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Held annually during Aug. 6-8, the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri is Japan's largest, grandest, and most famous Tanabata Festival. Commonly called the Star Festival, Tanabata Matsuri features large colorful, streamer decorations (called take-kazari).
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I arrived in Sendai on Aug. 4, 2009, two days before the festival, and Sendai Station here was already decorated with these huge tanabata streamers. Very impressive.
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Many of the Tanabata streamers are quite commercial, with sponsors prominently displayed on the streamers.
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Inside Sendai Station's west side. A great greeting for visitors to Sendai during Tanabata Matsuri.
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The festival is said to have originated from a Star Festival in China. According to Chinese legend, east of the Milky Way there was a Heavenly King whose daughter worked as a weaver. However, when she married a herdsman, she quit weaving.
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This angered her father who banished the herdsman to the other side of the Milky Way. He allowed the two to meet only once a year on the evening of the seventh day of the seventh month (according to the lunar calendar).
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The weaver is represented by the Vega star and the herdsman by the Altair star. As a prayer to produce better arts and crafts, the Imperial Court and the warrior class paid homage to these two stars from ancient times. This practice spread to the masses.
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In Sendai, famous daimyo Date Masamune had the warrior and merchant classes observe the Star Festival.
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During the Tohoku Industrial Expo in 1928, the forerunner of today's Tanabata Festival was held. Sendai merchants strived to uphold the tradition, resulting in today's elaborate and gaudy Tanabata decorations.
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According to the legend, the original date of Tanabata is July 7 according to the lunar calendar which is about a month behind the calendar we use today. Some places hold the festival on July 7 to match the original, numeric date.
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You can see Tanabata in various locations (smaller scale) in Japan such as Hiratsuka in Kanagawa held around July 7 and Asagaya and Fussa in Tokyo around Aug. 7.
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Inside Sendai Station is a large information booth where you can obtain maps and pamphlets of Sendai and Tanabata Matsuri.
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Tanabata decorations at the entrance of Sendai Station.
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It rained sometimes during the Tanabata Festival since the Tohoku region was still in the rainy season.
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Tanabata decorations outside S-PAL, a shopping complex next to Sendai Station.
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The pedestrian overpass connected to Sendai Station is also decorated.
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On Aug. 4, two days before the start of Tanabata Festival, the shopping arcades already had these bamboo poles with ropes set up.
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Pieces of bamboo hung from the ropes on bamboo poles.
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Sendai's shopping arcades were obviously designed for tanabata decorations. There are eyelets or hooks for ropes on the ceiling.
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The walls also have eyelets/hooks for ropes to support the bamboo poles.
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This large tanabata bamboo was being set up on Aug. 4.
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Drilling
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Attaching ropes. The decorations will later be attached to these ropes.
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Hoisting up the bamboo support pole.
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On the evening of Aug. 5, the Tanabata Festival Eve, a fireworks display is held at Nishi Koen Park. Here are many girls in yukata waiting for friends at Sendai Station to see the fireworks.
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Nishi Park in Sendai is full of people on fireworks night.
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This road was filled with people as well for the fireworks.
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Also see my YouTube video here.
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Sendai Tanabata Fireworks on Aug. 5, 7:30 pm to 9 pm. It was impressive. The theme was "Ring of Love."
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On the morning of Aug. 6, the first day of Sendai Tanabata, shop owners started to set up their tanabata bamboo decorations from around 8 am to 9 am.
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One bamboo pole has several decorations and each one hangs on a rope.
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Setting up Tanabata bamboo decorations.
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This decoration had little owl-shaped paper balloons. These girls are blowing air into the balloons with a straw. Sendai Tanabata.
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Attaching the ball to the body of the decoration.
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The decorations usually arrive in huge plastic bags, especially the outdoor ones. This is the Fujisaki decoration.
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When the decorations are unpacked or unraveled, they are freshened up.
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These people are spreading the wings of the origami cranes.
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The decorations can cost thousands of dollars or even tens of thousands of dollars (US$). (Hundreds of thousands of yen or a few million yen.)
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After the festival ends, many of these decorations are discarded. But some are donated to a shopping arcade in Fukuoka (Kyushu).
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Many decorations are really advertisements. But others have no ads and they are splendid. Keep in mind that the Tanabata Festival was started by local merchants, so it has commercial roots. It's not a religious event.
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Tanabata Matsuri is held in many parts of Japan, usually in shopping arcades to draw customers. The more famous ones are in Hiratsuka in Kanagawa and Asagaya in Tokyo.
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My YouTube video of Sendai Tanabata featuring Tanabata decorations and seeing the evening entertainment (Awa Odori, Tanabata dancers, etc.) on Jozenji-dori during 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm.
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By 10 am on the first day of Aug. 6, most all of the Tanabata decorations were set up. Large crowds soon followed.
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The shopping arcades on the west side of Sendai Station is where the Tanabata decorations are. The main arcades where you can see the streamers are basically on two arcade roads: Chuo-dori and Ichibancho-dori. They intersect at a T-intersection.
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The Chuo-dori arcade is about 750 meters long. Although this arcade is a straight and continuous road, it is actually consists of three seamless arcades named Hapina Nakakecho (ハピナ名掛丁), Clis Road, and Marble Road Omachi.
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This is the Hapina Nakakecho arcade. "Hapina" stands for "Heartful Amenity Place Interfaced Natural Arcade." It also refers to "happy." When the Japanese create a new name, they love puns.
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This was my second time to see Sendai Tanabata. The first time was quite some time ago. I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.
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The take-kazari bamboo decorations were marvelous. A myriad of designs and variety. Paper was the main material used to make all these decorations, unlike the predominant plastic found at other Tamabata Festivals in Japan.
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These decorations cannot be massed produced, all one of a kind.
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Also see my YouTube video here.
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During the morning of Aug. 6 the first day, a team of judges wearing a white cap and yellow shirt proceed through the decorations for judging. Dressed in pink is the back is one of the three Sendai Goodwill Ambassadors (not Miss Tanabata).
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The decorations are given awards such as the Gold and Silver Awards. The winners are announced later in the day, and the winning decorations are tagged with the awards. This is the Gold Award.
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Silver Award. Besides awards for individual decorations, awards are given to the shopping arcade as a whole for the bext decorations.
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Extravagant Award
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This one was clearly a crowd favorite, and not surprisingly, it won the Outstanding Award.
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It's nearly impossible to define or describe an outstanding decoration, but you know it when you see it.
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Gold Award + Outstanding Award.
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The crowd take pictures in front of this Outstanding Award decoration.
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Closeups of one of the best take-kazari of 2009.
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Many girls (and kids) dressed in yukata (cotton kimono) came to see the Tanabata Festival. Her facial reaction was typical.
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The streamers can also be quite hypnotizing if not captivating.
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People who wear yukata know how to enjoy each of Japan's seasons.
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The yukata has become quite modern. You no longer have to put your hair up when wearing one.
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Eye-catching trio of yukata-clad girls.
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Kids loved to jump and try to touch the streamers.
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Tanabata appeals to all ages, from little kids to grandmothers.
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Interview by local TV.
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Another crowd favorite was these streamers made of tiny origami paper cranes.
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This was the 34th Tanabata Decoration of Peace. Aug. 6, the first day of the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, also happens to be the anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.
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It says "No More Hiroshima."
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Tiny origami paper cranes. Guess how many paper cranes there are? Over 1 million.
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Peace message.
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Organizations who made the 1 million+ paper cranes. About 25,000 people from all over Japan from age 5 to 103 made over 1 million paper cranes. That's an average of 40 cranes per person.
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Bottom of the paper cranes.
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People were amazed at these cranes. This is one type of streamer you won't see at other Tanabata Festivals in Japan.
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Origami paper cranes is actually one type of Tanabata decorations. Many decorations had paper cranes as you can see here.
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Origami paper cranes.
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Regular-size paper cranes.
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Hapina arcade
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Puppets
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Ichiban-cho Yon-chome arcade is outdoors.
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Write your wish on a paper tag and affix it to the bamboo branch.
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Kids writing their wishes.
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Perhaps she wished for a rich husband.
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Fujisaki's decoration is at the T-intersection between Chuo-dori and Ichibancho-dori.
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This is Sun Mall Ichibancho. This Ichibancho-dori road is also straight, but consists of three seamless shopping arcades: Sun Mall Ichibancho, Brand Dome Ichibancho, and Ichibancho Yon-chome.
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Sun Mall Ichibancho
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Koi fish made of tiny balls stuck onto the paper.
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In Sun Mall Ichibancho, a traditional kami-shibai picture card story was told.
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Also here is a cramped enclave of many little bars and shops.
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Sun Mall
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Types of tanabata decorations.
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Back to Hapina arcade
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Travel photos (Matsushima)
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Matsushima photos
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For people outside Japan wanting to make tanabata decorations for a Japan event, let these photos give you some design ideas.
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Calligraphy brushes even.
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Date Masamune
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Marble Road Omachi
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No smoking in the shopping arcades.
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At night.
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At around 9 pm, the tanabata decorations are put in plastic bags or hung high so drunkards cannot reach and damage them.
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In the early morning, the tanabata decorations still hang high up.
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Later in the morning at around 9 am, these decorations will be hung normally again.
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Photos of sushi on a sushi shop's decoration.
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Male lover in heaven
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Female lover in heaven
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Bottom view
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International decoration
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International decoration
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Slinky
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North Korean abductee, Megumi
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There is no longer a Tanabata Parade in the evening. Instead of a parade, there are various performances at several areas on the main street of Jozenji-dori during 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm every evening during Aug. 6-8.
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Milky Way streamers decorated the road.
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Where I was, Tokushima Awa Odori dancers performed first.
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Tokushima Awa Odori dancers at Sendai Tanabata Matsuri Festival.
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Also see my YouTube video here.
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A few local high school bands also played.
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There was also a ballet play featuring the herdsman and weaver who meet in the heavens on July 7.
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The Orihime weaver.
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The herdsman and weaver meet in the Milky Way.
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More performers.
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Local cheerleaders
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Folk dancers for Tanabata Odori
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Taiko drummers
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This was the main performance area on Jozenji-dori.
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Taiko drummers
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My YouTube video of Sendai Tanabata featuring the festival eve on Aug. 5, 2009 when they had fireworks and the morning of Aug. 6 when they were setting up the Tanabata decorations.
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A short walk from Jozenji-dori is the Shimin Hiroba (Citizens' Square) where there was a stage for more entertaining performances by numerous groups. The program started at 6 pm and ended at 8:45 pm.
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Different performances are given every evening during the Tanabata Matsuri. If you want good seats, go there early. Otherwise, it's standing room only.
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Hip hop
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I like these American-style costumes.
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Local cheerleaders were great.
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Local cheerleaders included these kids.
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Korean performers.
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Hip hop
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In the Shimin Hiroba was also this space.
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You could write a wish on the paper and hang it on the bamboo branch. I wrote "Live long and prosper."
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