Fresh green bamboo poles angle over the downtown streets, holding colorful hanging decorations for people to enjoy as they wander the streets in yukata enjoying the warm summer nights.
Children enjoy the games and festival food, and being carried on shoulders to touch the streamers hanging low while young couples enjoy the romance of it all. Middle-aged people from Hiratsuka may grumble about the traffic, but most people enjoy Hiratsuka's biggest annual festival!
The Tanabata Story:
An ancient Chinese tale about the stars Altair and Vega, high overhead in the summer night sky, and the Milky Way that separates them, and how this came to pass.
There once was a brave young Shepherd named Altair, and a princess, the Weaver-girl Vega, who so loved each other they neglected their work. This angered the Emperor of the Heavens, who separated them by a river, the Milky Way, where on only one night each year, July 7th, a magical bridge is formed on the wings of Magpies and the two are allowed to cross and be together. If it rains on the night of July 7th, it is said that the river overflows and they cannot meet again until next year.
Each summer, Hiratsuka transforms itself into a colorful festival town drawing approximately 1.5-3 million people over the 4 days of the Tanabata festival. On the Hiratsuka City Tanabata homepage, you can find more information on attendance, events, and how the festival began in Hiratsuka and grew into the second largest Tanabata festival in Japan.
At the NISSAN Computer Technology Co.,LTD site, you can find Hiratsuka's Mayor Itsuo Yoshino's Tanabata greeting, and a more accurate version of the Tanabata story (it is actually a melding of Chinese and Japanese legends). Additionally, there is a schedule, and information on leaving your Tanabata wish or story for their homepage. Check it out!
The festival covers about 10 acres of the downtown, north and west of Hiratsuka station, filling 3 major streets that are closed for the duration of the festival. Special cutouts in the sidewalks were designed with Tanabata in mind, to anchor the base of the bamboo and wooden poles suspending the decorations over the street.
To rent a pole to hang decorations, the fee is 100,000 yen, or approximately US$900. Prizes are awarded that can help defray this expense. People begin working on these displays a month or more in advance.
Over 3,000 decorations are lit up at night and many are animated. Prizes are awarded separately for daytime and nightime displays. The decorations vary in size, many about 2 meters wide on average.
For more information on how these decorations are made, keep reading!
Some decorations remain the same, traditional themes of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints of the Shonan area or ancient fairy tales, while others change yearly: the royal wedding, 2 famous twin sisters turn 100, J-League soccer and the local Bellmare team.
According to Takiguchi-san of Takiguchi Kaban, a romantic summer theme is best (he should know: his displays have been winning prizes for over 30 years).
Always popular is the comet streamer, for Tanabata is the Star Lover's festival.
Sister City Tanabata Connection
For 1997, one decoration was created by members of the Friends of Lawrence group for Hiratsuka's Sister City, Lawrence Kansas, which features a Jayhawk (University of Kansas mascot), Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow from the "Wizard of Oz" (a long-cherished Kansas theme). Jayhawks are not only in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Here the Jayhawk, Mr. Tomita, and Mr. Takiguchi (from left to right) greet the world.
Making the Displays
Light and strong are keys to success: displays
must be able to withstand rains and possibly typhoons during the 4 days of the festival.
Styrofoam blocks are sculpted to create basic forms. Yoshiki Suzuki, a Hiratsuka City Hall employee who spent a year in Lawrence ('96-'97), makes the Jayhawk.
His model: a Jayhawk keychain, made in China...
These figures are then covered with glue and paper, then painted. Mrs. Terada, who came to Lawrence in Oct. '96, paints the Jayhawk.
Here Mrs. Terai compares the Dorothy model to the Mika reality.
In a Community Mercantile shirt, Matt Weiss, a '97 KU grad on the KU East - KU West exchange, helps out.
HIEA / FOL members (from left to right) Mrs. Nakano-san, Mrs. Kuwashima, and Mrs. Ogawa pitched in also.
The Tin Woodsman gets some finishing touches by Mr. Some, Mika, and Connie.
Mr. Some works for Hiratsuka City Hall in the International and Domestic Friendship Section, and traveled to Lawrence in Oct. '96 as well.
Here is the finished Wizard of Oz display, together with the Jayhawk as mounted on the streets.
Note the streamers hanging below. Part of Tanabata is hanging your wishes from the bamboo, and hoping they come true!
Here is my wish:
Hiratsuka - Lawrence
Friendship grow! " -Kevin
Mika got her wish too: playing with cups and water. For 300yen, fill a cup with as many floating toys as possible.
My favorite shot during the setup of the displays:
On a mild Tanabata tangent, Dennis Rogers, a Navajo indian from Topeka, KS, has visited Hiratsuka several times, starting in 1993 when he came to Kanagawa University on a student exchange program with Kansas University. While in Hiratsuka, he performed traditional dances and created a sand painting. These pictures were taken in 1993, when he performed at the Tanabata festival for several thousand onlookers.
July 12, 1997
C. 1997, Kevin Sullivan, firstname.lastname@example.org
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