Tanabata or Star Festival is a celebration of the meeting between two star-crossed lovers, Altair and Vega, who were separated by the silver river, Milky Way.
The night sky is full of stories and myths. During July, there is a popular celestial tale that is celebrated across Japan. It is based on an ancient Chinese folklore about a cowherd boy, represented by the star Altair, and a weaver girl, the star Vega who were victims of a forbidden love. They were banished away from each other to be separated by the silver river (Milkyway).
The two star-crossed lovers are allowed to meet only once a year, during the seventh day of the seventh month. This day is celebrated by the Japanese as the Tanabanata or Star Festival, a commemoration of this heavenly romantic tale.
During this day, people write their wishes on strips of colorful paper (tanzaku) and hang them on bamboo trees. It is believed that when the weather is good during the day of the Tanabata, the two lovers would meet successfully and everyone’s wish will come true. Otherwise, they would wait again for another year.
Tanabata is a big event in Japan. The most popular venue for this festival is held at the city of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, Tohoku Region. Kanto area also has its own grand celebration in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa, which is a usual go-to place for people coming from the Greater Tokyo Area.
This year, we joined the festivities of the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata. The event was held for three days starting from July 8 to 10. As expected, it was fun and a unique cultural experience for us.
Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata 2016 Sights and Scenes
Tanabata is an event full of symbolism. During the celebration, big colorful streamers called fukinagashi were hung all over the main streets of Hiratsuka. These vibrant decorations represents the weaver’s thread from the legend. Aside from the tanzaku, it is also an expression of hope.
A competition for the best decoration is held every year. Local businesses and brands take part and bring-in their best entry. The contest is quite big and participants are willing to spend hundreds of thousands up to a million yen for their decorations.
During the three day celebration, different events and shows were performed along the different areas of the venue. Day 1 opened up with a parade of a thousand of folk dancers or Sennin odori. Day 2 featured a beauty contest for Miss Orihime (the weaver princess). The Day 3’s highlights include a traditional Japanese performing art and a Tanabata wedding.
As with most Japanese festivals, hundreds of food stalls were spread all over the city where visitor could try out some traditional dishes. Since the event is held in July, summer-themed goodies were the best sellers.
The young visitors also had their fare share of Tanabata experience. Carnival games were a big hit with the kids while horror houses drew plenty of the slightly older crowd.
Of course Tanabata wasn’t complete without writing a wish to a tanzaku. There were numerous spots all around Hiratsuka where you can can see these brightly colored papers hanging.
For visitors who wanted a more solemn setting to hang their tanzaku, the Hiratsuka Hachimangu Shrine located 15 minutes north of Hiratsuka Station provides the perfect ambience.
In summary, the Tanabata Festival is one of the events to look forward to as the summer approaches. Aside from the picturesque display of colors and fascinating performances, it is a good venue to immerse and mingle with the locals.
How to get to Hiratsuka, Kanagawa
Hiratsuka can be accessed via JR Tokaido Line (Hiratsuka Station).
- From Tokyo : Take the Odakyu Line going to Fujisawa Station (~50 mins). Then, transfer to Tokaido line going to Hiratsuka(~15 mins)
- From Yokohama : Take the Sotetsu Line going to Yamato Station (~20 mins) then transfer to Odakyu Enoshima Line going to Fujisawa (~10 mins). From there transfer again to Tokaido line going to Hiratsuka Station.
Did you like this post? Feel free to comment and share with your friends! Subscribe to The opeN Notes by email or like our facebook page to get our latest articles of travel, adventure and life’s balance