Every year from July to August, Japan becomes alive with summer festivals of all different scales and sizes. The summer festivals of the Tohoku region (home to Iwate and the ILC candidate site) are some of the most dynamic and fun festivals you’ll find here, with many of them open for onlookers to participate. However, the vast majority of these festivals have been cancelled this year due to COVID-19.

That’s why I’d like to share with you a more “reserved” festival of the Tohoku region called the Sendai Tanabata Festival. Let’s wish upon a star for peace around the world.

What’s Tanabata?

The word Tanabata is originally from Chinese, and comes from a legend that’s shared throughout eastern Asia.

Simply put, the legend goes like this.

① A long long time ago, there lived a princess called Orihime (the star Vega) and a shepherd named Hikoboshi (the star Altair).

② Eventually the two were brought together by the gods to be married. These two, who were once hard workers, all of sudden started to play around all day and stop working.

③ The gods, angered at this, decided to create the Milky Way Galaxy to separate the two, putting Orihime to the west, and Hikoboshi to the west. (Note: The Milky Way is typically written in Japanese as “the River of the Heavens”)

④ To mend their broken hearts, the two started working hard again. They were allowed to meet each other once a year, crossing over the Milky Way. This day (July 7th) is called Tanabata.

You can see the Milky Way separating Orihime and Hikoboshi like a river

Sendai Tanabata – a summer festival of Tohoku

Festivals are held all over the place in the Tohoku region of Japan from the end of July to the beginning of August. The largest festivals have millions of people participating. Each festival has its own origin story, but in Tohoku, long known as an agricultural region, many of these festivals are held to pray for a good harvest.

In Iwate, we have things like the Morioka Sansa Odori  Festival and the Sominsai Festival right by the Kitakami site for the ILC. These are wonderful festivals but I’d like to share them at another time.

Now, in Sendai, we don’t hold the Tanabata festival on July 7th, but on August 6-8 instead. In central Sendai, local commerce areas make their own Tanabata decorations to decorate the areas outside their stores, and many people come to see these every year.

These long streamers, called Fukinagashi, are some of the most famous decorations of Tanabata. Around 2 million people visit from August 6-8.

What do we do during Tanabata?

The Sendai Tanabata Festival is closely associated with the long dangling Fukinagashi streamers, but there seven different types of Tanabata decorations, each with their own  meaning. It would take me until tomorrow to explain them all, so I’ll just share with you the most famous decoration, the tanzaku.

During Tanabata in Japan, people write their wishes on these small pieces of paper called tanzaku, and then they hang them from a branch of bamboo grass. They say it started when people started writing things like “I want to get better handwriting,” and “I want to be better at studying.” It’s believed that Orihime and Hikoboshi are the ones to make your wishes come true.

Some wish for world peace; others for their dream job. Everyone has different wishes.

My son, who’s in third grade, has made seven different Tanabata decorations with his online classes.

This year’s Sendai Tanabata

In 2011, when the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami struck, summer festivals were still held throughout the land in order to cheer on the people of the affected areas, and give them strength so they could rebuild. However, this year almost all the summer festivals of Japan have been cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19. Sendai Tanabata is also cancelled. It is so sad that we won’t be able to look forward to the flutes, taiko drums, dancing, and all the other excitement of summer festivals.

However, Tanabata has always been an event for wishes and prayers. Even if the festival itself is cancelled, we can still write our wishes down from our homes, businesses, and schools. Even if it’s small, we can wish for the end of COVID-19 and anything else our heart desires. The site below is looking for people to submit their wishes online so that anyone can still take part in writing tanzaku. If you’re interested in trying to be a part of the Japanese Tanabata festival, you can visit the site below. It’s until August 8th!


(Translation of the red text on the above image)

They will write down your wishes on tanzaku and put it up for you.

①Select your tanzaku color/background.

② Write your wish in the box.

③ Write your name in the box below, and hit the green button to submit.


When You Wish Upon A Star, TANABATA Festival