Tanabata, the star festival,is such a big deal in Sendai that the decorations that adorn the streets for the yearly festival every August have become a symbol of the city itself. In other parts of Japan, people write their wishes or desires on strips of paper and tie them to bamboo stalks, hoping that the luck of the star-crossed lovers who share the sky just that one night of the year may help even us lowly humans achieve our dreams, especially in the occupational fields. In most of Japan, this festival is held in July, but Miyagi holds out for August 6th through 8th to celebrate their star festival.
The decorations have taken on a different shape over time, growing to massive constructions of tissue paper, washi and glue, as delicate as they are intricate.
Every year, businesses along the shopping arcade create new, vibrant decorations to display. Some fit a theme for the business or restaurant chain, like these from a local souvenir shop, imitating kokeshi dolls, a major handicraft of the region.
Others make use of pop culture to draw more interest from the expectant crowd. This year, characters from the manga ジョジョ were on display in one set of decorations.
Other decorations create interest by using different materials. The vast majority of the decorations are made from a variety of fancy paper products. My first year in Miyagi, Taito Station's decorations included thick vinyl strips, adorned with the company logo. This year, these fun cloth decorations appeared instead, presumably linked to a clothing store or import shop.
Most of the decorations that adorn the shopping arcade closest to the station follow older trends, using mostly tissue paper and washi. Year after year, this one catches my eye. Each strand is constructed from hundreds of folded origami cranes, denied the final folds of the neck and instead sewn threw the middle to its brethren. The effect is remarkable and many first-time visitors to the festival find the method of construction hard to believe.
These peace crane decorations are brought about not by a paper store or retailer of any kind, but instead an NPO, fighting for the end of nuclear warfare. Stars read out "No more Hiroshima" in response to the anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city 71 years ago. A placard hangs closer to eye level.
These decorations hang low, some drifting just over the head of any person of average Japanese height while others drag close enough to the ground to delight and confuse small children.
The peace cranes are not the only pieces of origami to be on display either. Many streamers display folded paper accents of their own.
One of the fan favorites this year was Miyagi Kodomo Network's Ghibli-inspired decorations, complete with colorful hand and foot prints from various children.
I was told that the theme this year was to be "cats" but only a handful of the decorations featured felines at all. Of those few, this set was easily the best.
The festival is easy to get to (exit Sendai station toward LOFT, turn right. Cross the street at AER. The decorations will already be visible) and runs through the entire shopping arcade, from Clis Road nearest the station, through Marble Road a few blocks away, eventually t-boning at Sun Mall Ichibancho. Some of the most interesting decorations are around ichibancho, which also happens to be Sendai's night life district. Exploring this area will lead you to some of the most fun and weird decorations in the entire event.
Some are much smaller, hidden near the rafters. Check it out: I found Star Wars!
This set was very creative, though to me the decorations also looks like very elegant alien eggs.
This is just a sampling of the many, many decorations that hang every year and attract travelers from all over Japan and all over the world. Most shops along the arcade offer drinks, snacks, and other festival goods available for purchase throughout the day, many conveniently placed mere feet from the decorations.
One of the best things about this festival is the price. Save for transportation to and from the Sendai station area as well as any food or drink a visitor might want to purchase, the festival is free to everyone. No admission fee.
The festival is most fun in the first day or two, before many of the decorations get damaged by interactions with the crowd. Unfortunately the festival has wrapped up for this year, but if you're in the area early next August, I highly recommend seeing the Sendai Tanabata festival. The dates will always be August 6th through 8th, regardless of the days of the week.
See you next year!