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Groovy Osaka: Celebrating the Milky Way

The Tanabata festival celebrates the perennial once-a-year meeting of two star-crossed lovers.

By 3 min read

Also known as the Star Festival, Tanabata is a festival with roots in Chinese mythology and celebrated in various forms across Asia. Two lovers, representing the stars Vega and Altair, are separated by the celestial river of the Milky Way and only allowed to meet once a year when a magical bridge forms on the seventh day of the seventh month. In Japan, these lovers are known as the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi.

While the Sendai Tanabata Festival is the largest and most well known of the Tanabata festivals, Tanabata is celebrated throughout Japan. Osaka is no exception. The date of the festival varies depending on the calendar being used to indicate the seventh month. Most regions favor the Gregorian calendar and thus celebrate yearly on July 7, but some areas, such as the Sendai festival, use the Japanese lunisolar calendar or a fixed date on the Gregorian calendar closer to the lunisolar date in August. Most of the events in Osaka this year are planned for July 7, or the days around it.

Sendai in Osaka

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One event that started in May is the Sendai Tanabata Festival display at the Umeda Sky Building. Each year, the Sky Building displays a few iconic decorations from the Sendai festival throughout the summer months until the end of Tanabata on August 8. While the PR info claims there are festival stalls, going to the Sky Building at the end of June only yielded views of two arches with decorations and nothing else.

There were no food stalls at that time, but the official Facebook page and website show that in previous years there were more festivities and events as the actual Tanabata festivals in July and August occur. The displays still make for an excellent photo opportunity if you can’t make it during the festival times. During my visit, many people were taking photos with the displays while on their way to visit the Sky Building, which is certainly a trip of its own.

More info: www.skybldg.co.jp (Japanese)

Shitennoji Temple Illuminations

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Starting on Wednesday, July 6, Shitennoji Temple will have an illuminated Tanabata display accompanying their equally illuminating festivities. There will be a large grass tunnel decorated with tanzaku, the paper strips on which people write wishes. You can participate in wish making by purchasing tanzaku for ¥100. This year, the temple will also have a special Kumamoto tanzaku to help support the city after it was devastated by earthquakes in April. These charity tanzaku will cost ¥200, with ¥100 going directly to Kumamoto relief efforts.

Above the grass tunnel, there will also be an LED light display symbolic of the Milky Way. On the last day of festivities, the tanzaku will be ritually burned, so if you want to participate, make sure you get yours prior to the last day. During the first two days, you can also light a peaceful chinkon no akari (soul candle) for ¥100. Most of these events happen at sundown, but if you do arrive earlier, you can enjoy the  stalls and other sights the temple has to offer. Personally, I’m a die hard turtle fan and never pass up the excuse to go to see their very large turtle pond. Add stargazing and several concerts, and there’s something for everyone.

More info: www.tanabatanoyuube.net (Japanese)

Okawa River Milky Way

On July 7, the Okawa River is turned into an epic LED Milky Way. The display only lasts from about 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., so like Orihime and Hikoboshi, don’t miss your chance to see the bridge of stars or you will have to wait another year. The paid viewing area costs ¥1,200 for advanced tickets and ¥1,500 the day of the event.

More info: www.osaka-amanogawa.com (Japanese)

Enjoying the Festival Outside the City

Hatamono Shrine is located in Katano, a city northeast of Osaka but still in Osaka Prefecture. If you live in the are—or simply prefer a more rural atmosphere—the shrine holds its own Tanabata celebration July 6 and 7, with bamboo decorations and many stalls to check out.

More info: murata35.chicappa.jp (Japanese)

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