July is a special time of year in Japan: the weather is starting to heat up, refreshing summer foods and drinks are readily available, and festival season is upon us! One of the biggest celebrations in July is the Tanabata Festival, or the “Star Festival” each year on July 7 (though celebrations can extend through August).
What Is the Tanabata Festival?
Tanabata celebrates the story of two star deities who were in love, yet separated. The legend says that these two deities, named Orihime and Hikoboshi, were separated after falling in love and failing to complete their required duties. However, their separation caused deep sadness, leading to them being granted one day a year when they could meet again, and that day is the seventh day of the seventh month.
For this reason, Tanabata celebrates the reunion of these lovers each year on July 7, and it is considered to be a joyous and hopeful holiday. To learn more about the history and background of Tanabata, read our article here.
Top 3 Tanabata Celebrations in Japan
Tanabata festivals can be found all across Japan in early July, but some cities are known to go all-out in their Star Festival celebrations. To fully experience the magic of Tanabata Matsuri, check out the top three in Japan!
Note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some events have been cancelled, altered, or postponed. Please check each event for the most accurate and up-to-date information.
3. Anjo Tanabata Festival (Anjo, Aichi)
The Anjo Tanabata Festival is celebrated in early August each year, lasting three days. During this three-day period, over a million people visit to celebrate. The festival is known for its parade, a “wishing candle” and “wish balloons,” and plenty of delicious food and colorful streamers decorating the streets. The area is also known for having a dedicated Tanabata Shrine.
2. Shitamachi Tanabata Festival (Asakusa, Tokyo)
Though there are several Tanabata celebrations in the Tokyo region, perhaps the biggest and most well-known is the Shitamachi Tanabata Festival, stretching between Asakusa and Ueno. See the streets of Tokyo filled with dazzling ornaments and decorations, with Tokyo Skytree in the background. Visit for favorite matsuri foods, performances, a parade, and more!
1. Sendai Tanabata Festival (Sendai, Miyagi)
You may not think of Sendai as a summer vacation spot, but it’s worth it for the area’s annual Tanabata festival. Visit the Sendai Tanabata Festival in early August for a truly massive celebration—it’s said that over 2 million people participate each year! Watch downtown Sendai transform into a rainbow of colorful streamers, and visit the event’s booths where you can make your own Tanabata ornament craft.
Celebrating the Tanabata Festival, Even at Home
With the COVID-19 pandemic, some celebrations may be cancelled or partially cancelled. But, whether you’re at home in Japan or even abroad, you can still celebrate the essence of Tanabata from wherever you are.
One of the most popular parts of Tanabata is making a wish. People across Japan write their wishes on colorful paper streamers and hang them on bamboo branches. You can try making and writing your own wish, even if you’re unable to attend a Tanabata festival.
Festival food is also an unforgettable part of these celebrations: takoyaki, yakitori, okonomiyaki, shaved ice, and other summer favorites are often served in stalls lining the streets. Enjoy these foods, from home or wherever you may be, in honor of the Star Festival!
These three Tanabata festivals are famous in Japan, but if you’re more interested in the weird and wacky, check out these festivals next: