Following cancelations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year sees the return of some of the most cherished and memorable Tanabata festivals in Tokyo and nearby areas.
Tanabata is based on a Chinese folktale about two star-crossed lovers, Princess Orihime the Weaver and Hikoboshi the Cowherd, who are separated by the expanse of the Milky Way. Orihime’s father allows them to meet once a year on Tanabata. This falls on the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar with festivities typically starting on July 7 in Japan.
This year, we recommend residents in and around Tokyo four festivals that capture the spirit of Tanabata best. That includes two of the three great Tanabata festivals in Kanto — the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival and Sayama City Irumagawa Tanabata Festival. Mobara Tanabata Festival, the other great Tanabata Festival in Kanto, is once again canceled. In central Tokyo, there’s the beautifully lit up Zojoji Tanabata Festival and in Saitama, the Ogawamachi Tanabata Festival.
This Tanabata celebration takes place in front of Tokyo Tower. It features a replica of the Milky Way, made using 3,700 candle-lit lanterns that line the road leading to the famous Zojoji Temple. The festival lasts two days, July 6 and 7, starting at 5:30 pm each evening. Visitors can pay ¥100 to put up one of the many colorful prayer strips that decorate the temple. From 5:30pm, the Tanabata Prayer Party begins and from 6pm visitors can enjoy the beauty of the candle-lit Milky Way.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the biggest of the three great Tanabata festivals in Kanto, drawing 1.7 million visitors each year. From July 8-10, the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival takes place at the Hiratsuka Station north entrance shopping district. Due to Covid-19, there are no food or drink stalls. Visitors can, however, still enjoy the 500 colorful Tanabata decorations which are illuminated at night. The festival also features many events. There’s a drone park experience area, a bamboo art workshop and a traditional parade with dancing.
The Sayama City Irumagawa Tanabata Festival in Saitama takes place a bit later, in August. Festivities fall on August 6 and 7 from 3 pm to 8 pm. Normally drawing around 130,000 attendants, this is the first time the festival has taken place since 2019. Although the fireworks show has been canceled, the festival features a bamboo decoration contest with voting happening on August 6. There will also be about 140 Tanabata decorations including streamers and other paper decorations.
Aside from hosting one of the three great Tanabata festivals in Kanto, Saitama also has the Ogawamachi Tanabata Festival. This year is its 74th anniversary. The festival takes place on July 23 and 24, from 11 am to 8 pm each day. As well as enjoying the colorful washi paper Tanabata decorations, visitors can watch a children’s dance performance, performance by the Ogawa Wind Ensemble and a Taiko drum show. They can also experience Taiko drumming for themselves.