of these fireworks will astound you! If you visit the Sendai Tanabata Festival, be sure to check it out too!

Visit Matsushima 

When you visit Miyagi prefecture, there is a place you shouldn’t miss. It is Matsuyama, which is one of the three most scenic spots in Japan. There are 260 small and large islands scattered in Matsushima Bay. Matsushima is the general name for those islands.

You can enjoy different views of Matsushima Bay at the sightseeing cruises. You can also visit historical spots like Zuiganji temple and Entsuin temple to feel the traditional Japanese atmosphere. There are a few islands where you can enjoy taking a walk as well. Besides, don’t miss “Shidaikan” which is a four places area in Matsushima with wonderful views. Moreover, Matsushima is famous for its seafood, like conger eels in summer and oysters in winter. If you like sweets, I recommend “zunda mochi”. Zunda mochi is a rice cake covered in sweetened mashed green soybeans. Nowadays, zunda milkshake is popular too. There are many ways to enjoy Matsushima.

Matsushima is easily accessible. It takes 40 minutes to get to Matsushima from JR Sendai Station or about 1 hour from the central area of Sendai city by car. Visiting Matsushima should be on any visitor’s `things to see’ list!

Closing Remarks

Sendai Tanabata Festival has a history of over 400 years. Even in the year when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred and Sendai was heavily damaged, the festival took place. Every year many strips of paper express the people’s wishes for the reconstruction after the earthquake and words that show concern about other places damaged by the natural disaster. Sendai Tanabata Festival is a festival which makes community relationships and connections with others stronger. If you visit the festival and interact with the people involved in the festival, you can also feel what they have been cherishing for ages.

If you would like to see this amazing festival and explore Sendai city with a friendly local guide, please check out the banner below!

Do You Like Fireworks Festivals?

Hope you enjoyed reading this article and it made you want to visit this outstanding festival! However, there are a lot of fireworks festivals and events in summer, as fireworks festivals are one of the traditional events in Japan. Put on your Yukata and getas, meet your friends and enjoy a beautiful night sky lit up with thousands of colorful fireworks! If you are planning to visit Japan to see fireworks, the following article picked the top 11 best fireworks (or Hanabi) festivals for you!
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/4269/

Did You Know That There is a Festival Every Day Somewhere in Japan?

Japan is a country of festivals indeed. Matsuri is an essential part of traditional Japanese culture. Thus, every day somewhere in Japan a festival takes place. There are traditional and modern festivals, on the sea and on the ground, in summer and winter. Japanese are hardworking people. However, when you attend at least one festival in Japan, you will understand how locals like to party. The article under the link below will introduce you to a celebration on any day of the year. I am sure you will find an event that suits your interests utmost!

URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/6572/

Would You Like to Know How to Enjoy a Japanese Festival Even More?

A lot of people when they get to a Matsuri for the first time feel themselves a bit lost. They confuse about what is happening around. If you are new to Japanese Festivals or want to know an alternative way of how you can enjoy these events, the following article will provide you with a set of helpful tips on how to choose a proper festival and activities you should try there. Please don`t hesitate to take a look at it!

URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5363/

Don`t Stay Hungry at the Festival!

Image courtesy of Tomomarusan

The food presented during Matsuri is pretty different from the one you get at the restaurants in Japan. Besides, there is a certain charm in grabbing some snack from a food stall and diving back into the festival crowd. I am sure that you will discover something new about Japanese festival food from the following article!

URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5504/

Satomi

I used to work for a tourist information center in Fukuoka. I hope my experience can help tourists from overseas.

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