Tanabata Festival at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine a Great Celebration in Kyoto



Tanabata Festival is one of Japan’s five traditional seasonal events. The one that takes place in Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto is one of the most popular in the area and attracts a lot of people. If you would like to experience Japanese traditions in a sacred place in summer, Kitano Tenmangu shrine is the perfect place to visit.

What is Tanabata?

“Tanabata” (七夕) is a Japanese traditional star festival that originated in China.
“Tanabata” means an evening of the seventh literally.

It celebrates the meeting of deities’ couple, whose name is Orihime, a Weaver Girl, and Hikoboshi, a Cow Herder in the night sky.

According to the legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the old lunar calendar.

The date of Tanabata festival varies by region in Japan, but the first celebrations begin on 7th July of the current calendar. The celebration is held at various days between July and August.

Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea also often celebrate the Tanabata Festival featuring a greeting parade with Minnie as Orihime and Micky as Hikoboshi.

In modern Japan, people generally celebrate this day by writing wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on tanzaku (短冊)- small colorful pieces of paper, and hanging them on the bamboo branches, sometimes with other decorations.

The bamboo branches with decorations are often set afloat on a river or burned after the festival, around midnight or on the next day.

This resembles the custom of floating paper ships and candles on rivers during Obon (お盆).
Many areas in Japan have their own Tanabata customs, which are mostly related to local Obon traditions.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Kitano Tenmangu shrine is one of the most important shrines of several hundred shrines across Japan that are dedicated to Sugawara Michizane (菅原道真), who was a scholar and politician but was exiled by his political rivals.

A number of disasters were attributed to Michizane’s vengeful spirit after his death in exile, and these shrines were built to appease him.

Sugawara Michizane is associated with “Tenjin” – a Shinto god of education.
Consequently, many students visit Kitano Tenmangu to pray for success in their studies.
The shrine can become especially crowded with students during exams period and school trip season.

Tanabata Festival at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Enjoy Beautiful Tanabata Bamboo Decorations

At the Torii (鳥居), the entrance gate to the shrine, the flag and Tanabata bamboo branches with the decorations of colorful wishing papers are installed. If you go forward, you can see a lot of Tanabata bamboo decorations on both sides of the path to the shrine.

On the path and in the precincts, there is mist shower equipment. So, you can cool down even when it is unbearably hot outside.

When you go through the two-storied gate called “Romon” (楼門) and go ahead, you will arrive at another gate called “Sanko mon”, where you can enjoy seeing Tanabata decorations as well.

Then, you will arrive at the main shrine called “Hondo” (本堂).
This is the sacred place to make your prayers.

Sacred Candle Lighting Ceremony

Another authentic experience will become a ceremony called “Mitarashi-gawa Ashitsuke Tomyo Shinji” (御手洗川 足つけ 燈明神事).

After you finished praying at “Hondo”, please return to “Romon” gate.
You can find a place near “Ema” (絵馬), votive pictures of the horse.
That place is the entrance for joining the Sacred Light Ceremony.

Outline of the ceremony is as follows:

1. You can choose a candle out of 5 colors.
Each color stands for each wish.
Please select a color which matches your wish.

2. Please take off your shoes and socks there and walk forward to Mitarashi river.
Then, dip your feet into the river. It must feel cold but comfortable during the hot Japanese summer.
It is a kind of purification ceremony.

3. You can find several lighted candles on both sides of the river.
Please light the candle you have from the lighted candles on the sides.

4. Please bring your lighted candle to the inner shrine and place it at the Honden.
It happens sometimes that your candle’s light goes out, but do not worry.
There are other lighted candles at the inner shrine.
If the fire goes out, please light up your candle again.

5. After you place your candle at the inner shrine, please go back to the place where you took off your shoes and socks.

People believe that the one who fulfilled this ceremony will spend a healthy year in terms of mind and body.

Details and Access

Dates: August 1st – August 14th. (The dates may slightly vary depending on the year).

Place: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (北野天満宮)

Address: Bakuro-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi

Shrine Business Hours:
April – September: 05:00 – 18:00
October – March: 05:30 – 18:30

Official Website:


Kyoto city bus, “Kitano Tenmangu Mae” (北野天満宮), station

Closing Remarks

Tanabata Festival might look like a Christmas Festival in terms of hanging decorations on a tree. The different point from Christmas is hanging wishing paper on the bamboo during Tanabata Festival. Please read the whishing papers on the bamboo branches written by small kids, young people, and elders when you join the Tanabata Festival. It is fun to know that everybody has a different wish, and you can know that the kids’ wishes are so cute.

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l am living in Nagoya, the third largest city located between Tokyo and Osaka. I am looking forword to introducing you about wonderful festivals in Japan.

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