Tokyobling's Blog

Tanabata Festival

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People by tokyobling on July 7, 2011

It’s Tanabata again! Tanabata festival is one of those hard-to-explain Japanese festivals that sneak up on us every year and sort of signals that summer is here and the festival season is now officially open. I think one of the main reasons it’s not very famous among foreigners is because it is so targeted to kids! It is a star festival (quite unusual theme in itself I think) that along with so many other customs came from China in the mid 8th century and merged with local shinto customes. It is officially celebrated on the 7th of the 7th, every year but some towns, temples or groups prefer to follow one of the two other semi-official calenders of Japan. This is great because it means I usually have 5 days of tanabata celebrations every year! Three days around the 7th of July, and then on the other two days of the lunar calendar and the lunar-solar calender. Imagine if Christians celebrated Christmas the same way!

One of the most visible aspects of the festival are the wish-slips that people attach to bamboo stands all over the country in the days leading up to tanabata, almost every department store or town hall and most schools put these up where visitors can write their own wishes for the coming year. Since it is a star festival, tanabata has also been picked up as a Japanese alternative to the global Earth Day, and people are encouraged to turn of lights for a couple of hours at night in order to properly enjoy the stars. A great concept and I hope it becomes more popular in the near future. I have lived in Tokyo for many years but I don’t think I have seen more than a handful of the brightest stars. At least this energy conservation campaign were are enjoying now is paying off in that respect, the skies have never been more beautiful!

Here’s some of the photos I took during the early evening at a Tokyo tanabata festival. Focusing on the kids, the foods and the games. See the photo of the ramune bottles waiting to be recycled? With temperatures hitting over 30 degrees C even at night, ramune is the drink to enjoy! Also note the little guy in what at first appeared to be a yukata. A slight wardrobe malfunction revealed that it was a cleverly designed set of PJs!

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