asakusa explore ueno

Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri

Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri is a summer festival in between Asakusa and Ueno early July, the weekend closest to 7 July is usually the highlight when Kappabashi Hondori over a distance of 1.2 km becomes traffic free. A parade is held on Saturday, street performances on Sunday. The festival attracts 400.000 visitors.

What makes this festival special are the very colourful decorations with Tokyo Skytree towering above it in the background. Tanabata decorations in general are colourful with coloured strips of papers hanging from a bamboo tree. Somehow they top the coulourfulness at this festival by having a large density of fukinagashi streamers hanging along the very straight Kappabashi Hondori. These streamers with ornamental ball on top (called kusudama) became the hallmark decoration of Tanabata since a shop in Sendai started with them in 1946. That this originated in Sendai is not by chance, Sendai is known for the festival since the 16th century and now attracts more than 2 million visitors.

Taiko drums during Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri

Tanabata is known as the Star Festival and originates from China. It is held on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month as according to the legend, that is when two cosmic lovers meet (represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively). As calculations vary, it is held at various days in July and August. In Japan it was introduced in the 8th century, but only truly got popular in the Edo Period (1603-1868) when it got mixed with Obon celebrations. Most notable in the Tanabata celebrations are the small pieces of coloured paper (called tanzaku) on which a wish is written (usually a wish for a good future or a thank you note) that is then hanged in a bamboo tree.

The Tanabata celebrations used to be more low key with people strapping wishes to trees. It’s only more recent that this turned into an actual summer festival held across Japan. The first large festival in Tokyo started in the 1950s in Asagaya, until now still the biggest Tanabata festival in Tokyo with 700.000 visitors (held early August). The shitamachi area in Tokyo started with its Tanabata festival in the 1980s. In 2018, the 31st edition was held between 5 and 9 July.

Tanabata tree with wishes during Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri

Saturday events:

  • Parade starts a bit after 13:00 from the Ueno side towards Asakusa
  • As part of the parade there are usually music groups, police motorbikes, harley davidson motorbikes
  • At 15:00 the Ecchūowarabushi (越中おわら節) starts, a dance originating from Toyama Prefecture

Sunday events:

  • Street performances are held all day
  • Dance and music: awa-odori, taiko drum groups, various music performaces and more
  • Crafts and other performances: magic tricks, ame-zaiku, portrait artists and more

Performance during Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri

In practice

Ueno side: 1-5-3 Kitaueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Asakusa Side: 3-1-12 Nishiasakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo

When? Saturday 10:00-20:00 and Sunday 10:00-19:00 during the weekend closest to 7 July.
In 2018, 7-8 July. In 2019, 6-7 July.

Entrance fee: free

Name in Japanese: 下町七夕まつり