For 3 days every year, between August 6th and 8th, the center of Sendai City hosts the Sendai Tanbata Festival. This historic festival has a long tradition dating back to the Edo period, and alongside Aomori's Nebuta Festival and Akita's Kanto Festival, is counted as one of Tohoku (northeast) Japan's 3 great festivals. Over 2,000,000 tourists visit this festival every year.
To celebrate "Tanabata", Japan's "Star Festival", approximately 3,000 vibrant decorations fill the shopping streets of Sendai City. The sight is a stunning one, almost as if the milky way itself has fallen to the ground. As if that was not enough to make this festival exciting, the day before the festival - August 5th - sees the launch of 16,000 fireworks over the Hirose River in the annual "Sendai Tanabata Hanabi Taikai (Firework Festival)". This article will introduce you to the Sendai Tanabata Festival's many attractions, decorations, and rich histories.
About the Sendai Tanabata Festival
Sendai during the festivities (Credit: Sendai Tanabata Festival Support Association)
For the Sendai Tanabata Festival, the wide area around the city's central shopping arcade is filled with Tanabata-related decorations. All the way from extravagant to simple, you will see a variety of creative Tanabata ornaments lining the roads.
At the station and the shopping streets, visitors can purchase souvenirs exclusive to the festival. In addition, you can enjoy the famous foods that represent Miyagi and Sendai at the "Tanabata Food Court". At other restaurants, "Tanabata Special Menu" foods are also available.
When the festival season approaches at the end of July, the Sendai Airport and JR Sendai Station also get in full festival mode. The whole city starts to prepare for the festival and beautiful frilled decorations begin to fill the streets. Accommodation facilities in the area, such as those of hot spring resorts, also seek to entertain their guests with creative decorations in the lobby.
Unfortunately for any festival-goers, there is also a superstition stating that "at least one of the 3 festival days will see rain". You may thank yourself later for packing a small umbrella in your bag.
You can read more about the traditions and legends of the Tanabata star festival in this article.
History of the Sendai Tanabata Festival
The Sendai Tanabata Festival originally began during the Edo period (1603 – 1867) to improve women's cultural learnedness, and has since then become an annual tradition of all of Sendai's people.
However, the coming of the Meiji period (1868-1912), adoption of the western solar calendar, and post-war recession brought a nationwide decrease in Tanabata Festivals. It was then that in 1927, passionate Sendai merchants banded together to fight off the economic recession, and revive the Sendai Tanabata Festival. This brought energy and excitement to the entire city.
In the following year, 1928, the annual festival dates were changed to fit the solar calendar. The original dates in the lunar calendar's July corresponded seasonally to August of the solar calendar, and the festival became a 3-day event spanning from August 6th to 8th. The scale of the festival gradually grew, and as of today the Sendai Tanabata Festival is an event attracting an annual 2,000,000 tourists, making it the largest Tanabata festival in all of japan.
Sights to see at the Sendai Tanabata Festival
Here are some sights to look out for during the Sendai Tanabata Festival.
The Tanabata Decorations: They're Being Evaluated!
Every year, about 3,000 Tanabata decorations glamorously light up the city of Sendai. On August 6th, the Tanabata Festival's Association meets to evaluate the many Tanabata decorations. By the night of the 6th, the prize-winning decorations are announced on the website, so please keep an eye out for the winning decorations as you walk through the festival.
Hand-made Tanabata Decorations that Fill Up the Shopping Streets
Sendai Shopping Street(Credit: Sendai Tanabata Festival Support Association)
The decorations that are shown off during the Tanabata Festival are all hand-made with Japanese paper by the residents and merchants of the shopping street.
Because of the complex labor work and care that goes into the decorations, the crafting of these decorations start as early as March! By June, stationary stores in Sendai City begin to stock paper ornaments for the regular consumer, gradually raising the festive mood of the city.
On August 4th, a green bamboo of about 15m is brought into town onto the streets of the shopping area, and on the day of the festival, people gather to watch the "bamboo raising" ceremony that occurs in the early morning.
The characteristic frilled ornaments of the Sendai Tanabata Festival are referred to as "Fukinagashi". Roughly 5 such ornaments are hung from a 10-m stalk of bamboo. Woven into them are the 7 "nanatsu-kazari" lucky items, and each of them has a special meaning. For example, the same number of origami cranes as the eldest family member's age are made, then woven into the Fukinagashi to pray for long life.
“Nanatsu-kazari”: The Seven Ornaments of Sendai Tanabata Festival
"Nanatsu-kazari" decorations (Credit: Sendai Tanabata Festival Support Association)
"Nanatsu-kazari" means "seven ornaments", and refers to the seven lucky items traditionally woven into Sendai Tanabata Festival's decorations.
■Tanzaku: Paper strips upon which wishes and poems are written. They represent future advancement in academics and calligraphy.
■Kami-goromo ("Paper garment"): A charm against disease and misfortune. They represent future advancement in sewing skills.
■Paper Orgami Cranes: Family safety, health, and longevity.
■Kinchaku ("Purse"): Business prosperity
■To-ami ("throwing net"): Rich harvests and catches in agriculture and fishing
■Kuzukago ("garbage bin"): Cleanliness and saving.
■Fukinagashi ("Streamer"): Future advancement in weaving skills, performance arts, and handicrafts.
Omatsuri-Hiroba: "Festival Square"
Special stage at the festival square (Photo courtesy: Sendai Tanabata Festival Support Association）
During the festival days, a variety of shows and events will take place between 10:00 and 21:00 at the "Omatsuri-hiroba" (festival square) in Kotodai Park's public square, to present a variety of Sendai's attractions to the festival's visitors.
Alongside entertaining stage events, The "Tanabata-shokudo" (Tanabata foodcourt) food event will introduce you to a variety of Sendai and Miyagi Prefecture's local specialties, such as beef tongue and oyster. To learn the festival's history and culture, you can visit the "Tanabata Densho-kan" (Tanabata Tradition Hall) and the "nanatsu-kazari crafting experience" that also take place. At the festival square, a variety of events through the day and night give visitors a unique space of leisure.
At this time of the year, the greenery along Jozenji Street is also crafted into a wondrous sight, with a variety of beautiful decorations such as a large, heart-shaped arch.
Events at Sendai Tanabata Festival
Here are some events to visit during the Sendai Tanabata Festival!
Sendai Tanabata Fireworks Festival
As a pre-festival event on August 5th, the day before the Sendai Tanabata Festival, a firework show is held from 19:00 in Sendai City. This is a rare firework event held in an urban setting, and their resonance can be heard very close from the shopping arcade. Paid seating is built around Nishi-koen (west park) and Aoba-yama Mountain to watch the fireworks from, and attract great crowds of spectators every year.
If you are somebody averse to large crowds, the Sendai Mediatheque along Jozenji Street, as well as the 31st floor observatory deck at AER in front of Sendai Station are great, cost-free locations to fully experience the fireworks from.
Zuihoden Tanabata Night
Zuihoden Shrine is located in southern Sendai City, just across the Otamaya Bridge. This glamorously decorated structure enshrines Date Masamune, a prominent lord of Japan's feudal era and first ruler of the historical Sendai territory.
During the days of the Sendai Tanabata Festival, the shrine becomes the setting for "Sendai Tanabata Night", a fabulous display of 1,200 bamboo lanterns around Zuihoden shrine and its approach. On the stage will be "Shinobue" (a traditional Japanese woodwind instrument) performances, and the shrine takes on a serene, spiritual ambience that contrasts the festive bustle of the nearby city.
Access to Sendai Tanabata Festival
JR Sendai Station, Sendai City Subway Sendai Station
Access from Sendai Airport:
[Sendai Airport Station] Sendai Airport Access Line, Sendai-bound
→ [Sendai Station]
Access from Tokyo Station:
[Tokyo Station] Tohoku bullet train, Aomori-bound
→ [Sendai Station]
Access from Akita Station:
[Akita Station] Akita bullet train, Tokyo-bound
→ [Sendai Station]
Sendai Tanabata Festival is Ready to Entertain! Experience All Three Days!
The Sendai Tanabata Festival continues for 3 days, and 4 days including the pre-festival fireworks. A variety of different events take place to surprise visitors throughout the event, keeping the festival fresh every single day. A short trip from the lavishly-decorated city center, out to the suburbs, will present you with a whole new scenery too. The approximately 3,000 Tanabata decorations are all crafted with great care and individuality, so it would also be fun to take them in hand for a closer look!
2-16-12 Honcho, Aoba-ku, Sendai, Miyagi
Aug. 6 - 8: 10:00a.m. - 10:00p.m.