Two July Festivals: Tanabata Matsuri and Narita City Gion Matsuri
Tanabata Matsuri celebrates the legend of the Cowherd Star (Altair) and Weaver Star (Vega). The lovers, separated by the Milky Way, are allowed to meet just once a year - on the seventh day of the seventh month.
July 7 is Tanabata Day; but many places delay the festival a whole month. The biggest Tanabata Matsuri (Star Festival) in Japan is held in the city of Sendai in early August. (See this related website: Sendai Tanabata Festival Information for 1997)
The sea-side town of Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, has a large Tanabata festival (3 million visitors in 1997). Hiratsuka is located about 55 kilometers by train or about 70 minutes from Tokyo station on the Tokaido line (green/orange colored train). This train stops in Shimbashi, Shinagawa, and Yokohama stations on the way.
Hiratsuka City Office telephone number: 0463-23-1111
This year (1999) the festival runs from July 7-11. It takes place in the shopping streets a few minutes walk from the station. The area is decorated with many colored pieces of paper hung from bamboo branches and other shiny objects. Some have called this the "Japanese Christmas tree". After dark the decorations are lit until 10:00 pm on the 7th, 8th, & 9th and until 9:30 pm on the 10th and 11th. Major events include a parade with brass bands, baton twirlers, and Ms. "Tanabata" Beauty Queens on the 10th and a parade of Tanabata Odori folk dancers on the 11th.
In Tokyo itself there are numerous local celebrations. Even Ginza already has Tanabata decorations in the form of gaily decorated plasic bamboo trees in pots on wheels outside the shops on the Harumi and Showa avenues.
Narita City Gion Matsuri
For those of you on the other side of Tokyo there is the Narita City Gion Matsuri July 7-9 (1999). This festival and the shrine associated with it has a history of 1000 years.
Narita City Office telephone number: 0476-22-1111
The shrine is a 10 minute walk from Keisei Narita Station and also easy to get to from the JR Sobu line - Narita Station. The highlight of the festival is on the 9th but there is plenty to see on the 7th and 8th.
Just in case you were out of the country in July or can't make it up to Sendai, another "local" Tanabata Festival is held in west Tokyo (the "countryside") from August 5-8 at Fukuo Station on the JR Ome line. (First you have to take the JR Chuo line to Tachikawa station). This is not too far from Sesame Place. Tel: (042)-551-1511
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