Large Tanabata decorations

Celebrate the Tanabata Star Festival in Misawa, Aomori

Tanabata, known as the ‘Star Festival,’ is a Chinese based tale celebrated in honour of starcrossed lovers Weaver Star Vega and the Cowherd Star Altair who are separated by the Milky Way and can only meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month, and have for the past 2000 years it is said. Misawa City, located in Aomori prefecture in the northeast of Japan’s mainland, celebrates this event a bit later in July, with 2017 festivities planned for Friday July 28th through the Sunday the 30th. This kicks off the summer festival season in this quaint city near the sea.

Tanabata decorations
Tanabata streamers

The local merchants decorate the streets with arched bamboo poles that reach across the street, and hang papier mâché lanterns and streamers which most of them light up at night, setting a splendid atmosphere. They are so large you are tempted to walk through the streamers, which most people do, and take photographs in front of them.

During Tanabata children and adults write wishes on strips of paper and tie them to bamboo branches in hopes that they will be granted.

Casual summer kimono, usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, are unlined leaving more room to breathe on hot summer days. They are called Yukata, and are worn as tradition having prints made of colorful design filling the streets adding to the brilliance of the billowing streamers and festive environment created for this weekend.

Food stall at the Tanabata festival in Misawa
An okonomiyaki food stall

There is plenty of food as the stalls line the streets with every type of Japanese cuisine imaginable, reasonably priced. There are also makeshift bars from local pubs, so you can stroll along while enjoying a refreshing beverage as you observe the decorations.

Tanabata - chocolate-covered banana
Banana slices covered in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry with sprinkles

Games here are mainly geared for young children, such as the ever so popular kingyo-sukui, the ‘Goldfish Scooping’ game where a special scooping wand made of paper called a poi is used to scoop the fish. You must be quick to catch the fish as you get to keep what you catch. If the poi breaks, game over. Most hosts of this game are generous and will give a fish or two to the children even if they break their poi.

Another popular spot is the mini cars equipped with a track for kids to zoom around, which is always located at the exit strip of road from one of Misawa’s most intriguing sites, the Air Force Base shared by both Japanese and American forces that gives plenty of paved road to drive on. Along the site, several games allowing for the chance to win blowup samurai balloons, stuffed animals and trinkets are scattered amongst the food vendors and set up at Chuo Koen, Misawa’s Central Park known to the locals as simply ‘the train park,’ where a black steam engine sits as a piece of Japanese history.

Tanabata - kingyosukui goldfish scooping
Goldfish scooping game

The main attraction of this celebration is located at Sky Plaza Mall parking lot, where a spacious stage is trucked in with full lighting and sound. Last year's entertainment began on Friday, with some Hula Dance, Oriental Belly Dance and a special guest live performance. The 2nd day was filled with unbelievably talented dance performances from studios across Aomori Prefecture and beyond, in competition showcasing their troupe's best choreography with dances, mainly of hip-hop, from ages 3 and up and started at 1:00 p.m. and ran until 9:00 p.m., not something you would normally see at this traditional type of festival but was superbly entertaining.

Tanabata- hip hop kids dance
Hip Hop group dancing

The final day incorporated a Kamikubo ES Brass Band & Baton Twirling Performance, a Bingo Competition, the Amani Belly Dance, and the highlight was the 33 basketball competition which included stunt balls during the breaks. This was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters perform but from non-professional local talented boys and men.

If you are looking for a smaller, family-oriented festival for children of all ages and adults, Misawa's Tanabata Festival offers such a huge variety of food and entertainment that there is something for everyone to enjoy. Misawa is easily accessible by train or car with plenty of parking.

To contact the event organizers, call 0176-53-2175.


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