Summers in Japan mean numerous festivals, fireworks, and food stalls. The Tanabata Matsuri, or Star Festival, is the fair celebrated throughout the country that signals the start of the humid albeit eventful season.
During July and August, Star Festivals take place across the country. The three largest, take place in Sendai (Miyagi), Hiratsuka (Kanagawa) and Ichinomiya (Aichi).
Ichinomiya, also known as Owari-Ichinomiya, is in Aichi prefecture and located between Nagoya and Gifu. The city name literally means “first shrine.” It’s most famous for its textile industry.
Ichinomiya’s Star Festival, held on the last weekend of July, draws over a million visitors each year. The festival takes place just outside of the JR and Meitetsu Station. Vendor stalls and decorations of wish trees and colorful streamers line the nearby streets and covered shopping arcade (Honmachi Shotengai) that leads to Masumida Shrine, which was the “first shrine” of the province. Festival goers take in the merriment as they make their way to the shrine, one of the focal points of the event. The festival also features a parade and traditional dance.
Tanabata is often celebrated on July 7th, but since the origin of the legend comes from China, Tanabata is sometimes celebrated on August 7th because it corresponds with the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
The Star Festival’s origin dates back some 2000 years to the Chinese legend known as Qixi. The legend is about two lovers: Orihime, the weaving princess and seamstress who knitted beautiful clothes by the Amano River; and Hikoboshi, the cow herder.
The princess was saddened that her dedication to her work prevented her from meeting and falling in love with anyone. Her worried father Tentei, the God of the heavens, arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi. The seamstress and the cow herder immediately fell in love and married.
However after they married the weaving princess and the cow herder dropped their respective responsibilities. The princess stopped weaving and the herder’s cows wandered astray. This resulted in the angry princess’ father separating them across the Milky Way.
They turned into stars: Orihime into Vega and Hikoboshi into Altair.
After sympathizing with his daughter’s distraught pleas, the Tentei agreed to let them meet on the 7th day of the 7th month, granted that the princess fulfill her weaving duties.
The star-crossed lovers’ first attempt to meet was spoiled because they couldn’t cross a river. Orihime’s tears attracted a flock of magpies who made a bridge with their wings so that the princess could cross.
Legend has it that if it rains on Tanabata, the birds can’t come to the pair’s aid and the lovers are unable to meet that year. So now people with for good weather on Tanabata.
Other Star Festival customs include decorating with colorful streamers (fukinagashi), which represent the threads Orihime weaved with, and writing wishes on pieces of colored paper (tanazuku) and hanging them on bamboo trees.
If you live in or around Aichi, head to Ichinomiya this month and enjoy one of the largest Star Festivals in Japan.
When: Thursday to Sunday, July 23-26
Where: Outside JR Owari-Ichinomiya Station and Meitetsu Ichinomiya Station
Website: http://www.138ss.com/tanabata_bunner/index_tanabata.htm (Japanese)