Asagaya Tanabata Matsuri
July 7 (but not on this day)
Tanabata, which means "double seven" in Japanese, is celebrated usually on the 7th of July, as one might expect. It is a celebration stemming from the lunar/solar calendar and the meeting of a mythical cowherd and weaver girl throughout much of East Asia.
On July 7th, people throughout Japan place paper ribbons on bamboo branches, filled with wishes aspirations. It is presumed that the wishes one makes on Tanabata have a greater chance of being granted. I suppose that this stems from the belief that since the unlikely pairing of the weaver maid and cowherd comes true each year on this day, so too will the hopes and aspirations of all who make a wish on Tanabata.
Tanabata in Asagaya
The five days of Asagaya's Tanabata Matsuri, however, fall in August, before Obon, and not July. It was started in 1954 by local merchants to attract business to the area. 60 years later, the festival has become one of the largest and most famous Tanabata Matsuri.
The most famous aspect of the Asagaya Tanabata Matsuri is, by far, the paper-mâché characters and displays throughout the major shopping arcades of Asagaya. The arcade, during the weekend, is filled with people, from morning until late evening.
Like most Japanese festivals, the food and drinks - yakisoba, fried chicken, french fries, yakitori, snow cones, ramune, and cold beer - are a highlight. But being the culture of Asagaya is unique, so amidst the traditional, one can find paella, penne, Okinawan food, and other cuisine as well.
Of course, the focus on anime and other characters is intended to draw in children and families. Thus, the goldfish and super ball scooping games, lucky paper grab, and other games are a magnet for kids throughout the arcade.
And the winner is...
This year, no doubt, the biggest hit character was Anna from the Disney movie Frozen. A distant second was Godzilla, seen here terrorizing an airplane.
While Pikachu, Anpanman, Totoro, Mickey Mouse, Battleship Yamato, and others continued to have a presence, pretty much everyone who passed through the arcade was Frozen at the sight of Anna and Kristoff. In addition to the Anna with Kristoff characters, the arcade had another giant Olaf, and this animated display:
I like pretty much any excuse for a festival. In Japan, they are all special. In the summer, they are the best. There are many women in yukata, there's great food and drinks, and there are children running around screaming and having fun. At this Tanabata Festival, there isn't the sweaty work of carry mikoshi around town, nor is there the dancing found at a bon-odori. But the delight is wholesome and plenty. And, there is some dancing, that is quintessentially, contemporary Japanese: