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Tanabata Matsuri (Tanabata Festival)
Tohoku's Tanabata festival, one of the largest in Japan, is held every year from August 6 to 8 (heralded by massive fireworks over the river the night of the fifth), when Sendai's population triples. The festival is believed to have evolved from a Chinese legend of a weaver girl (the star Vega in her afterlife) and her cowherd boyfriend (the star Altair, in his). As lovers tend to do, they slowly went mad, and began to spend their time idly, living as if in a dream. The jealous ruler became irate and banished them to the far sides of his kingdom (the Milky Way). But he relented, perhaps remembering some foolish love affair of his own, and allowed them to meet on one day a year: the seventh day of the seventh month.
Why the people here celebrate this quintessentially cosmic love story on the sixth day of the eighth month is probably more closely linked with a need to give restive subjects time off to party in a time of great heat. Whatever the background, the festival creates a great reservoir of energy. Colorful streamers flutter from every perch in town. To walk along the arcades with the endless streamers brushing down against your face, neck, and shoulders—as you bump against and smile back at other enraptured souls also seduced by the whole grand pageant—is to feel glad to be alive and in Sendai at such a wonderful time.
From 5 pm on the evening of the 6th, parades, dances, events, and demonstrations of festival spirit are held nightly through the eighth, along a short stretch of Jozen-ji-dori between Kotodai Park and Bansui-dori. The tourist information office in Sendai Station can help with more details, also contained in countless pamphlets.
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