Tanabata, the Star Festival, is an annual event held all over Japan on July 7th. The story of the festival says that there are two lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, both stars, who are separated by the milky way and can only meet once a year on that day. During the festival people put up Bamboo branches, covering them in brightly coloured decorations and hanging wishes written on pieces of paper.
In the old capital of Kyoto, however, Tanabata is celebrated in August from the 1st to the 10th, as they use the lunar calendar to calculate the date instead. Also, there are some great attractions in two spots around the city to celebrate this occasion!
First, along the west bank of the Kamogawa between Gion-Shijo and Jingu-Marutamachi is where you’ll see the best-known symbol of Tanabata, the bamboo branches where you attach your paper wishes. There are branches all the way from Shijo to Sanjo, shining with bright foil decorations and once darkness falls, it becomes beautifully lit with blue fairy lights. For 100 yen you can buy a paper to write your wish on and hang it from one of the branches. Further north between Sanjo and Marutamachi there are bamboo lanterns which give a lovely soft illumination at night.
The second place is around Nijo castle and along Horikawa street. North of Nijo-jo mae station you can follow the Horikawa river and see hundreds of blue lights like stars floating down the river and as you go further North you’ll reach a tunnel full of lights which sparkle like you’re walking through the milky way!
Possibly my favourite part of the festival is inside Nijo castle itself. For the evenings of the festival, part of the castle grounds are open with no entry fee so you can walk around freely. On the grounds, you’ll find specially illuminated bamboo sculptures and when you come to the main building of the castle itself you’re treated to some spectacular 3D projection mapping onto the castle which will make it look like giant creatures are passing by and even that the castle itself is moving!
All of the events for Tanabata are completely free so it’s a great way to enjoy the summer evenings on a budget!
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