The three main Tanabata Festivals in Japan are Sendai Tanabata Festival, Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival, and Anjo Tanabata Festival. To be clear, Anjo Tanabata Festival was not actually included in the “Japan’s Top Three Tanabata Festival,” but now it is famous for these three festivals to be listed as the three biggest Tanabata Festivals in Japan.
- Sendai Tanabata Festival (仙台七夕まつり): Every year on August 6th, 7th, and 8th.
- Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival (湘南ひらつか七夕まつり): The dates changes every year, but usually it is during the first or second week of July, going on for 3 – 4 days and ending on a Sunday.
- Anjo Tanabata Festival (安城七夕まつり): The first weekend of August (Friday – Sunday).
Where Tanabata was inspired
Tanabata is originated from a Chinese foketale “The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd.”
The most popular version is as follows:
Orihime (織姫, Weaving Princess), daughter of the Tentei (天帝, Sky King, or the universe itself), wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (天の川, Milky Way, lit. “heavenly river”). Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, Orihime was sad that because of her hard work she could never meet and fall in love with anyone. Concerned about his daughter, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (彦星, Cowman/Cowherd Star, or literally Boy Star) (also referred to as Kengyuu (牽牛) who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. When the two met, they fell instantly in love with each other and married shortly thereafter. However, once married, Orihime no longer would weave cloth for Tentei and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa and forbade them to meet. Orihime became despondent at the loss of her husband and asked her father to let them meet again. Tentei was moved by his daughter’s tears and allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if she worked hard and finished her weaving. The first time they tried to meet, however, they found that they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet.
And from this story, people started celebrating Tanabata as a festival.
The festival is originally on July 7th, on the lunar calendar, which means it is usually some time around August, but depending on the festival, some would be taking place in July during the normal calendar or in August basing on the lunar calendar.
History of Tanabata Festival
Tanabata Festival, is called Tanabata Matsuri (七夕まつり) in Japanese.
Tanabata Festival became popular since Edo period. In Japan, Tanabata decorations are with bamboos and colorful papers with wishes written in it. When blown in the wind, it is a nice festive view. Tanabata originally started from the Shogun’s family, with setting up bamboos and tying colorful paper with poems and wishes on them.
In the present days, people usually write their wishes on small pieces of paper called Tanzaku (短冊) and hanging them on bamboos or Tanabata decorations. The bamboos are usually set free on a river or burned after the festival hoping that the wishes will be heard and will come true.
The most common Tanabata decorations would look like this:
You could see these kind of decorations in all kinds of places from one month or more before the Tanabata, it is for everyone to write down their wishes. You can find them at places such as department stores, supermarkets, and shrines. But be careful some of them are not free, especially the ones at the shrines.😅
Some people would set up the bamboos at home as a seasonal decoration and also to make wishes as well. You can also choose to visit one of the Tanabata Festivals, there are a lot of them around the country, in all kinds of scales, and the three large scaled ones are the ones introduced in this blog.
Tanabata Festival, to explain it in a really plain way, Tanabata Festival is like a Christmas market in the summer. You enjoy the decorations and atmosphere while eating and drinking and enjoying yourselves! 😆
It is one of the main summer events of Janpan. A lot of the festivals will also come with firework shows for their visitors to enjoy!
Sendai (仙台) is in the north side of Japan, it is about 2 hours on Shinkansen from Tokyo. And Sendai’s Tanabata Festival started in the beginning of Edo period which means it started in the 1600s. It is said that it started with Date Masanune (伊達政宗) as a event for women to know more about the culture of the country and help it to grow. But it is uncertain when exactly the Tanabata Festival really started, but it started to be taking place all over Japan since mid Edo period.
Sendai Tanabata Festival is always on the 6th, 7th, and 8th of August. It is one of the festivals that doesn’t change its dates depending on the year. Sendai’s Tanabata wanted to have the full feeling of summer, that’s why they chose to hold its Tanabata Festival in early August.
During the festival, at the city center of Sendai, you will see a lot of Tanabata decorations on the streets and at the shops. It is very colorful everywhere. There are more than 2 million visitors going to see the famous Tanabata Festival every year. The visitors not only enjoy the decorations, shops, and food, also to come and write down their wishes and hope for it to come true.
Information for Sendai Tanabata Festival
- Date for 2017
- 2017/08/06 Sunday – 08/08 Tuesday
- Decorations can be seen at the city center of Sendai city and the shops around it
- There is a Firework show schedules for the 5th of August near Sendai West Park (仙台西公園)
- Main Festival area: Koutoudai Park Citizen Plaza (勾当台公園市民広場), August 6th ~ 8th: 10:00 to 21:00
- About 1.5 hr ~ 2 hrs from Tokyo station via Tohoku Shinkansen to Sendai station (仙台駅)
- Festival Time
- August 6th & 7th: 10:00 to 22:00
- August 8th: 10:00 to 21:00
- Free of entry
- Sendai Tanabata Festival (Japanese only)
Tanabata Festival is based on the famous Chinese Folktale, and it came to Japan as the festival of stars. It started with the upper class people living in the palace, for them to wish for being better in writing, or having their love come true. And then it moved on and became a festival held all over the country with common people enjoying them as well. And depending on the location, the festival would be slightly different.
And the Tanabata Festival at Hiratsuka city, Kanagawa Prefecture, started as a way of bringing business to the local area after the world war. During the war, 70% of this city was burnt down, so the local people decided to start something to help the city to bring back its vitality. And from its first festival in 1951, Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival has now become one of the Tanabata Festival representing Japan.
This Tanabata Festival is said to have the most magnificent decorations among all other Tanabata festivals, you can tell that all the business in the area is supporting this festival. At the center street, you can see about 500 decorations, and especially at the main area, Shonan Star Mall, you’ll see decorations taller than 10m.
Among the decorations, you can see names and pictures of famous athletes, characters, and more, you can see that the decorations at Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival is very active in bringing popular culture into the long lasting tradition. During the festival period, there are also a contest among all the Tanabata decorations in choosing the best decoration.
Information for Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival
- Date for 2017
- 2017/07/07 Friday – 07/09 Sunday
- Hiratsuka city, Kanagawa Prefecture
- JR Hiratsuka station, North exit, 2 minutes on foot
- From Tokyo station, board the JR Tokaido Main Line, about 60 minutes to JR Hiratsuka station (平塚駅)
- From Shinjuku, board the JR Shonan Shinjuku Line, about 65 minutes to JR Hiratsuka station (平塚駅)
- Festival Time
- ~21:00 on 7th and 8th of July
- ~20:00 on 9th of July
- * The festival / shops usually start around the morning from 10:00 ~ 11:00, the shops will usually open around the same time
- * To avoid crowds, we would recommend visiting around 13:00 ~ 15:00, the sun is not as strong as noon time, and there are less people as well. There are the most crowds in the evening time, the light ups of the decorations are lovely, but you may have to move slowly with the crowds during that time.
- Free of entry
- Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival (Japanese only)
The concept of Anjo Tanabata Festival is that it is done by the people and enjoyed by the people, the base thought is that it is an event for all the locals to attend.
There are numerous events at this Tanabata Festival for everyone to participate in.
And the biggest goal for this Tanabata Festival is to become the “most wishes festival in Japan” meaning that it is the festival that has the most number of wishes made by people. That is why this Tanabata Festival has many different types of wish making events. Not only the traditional way of writing the wishes on colorful papers and hanging them on bamboos, there are also events such as wish balloons 🎈
Information for Anjo Tanabata Festival
- Date for 2017
- 2017/08/04 Friday – 08/06 Sunday
- Anjo city, Aichi Prefecture (Same prefecture as Nagoya)
- JR Tokyo station, JR Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya station (approx. 1 hr 41 min) and change to JR Tokaido Main Line to Anjo station (安城駅) (approx. 25 min).
- Including the exchange time it takes about 2.5 hr from Tokyo station.
- From airports
Arriving at Chubu Centrair International Airport:
- Take the Meitetsu airport Ltd. Express to Kanayama station (金山駅) (approx. 32 min) and exchanging to JR Tokaido Main Line to Anjo station (approx. 20 min).
- You can also take the airport limousine to Kariya station (刈谷駅) or Mikawa-anjo station (三河安城駅) and change to JR Tokaido Main Line towards Anjo station.
- Free of entry
- Anjo Tanabata Festival (Japanese only)