Tanabata Matsuri is the Japanese festival originating from Chinese mythology. It celebrates the reunion of the deities Orihime (a weaving princess) and Hikoboshi (a cow herder) associated with Vega in Lyra and Altair in Aquila, respectively. According to the legend, the two lovers were separated by the Milky Way and allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar. Hence, it is also known as the Star Festival.
Tanabata Festivals are held in the summer throughout Japan. The date varies by region of the country, with the first festivals begin on July 7. The one in Sendai celebrating on August 7 annually is the largest representing Tohoku region, boasting 400-year tradition. It is one of the three greatest festivals along with the Aomori Nebuta Festival and the Akita Kanto Festival.
Sendai Tanabata is especially famous for its multicolored and splendidly handcrafted streamers hung on long bamboo poles. These decoration will be hidden until August 6 when the elegant streamers made from traditional Japanese paper dance in the breeze creating a sight to behold. These are more than just decoration as every store in the shopping district compete against each other for a gold medal. Some set of decorations cost as much as a few million yen. Many vendors start working on their streamers several months prior to the festival. These decorations usually carry important symbolism for Tanabata such as origami cranes for longevity or, paper kimonos for skill in sewing. In modern day, some decorations feature famous characters.
A popular Tanabata custom is to inscribe one’s wish on a piece of paper called Tanzaku, then hang it on a branch of bamboo. These bamboo wishing trees can be found at schools, shopping malls or even at train stations. You can join the locals in jotting down your wishes.
Besides, there are dynamic parts like stage performance, Tanabata parade, etc. to delight the matsuri patrons. During the festival, the city street will be filled with stalls where you can sample Sendai specialties before purchasing.
Main Venues: City Center, Jozenji-dori Ave.
Date: August 6-8
Access: 10 minute walk from JR Sendai Sta.
Other Exciting Summer Festivals in Miyagi
If you plan to stay in the city more than a couple of days, don’t miss Sendai Tanabata Fireworks Display, a popular tradition held the night before Tatabata festival. Approximately 16,000 fireworks are set off from the shores of Hirosegawa River which flows through central Sendai.
Venue: Hirosegawa River
Date: August 5
Then, just a short distance from the city, you can enjoy the magnificent Matsushima Lantern Floating Festival and Firework Display, the traditional event held every August in Matsushima. Prayers are made to ancestors as countless paper lantern are floated into the sky. Approximately 8,000 fireworks are launched during this Festival.
Venue: Matsushima, Miyagi
Date: August 17
Miyagi prefecture is blessed with abundant nature. During summer I recommend you to visit Zuihoden Mausoleum, an entombment of Lord Date Masamune, situated on the mountain to the east of Sendai castle. On a beautiful day, simply taking a stroll along the approach to this famous attraction lined with massive gigantic cedar trees can be very energizing.
Then take the JR Senseki Line to the incredible Matsushima and enjoy the panoramic breathtaking view on board Matsushima sightseeing cruise. Before leaving the island, don’t forget to try the delicious fresh seafood rice bowl made with Sasanishiki rice from Miyagi and the bounty of the sea off Sanriku.
Chartered flights fly out of several cities such as Hong Kong and Bangkok. Domestic flights connect ten cities in Japan to Sendai.
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from JR Tokyo station to JR Sendai Station. Or take a nighttime bus from Narita Airport or take an express bus from central Tokyo.
Buy Sendai Marugoto Pass from JR East stations for unlimited rides for two days on JR line, Sendai Airport Access Line, Loople Sendai, Sendai City Bus, Sendai City Subway and Miyagi Kotsu Bus. The pass covers rides within designated areas on major public transportation in Miyagi. One pass costs 2,600 yen.
Get Loople Sendai Pass from Sendai Station. Loop Sendai is a bus which circles most famous tourist attractions. A one day pass costs 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for children.
Purchase “JR EAST PASS” from ticket dealers designated by JR or its agent outside Japan. The pass is for visitors from abroad who are staying in Japan for a short time for the purpose of extensive travelling. With this rail pass, you can travel on all the JR East lines as many times as you like, including the Shinkansen Line. The cost of the pass for an adult is from ¥22000 for 5 days. There are different prices for adult vs. a child (6-11) and regular vs. green (business class) cars.