The Sendai Tanabata Festival
During the Sendai Tanabata Festival, the biggest city of Tohoku fills up with countless paper decorations. The biggest of its kind all over Japan, the festival welcomes more than two million visitors every year.
Sendai is the biggest city in the Tohoku region, so it makes sense that it also hosts one of the largest and most visited summer festivals of the entire region. The Sendai Tanabata Festival takes place over three days, usually around the first weekend of August. The highlight of the festival is the countless paper streamers, typical of Tanabata celebrations, that hang from most of the major pedestrian shopping streets in the city. The paper works of art are made by local shops, organizations, and schools, with many of them displaying the name of the contributing group from big brands to small, independent organizations.
Other common decorations that you will most likely come across are tanzaku, small pieces of paper with handwritten wishes on them which are usually hung from bamboo to create a kind of wish tree. There are also plenty of impressive origami kimonos, purses, trash bags and cranes hanging from bamboo poles erected throughout the city. These all represent wishes for luck in their respective fields.
While the decorated shopping streets are by far the most eye-catching aspect of this festival, most of the events take place in and around Kotodai Koen, next to the Jozenji-dori Avenue. In this area, there is a huge spread of food stands and a big stage where different performances take place while the festival is taking place.
Other stands found around the city include old-school fun and games, such as shooting ranges, and puppet shows.
Tanabata is one of the older Japanese traditions, believed to have been introduced to the country back in the eighth century. According to the legend, the lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi, represented by the stars Vega and Altair, are separated by the Milky Way and they are only allowed to meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month.
While Tanabata celebrations take place in many different cities throughout Japan, there’s some confusion over when the actual holiday takes place. As previously mentioned, the day when Orihime and Hikoboshi are allowed to meet is said to be on the seventh day of the seventh month but since it is unclear whether this refers to the modern Gregorian calendar, or the traditional Japanese lunisolar calendar, there’s a bit of wiggle room available. This explains why the Sendai festival is held in July in some places but August in others.
The Sendai Tanabata Festival dates back to the early days of the city, more specifically, the early Edo Period. The popularity of the festival started to fade after the Meiji Restoration, but back in 1928 it came back into fashion thanks to a group of ambitious volunteers who worked to start the festival back up. During the years following World War II the festival grew in size and since then its popularity has continued to increase.