Tanabata (meaning “Evening of the seventh”), also known as the Star Festival, is a Japanese festival originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival. It celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively). According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar.
The date of Tanabata varies by region of the country, but the first festivities begin on 7 July of the Gregorian calendar. The celebration is held across the country (the celebration in the city of Sendai being the most spectacular) on various days between July and August.
Each summer, festival-goers converge on Kappabashi-Hondori (Kappabashi Street) in Tokyo’s Asakusa district for the Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri, a festival traditionally held on July 7 to celebrate the legend.
Many consider Asakusa to be the heart of Old Tokyo. In fact, it lies in the center of Tokyo’s shitamachi or “low city,” where remnants of postwar Japan thrive in the form of old temples, narrow alleys, and modest family-owned businesses. Kappabashi is famous for being the world’s largest restaurant wholesale district, lined with shops specializing in such cooking essentials as handmade stoneware and high-end sushi knives, as well as all those famous food replicas made out of plastic.
During Tanabata, attendees write their wishes on pieces of paper. The wishes are then tied to bamboo branches which line the streets, in the hope that they might come true.
Like all festivals in Japan, there are lots of parades during the festival. It was interesting to see how the organisers had clearly tried to make an effort to give their Tanabata a more ‘modern’ feel by having things like a parade of guys on their very fancy Harley Davidsons
Although the youthfulness of it was somewhat spoilt by fact that they were mostly driven by David Niven look-alikes in their 60s and 70s!
There was also a real effort make sure the local kids were fully involved, which is a fantastic way to make sure the culture gets passed onto the next generation
Mind you, I felt sorry for the kids, as it was a stinking hot day. Luckily, the parents were armed with water spray bottles to cool the kids down a bit..
For the adults, cold beer was very much the order of the day!
Meanwhile, the more traditional parades, such as the ‘odori’ dancing were relegated to the very back…
The kappabashi Tanabata is by no means the most spectacular of its kind, but it was still very colourful, very well attended and gave a great taste of what the festival is all about for those unable to venture further out..