Japan Trip '04

After almost a year in the planning, this trip has finally happened.  Dan and I were in Sendai from August 4 to August 12 - not nearly long enough, but we managed to pack a lot of stuff in such a short trip.  

Here are my journal entries for the trip to Sendai:

August 3 - Going to Japan
August 4 - First Day in Japan 
August 5 - Sendai Castle Site, Zuihoden, Rinnoji, Tanabata Fireworks
August 6 - Nebuta Festival
August 7 - Tanabata Festival
August 8 - Matsushima Bay and Sparklers
August 9 - Akiu Falls and Yodobashi Camera
August 10 - Sendai Rotary Club Meeting
August 11 - Chusonji and Konjikido
August 12 - Going Home

You can see out pictures from the trip in our new picture album.  

The Festivals

Sendai's Tanabata Festival
Fireworks on the night of August 5 kick off this three-day festival.  On August 6, 7, and 8, huge decorations hang above the pedestrian malls in the center of the city, creating a riot of color.  And every night there is a Tanabata Parade, where the Japanese celebrate as only they can.  

Sendai is particularly famous for how they celebrate this important event.  What makes Sendai's Tanabata Festival stand out from other Tanabata festivals?  In Sendai, the decorations are said to be the much more creative and artistic, crafted meticulously by hand. The streamer decorations at other, less famous Tanabata Festivals are mostly made of plastic, but the ones in Sendai are the real thing.  For this reason, Sendai gets many visitors during the three days of Tanabata Festival.  Over 2 million people joined in the celebration last year, almost doubling the size of the city!  But that still doesn't tell exactly what the festival is about...

The Tanabata Legend 
The festival is said to have originated from a Star Festival in China. There are several different stories that I have heard, but according to Chinese legend, east of the Milky Way there was a Heavenly King whose daughter worked as a weaver. However, when she married a herdsman, she quit weaving. This angered her father who banished the herdsman to the other side of the Milky Way.

He allowed the two to meet only once a year on the evening of the seventh day of the seventh month (according to the lunar calendar). The weaver is represented by the Vega star and the herdsman by the Altair star. As a prayer to produce better arts and crafts, the Imperial Court and the warrior class paid homage to these two stars from ancient times. The practice spread to the masses during the Edo Period.

In Sendai, daimyo Date Masamune had the warrior and merchant classes observe the Star Festival. Today, wishes are written down on papers that are then folded into cranes.  The cranes are tied to bamboo plants and left outside.  If the stars shine on the cranes during Tanabata, it is said that the wishes will come true.  

Aomori's Nebuta Festival
"Nebuta" is a huge float---made of a wooden base and then carefully framed into shape with wires, covered with Japanese paper and beautifully colored with water colors and lighted from the inner part with hundreds of light bulbs. The floats are illuminated as dusk approaches, and they become a spectacular sight as darkness deepens. Sizes vary, from small lanterns carried by children to those measuring as high as 26 feet and as wide as 49 feet. These floats are pulled by anywhere from 4 to 50 people. Around each float are hundreds of male and female dancers called haneto, who parade around town to the accompaniment of flutes and drums chanting "rasera, rasera, rase rase rasera."

The Origins of Nebuta
There are many theories about the origin of the Nebuta Festival. One is that it is said to have originated after the subjugation of rebels in this district by "General Tamuramaro" in the early 800's. He had his army create large creatures, called "Nebuta", for frighten the enemy.

Another theory is that the Nebuta Festival was a development of the "Tanabata" festival in China. One of the customs during this festival was "toro" floating. A "toro" is a wooden frame box wrapped with Japanese paper. The Japanese light a candle inside the "toro" and put it out to float onto the river or into the sea. The purpose behind this is to purify themselves and send the evil spirits out to sea. "Toro" floating is still one of the most impressive and beautiful sights during the summer nights of the Japanese festivals. On the final night, "toro" floating in accompanied by a large display of colorful fireworks. This is said to be the origin of the Nebuta Festival. Gradually these floats grew in size, as did the festivities, until they are the large size they are now.


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Last updated 3-Sep-04