Each summer, festival-goers converge on Kappabashi-Hondori (Kappabashi Street) in Tokyo’s Asakusa district for the Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri, a festival traditionally held on July 7.
Many consider Asakusa to be the heart of Old Tokyo. In fact, it lies in the center of Tokyo’s shitamachi or “low city,” where remnants of postwar Japan thrive in the form of old temples, narrow alleys, and modest family-owned businesses. Kappabashi is famous for being the world’s largest restaurant wholesale district, lined with shops specializing in such cooking essentials as handmade stoneware and high-end sushi knives.
According to a Chinese legend, which was widely adopted by Japanese during the Edo period, two lovers – in the form of stars – were separated by the Milky Way galaxy. Once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, the two astral lovers are given permission by the Sky God to meet. During Tanabata, attendees often write their wishes on pieces of paper. The wishes are then tied to bamboo branches which line the streets, in the hope that they might come true.
This year’s Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri was held from July 5-10. It provided a beautiful juxtaposition of an old culture meeting a modern world, with men and women in yukata and jinbei (traditional Japanese summer clothing) strolling in the shadow of the awe-inspiring Tokyo Skytree. Even Ultraman was in attendance for the festivities.
Here, The Diplomat offers an on-the-streets glimpse of this year’s festival in Tokyo’s historical heart.