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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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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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During early Aug., JR Yamagata Station has a Hanagasa Matsuri billboard above the turnstile as you get out.
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Yamagata Station also has a Hanagasa info counter set up during the festival. You can pick up a map of the parade route.
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Yamagata Station's exit has hanagasa (flower hat) decorations.
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You can buy your own hanagasa and join in the festival.
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Held since 1963, the Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri festival is held annually during Aug. 5-7. It is an evening parade of dancers using a hanagasa (flower hat) held during the three evenings from 6 pm to 9:30 pm.
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When I arrived during lunch time on Aug. 7, 2009, a group of hanagasa dancers held a PR demonstration right inside Yamagata Station as you see here.
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It is a folk dance characterized by the hanagasa, or flower hat, which is held with both hands and swung left and right, above the head, etc. The festival originated as a rice-planting prayer for a good harvest.
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They dance to the beat of taiko drums and the prerecorded folk tune of Hanagasa Ondo singing, "Yassho, makasho!"
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The artificial red flowers on the hats symbolize the safflower, the city flower.
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It's possible to stopover in Sendai and take a day trip to Yamagata to see this festival. However, if you want to stopover in Yamagata during the Hanagasa Festival, make reservations early especially for budget hotels.
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Inside JR Yamagata Station with Hanagasa dancers in Aug. Also see my YouTube video here.
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Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri
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By 5:30 pm, a good crowd of people lined the parade street stretching for 1.2 km. The parade route is a 10-15-min. walk from Yamagata Station. It was lot more crowded than the first time I saw this festival years ago.
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The parade starts at 6 pm, and it took about 10 min. to reach where I was.
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A total of about 120 groups (10,000 people) dance over the three evenings. If you want to see a certain group, you'll have to check the parade schedule. Also, a different celebrity guest also dances each evening.
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Also see my YouTube video here.
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Paper lanterns written with "Yama-gata-hana-gasa-ma-tsu-ri."
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Sometimes we see floats.
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This is one of the main and best dance groups. They all dance to a song called "Hanagasa Ondo." A recording of the song is repeated continuously through the loudpseakers. 花笠音頭
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The first few groups of dancers were the best.
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Lovely Yamagata hanagasa dancer.
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Photogenic Yamagata hanagasa dancer.
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An average of 300,000 tourists watch the parade per evening.
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Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri
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Also see my YouTube video here.
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Miss Hanagasa 2009. There are four of them.
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Many dance groups were sponsored by large companies, and the company name or logo was prominently displayed on the clothing. It really is a long advertising parade.
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I don't mind advertising, but I was upset to see a 100-meter long dance group advertising a phone company. They thus took a long time to pass by. (No photos of them here.)
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School kids were also in the parade.
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Female taiko drummers on trucks.
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This is at the end of the parade route which had a nice illuminated gate overhead.
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It was drizzling off and on, so the road was wet. The shiny road made the shot look more dramatic together with the backlight.
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Cheerleaders too
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It was a good size crowd despite the drizzling rain, but it wasn't not horrendously crowded. It was pretty easy to get around and find a new spot to watch the parade.
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Yamagata maiko
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Yamagata maiko
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This is actress Eri Watanabe (b. 1955) who is from Yamagata. She gave a memorable performance in the 1996 movie, "Shall We Dance?"
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Actress Eri Watanabe in Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri on Aug. 7, 2009.
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Military-style male dancers.
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Miss Hanagasa
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Then there was this group of sexy Yamagata hanagasa dancers. Holy smoke, look at that cleavage, something you never see with a yukata.
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Miniskirted yukata
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The final group was led by the four Miss Hanagasa. Anybody could dance in this final group.
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Also see my YouTube video here.
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Miss Hanagasa 2009.
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Miss Hanagasa 2009.
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Amateur hanagasa dancers.
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"See you next year." The parade ends at around 9:30 pm at the end of the parade route. But it ends earlier if you are at the midway point instead. There was enough time for me to catch the last train back to Sendai at 9:46 pm.
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Cop cars block the parade road.
   
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