Translated by Hilary Keyes
The Star Festival: 5 Tanabata Celebrations To Check Out In Kanto!
Written by Natsumi Iwaya
Tanabata, or the Star Festival takes place across Japan in either early July or August. Here are 5 Tanabata Festivals in the Kanto region that you won't want to miss!
What is Tanabata?
In early July or August, Japan celebrates Tanabata, the Star Festival.
Although the festival style varies across the country, everybody knows the legend behind it. This is the romantic tale of two stars, Orihime and Hikoboshi, that fell in love and then were separated by the Milky Way, only able to see one another on July 7th, when a bridge across the Milky Way is built by magpies that took pity on the separated lovers. This story is well loved across Japan, so there are numerous Tanabata festivals held either around July 7th or August 7th, depending on whether the area is using the new or the old Japanese calendar respectively.
With such a romantic backstory, how could you not want to see a Tanabata festival while in Japan? Here are five Tanabata events that take place in the Kanto region, with their festival dates and access information.
Kanagawa: Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival
Visited by over 1,700,000 people, the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival is one of the largest in the Kanto region. Although typically a peaceful, beach resort area during the rest of the year, the Shonan area in Kanagawa really comes to life in the summer, with plenty of events, street vendors stunning decorations and displays to wow its visitors.
Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival
Dates: July 7th-9th, 2017 all day until 21:00 (to 20:00 on the 9th)
Address: Kanagawa, Hiratsuka, Akashichou
Nearest Station: Hiratsuka Station, JR Tokai line
Access: In front of North Exit of Hiratsuka Station
Website: Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival (Japanese)
Chiba: Mobara Tanabata Festival
Another of the largest Tanabata Festivals, over 840,000 people visited Chiba's Mobara Tanabata Festival last year. Not only are there impressive decorations and numerous street stalls to see, but there is also a parade of dancers performing Mobara Awa Odori, a festive dance performed by troupes wearing gorgeous costumes traveling down the city streets.
Mobara Tanabata Festival
Address: Chiba, Mobara
Dates: July 28th-31st (depends on event), 10:00-21:00 (depends on event)
Nearest Station: Mobara Station, Keio or Sobu lines
Access: Around South Exit of Mobara Station
Website: Mobara Tanabata Festival (Japanese)
Saitama: Irumagawa Tanabata Festival
Although lasting only two days, the Irumagawa Tanabata Festival in Saitama is the last of the big three; it saw 430,000 visitors last year. Near Irumagawa river lies the Tanabata Street, on which crowds of people gather to enjoy different Japanese festival foods, and of course to see the impressive 2000 fireworks strong fireworks display over the water.
Irumagawa Tanabata Festival
Address: Saitama, Sayama, Irumagawa 1-1-1
Dates: August 5th-6th 11:00-21:30 (fireworks on Saturday from 19:30-20:00; 6th to 21:00)
Nearest Station: Sayamashi Station, Seibu-Shinjuku line
Access: Tanabata Street Arcade from West Exit of Sayamashi Station
Website: Irumagawa Tanabata Festival (Japanese)
Tokyo: Asakusa Shitamachi Tanabata Festival
The area from Asakusa to Ueno is commonly known in Japanese as the shitamachi area, a sort of historical downtown where you will find many independent shops and small production factories for different, typically traditional, items. The Shitamachi Tanabata Festival takes place along Asakusa's Kappabashi Street and the surrounding area. Here you can enjoy seeing brightly colored displays, snack on great festival foods, and of course see fireworks with Tokyo Skytree in the background.
There are not only parades and performances in this festival though, it is also a great place to see and pick up different Japanese traditional handicrafts. This is truly an "Edo-ko" festival (people born and bred in Tokyo for generations).
Shitamachi Tanabata Festival
Address: Tokyo, Taito, Matsugaya 1-4 (in the Kappabashi area)
Dates: July 6th-10th 10:00-20:00 (varies by day and location)
Nearest Station: Tawaramachi Station, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line
Access: 5 minute walk from Tawaramachi Station
Website: Shitamachi Tanabata Festival (Japanese)
Tokyo: Asagaya Tanabata Festival
Located eight minutes by train from Shinjuku Station, Asagaya has a distinctly 'old Tokyo' feel to it, and is known for its friendly, residential atmosphere. During the Asagaya Tanabata Festival, huge displays of papier-mâché characters decorate the shopping streets within the Asagaya Pearl Center Shotengai (shopping street). These characters and other decorations are all made by locals, so here you can really feel the hometown pride of the area. As it's located in a shotengai, there are of course plenty of other exciting things to see and do here as well.
Asagaya Tanabata Festival
Address: Tokyo, Suginami, Asagaya Minami 1-35-18
Dates: August 4th-8th (times vary by location)
Nearest Station: Asagaya Station, JR Chuo Line
Access: the Asagaya Pearl Center is in front of Asagaya Station's South Exit
Website: Asagaya Tanabata Festival (Japanese)
Whether traveling alone or with friends or family, Tanabata festivals are an excellent way to see more of Japanese culture firsthand, so if you happen to be traveling in the Kanto area in July or August, make sure to stop by one of these exciting events. You won't regret it!