Farewell Dance for Tanabata

Several months past August, I’ve finally gotten to wrapping up the Hikone summer festival series.

I have some ambitious ideas for Where Next Japan, and I’m hoping to provide more interviews, (with video and sound!), and insights into daily Japanese life, as well as special cultural events and travel inspiration.

For now though, I hope you enjoy my photos from Hikone’s final Tanabata dance festival.

Tanabata is a big event in Japan. The legend goes that one night a year, the two deities Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are separated by the Milky Way, are reunited.

The kanji, 七夕, contains the number 7, so in most parts of the country Tanabata is celebrated on the 7th of July. According to the lunar calendar however, the date is in August which is when some cities, like Sendai and Hikone, hold their festivities.

My Japanese language class practised the traditional dance together the week before, but most teams had obviously put a lot more effort into their moves, and costumes, hoping to win the prize for best group.

Dancers passing the raised stage, where taiko drummers kept the beat, and judges evaluated their performance.

The Serigawa Lantern Festival had lowered my expectations for crowd volume. It felt like most of Hikone was crammed into the shopping streets of Ginzacho, dancing, spectating and, of course, photographing.

An extremely stylish family pose in front of the dancers.

Foreign devils: I spotted a gaijin (non-Japanese) amongst the groups.

People of all ages danced

I must admit, I loved this guy…

There was a variety of props used by the various groups – everything from large red pompoms and flags to bare hands. Most popular though were the Hikonyan (Hikone’s mascot) fans, waved about gracefully.

Hikone loves a bit of period costume, historical reenactment. The big Hikone parade on November 3rd each year employs hundreds of costume actors, from samurai to Heian Period princesses. A few of these made an appearance for Tanabata too.

One of the cart-pullers who takes tourists around the castle on the weekends, posed for a few of my shots. (In one photo, he stops so abruptly that he shocks his young passenger…)

A replica of Hikone castle floating amongst the demons, Chinese dragons and cart-pullers.

Late edit: Here is the video of the night that I’ve finally finished editing. Enjoy the energy and expect that song to revolve in your brain for a few days.

I have lived in three parts of Japan. Wakayama prefecture, south of Osaka; Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo; and now Hikone. In every part of the country, there are amazing festivals bringing people together to create the spectacles. Hikone though, maybe because of its small size, but large historical importance, has, I feel, placed an even greater emphasis on the bonds of community and tradition.

(Another example of this is the neighbourhood 自治会 (jichikai, or association), which, for the first time in my 5 years living here and my native Japanese husband’s life, we have been drafted into – but that is for another entry).

As the music finally stopped, the festival wound to a halt and the winners of best costume and best synchronisation did their victory lap. We said a collective farewell to Tanabata and festival season.

Then, with particularly Japanese speed and efficiency, the decorations came down from store fronts, and the arcade roof. The sprigs of bamboo with their cheerful Tanabata tinsel and Hikonyan tags were piled on the road.

It’s all gotta go

I wheeled my bike around the empty streets, which only minutes ago had been awash with people and noise and dancing. I wasn’t willing yet to go home, or to finally say goodbye to summer festivals. At the same time, after a solid 10 days of photographing festivals, I was tired, and it is only a short 12 months until they come again.

Bring on autumn!

Bye bye summer

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5 thoughts on “Farewell Dance for Tanabata

    • This parade was at night and was the capping off of the Tanabata festivities which had been running since late July. If you have a look at some other entries like the Yukata photo essay and Tanabata in August there are some other pictures of Tanabata related events.

      Summer in Japan, especially over the holiday/Obon period is just one big party. ^^

      Like

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