We Visit the 2021 Sendai Tanabata Festival
The Tanabata Matsuri is Back!
Yay, Tanabata Matsuri is back! After 18 months of living with the restrictions of the pandemic, it is nice to see that we are slowly returning to normal. In 2020 Sendai, like almost every other city and prefecture in Japan, banned all festivals. Even the famous Sendai Tanabata Festival was virtual. Therefore, we were very excited to learn that the Tanabata would again be on display this year.
The History of the Sendai Tanabata Festival
Like most Japanese festivals or matsuris, there is a reason we celebrate Tanabata. Tanabata originated from a Chinese legend called Qixi and was brought to Japan in the 8th century.
Today is a special day all over Japan where people celebrate Tanabata, the Star Festival. Tanabata is celebrated to commemorate the romantic story of two lovers represented by the stars Vega and Altair. They are only allowed to meet each other once a year as long as the skies are clear. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, July 7th, in the modern calendar.
Some places in Japan celebrate Tanabata on August 7th by the older Chinese calendar, where the legend originated. The most famous of all the Tanabata festivals is celebrated in Sendai on August 7th. Still, most of Japan recognizes Tanabata on July 7th.
On Tanabata, people write wishes on small pieces of colored paper called tanzaku and hang them on bamboo trees. These become beautiful wish trees. On the next day, the decorated trees are floated on a river or in the ocean and burned as an offering. There are many celebrations all over Japan, including parades, food stalls, colorful decorations, and fireworks.
The Decorations in Ichibancho
The central part of the Sendai Tanabata Festival focuses on Ichibancho, or more specifically, the covered shopping arcades. Starting at Jozenji-dori, the first, somewhat small, Tanabata were displayed on the Ichibancho Sun Mall.
The more extensive displays are always in the covered arcades, such as Clis Road or Marble Road. Here the Tanabata are suspended from the rafters. Creating the Tanabata is time-consuming and costly. Therefore, the larger displays are sponsored by businesses, community and civic organizations, and sports teams.
Of course, the Tanabata Matsuri was not quite what it was in previous years. The Tanabata were smaller, and there were fewer of them. Instead of walking through them this year, they were displayed above our heads, just out of reach. As a result, the crowds were smaller as well. But as usual, many visitors dressed in colorful summer yukatas and jinbeis for this festive occasion.
Strolling Through the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri
We both enjoyed the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri in 2019; we visited it three times. Together with the Aoba Matsuri in May, it is one of our favorite summer festivals. And we really missed it last year!
On a hot and muggy Sunday afternoon, we set out to see the Tanabata in the city. We already noticed them at Osaki Hachimangu Shrine and other locations throughout the downtown area. Even in our neighborhood, we noticed many shops and businesses displaying bamboo wish trees along Miyamachi-dori.
When we first arrived at the entrance of Ichibancho Sun Mall on Jozenji-dori, we were a bit disappointed. The Tanabata were much smaller than in previous years. But things got better once we got to the covered part of the arcades. Here the Tanabata were much more prominent and suspended just above our heads.
I am not sure what was more fun, looking up at the beautiful decorations or watching all the festively attired people in summer kimonos. We both think it’s great that many young people dress up in traditional outfits to celebrate the summer matsuris.
And we were not the only ones out to enjoy the beautiful displays. Crowds of people moved under the colorful decorations, frequently pausing to take pictures or videos. To keep everyone safe, organizers directed visitors to stay to the right, not crowd together, and keep moving.
These regulations made it a bit harder for the two of us to snap a few decent selfies among the hanging displays. It took a few attempts to find a suitable location and determine the best angle. Also, timing the moving crowds was essential to take a few pics without wearing our facemasks. Well, nobody said it would be easy living in a pandemic. LOL!
We Already Look Forward to the 2022 Sendai Tanabata Matsuri!
The 2021 Sendai Tanabata Festival was a lot of fun. And like most people in Sendai, we are happy organizers decided to hold a live festival this year. But we did miss the Tanabata hanging down so you can walk through them. And we missed the big fireworks show to start the celebration.
We look forward to a bigger and better Tanabata Matsuri in 2022. Hopefully, things will improve by then so we can join the crowds walking through the decorations.
If you would like to visit us to see the 2022 Sendai Tanabata Festival or want a personal guide to Discover Sendai, please feel free to contact us for rates and availability.