Tanabata is one of the biggest summer festivals in Japan. If you have ever watched anime you have probably seen at least one episode featuring a summer festival. At a summer festival you can expect to wear yukata (or at least see yukata), eat street food, stroll around, pray at the shrine, etc.
Tanabata is like all those, except during Tanabata the town is covered in tall bamboo stalks that are heavily decorated.
Story of Tanabata
Tanabata literally means, “Night of the Seventh.” It takes place on July 7th (although also can take place on August 7th, depending on the location) to celebrate Orihime and Hikoboshi, the original star-crossed lovers. Orihime and Hikoboshi angered their parents by falling so in love that they forgot to do anything else but adore each other. Orihime was known for her beautiful weavings, but she was so in love that she lost her drive and her legendary weaving skills suffered for it.
And because being an unproductive dreamer/terrible weaver is an unforgivable sin (I think it pretty much is in Japanese society; but don’t quote me on it), the two were cast off onto different sides of the Milky Way (called “Ama no Gawa” in Japanese, meaning “heavenly river”). Only during Tanabata are the two allowed to re-unite.
(DISCLAIMER: This story may be biased and/or heavily editorialized.)
What to Do
Walk around, enjoy the festival scene. Try to make a wish….
My favorite thing to do is read other people’s wishes. It’s the ultimate voyeuristic pleasure of Tanabata.
Where to Go
There are several big Tanabata festivals:
Asagaya Tanabata Festival:
It’s been going strong for 60 years and is the biggest Tanabata festival in Tokyo. Community organizations make giant paper maches of animals, characters, etc. If you are in Tokyo and it is the week of August 7th head down to Asagaya for a cozy and fun Tanabata experience.
(I actually live around here and can personally vouch for it)
The most well-known Tanabata. Have never gone but it is on my Japan bucket-list! It is August 7th and lasts 3 days.
Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata:
If you want to attend a big Tanabata festival in the Kanto region then this is your location! It’s July 7th and lasts 4 days.