There’s no denying it: Rainy season is over (something like 22 days earlier than average!), which means summer is here and it is hot. And humid. And it’s going to last at least two months. Of course, we wouldn’t have it any other way in a beach town — who wants cool, drizzly summers when there’s an ocean to enjoy? But it is a tough go some days, and even the most dedicated sun worshippers need something to help get them through the dog days of the season.
What helps get me to the cool(er) days of September without losing my mind is summer festivals, or matsuri.
Once a year, two celestial lovers banished to separate sides of the night sky by an angry father reunite. The stars Vega and Altair play the roles of Orihime, a weaver, and Hikoboshi, a cow herder, two newlyweds who neglected their duties in a post-wedding haze of happiness (one assumes). Tentei, Orihime’s father, emperor of the heavens and clearly a strict disciplinarian, sent them packing in opposite directions, and allows them to meet but once a year — and only if they work hard the rest of the year.
Those in the earthly realm celebrate the day by making wishes. At stations and schools, shops, shrines and in some homes, you’ll see bamboo branches covered with bright strips of paper. Written on the strips are wishes, from simple “I wish I would become better at drawing” (my daughter’s wish for the year) to far more serious wishes concerning love, school entrance exams, jobs and health.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the main shrine in Kamakura, holds a Tanabata festival every year. The streamers are already up, and a few different events take place on July 7.
For more information on Tanabata at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, click here.
Obon is the spookiest time of year in Japan. It’s when the division between the spirit world and our world is at its thinnest, and it’s at this time of year that Japanese families invite their ancestors into their homes. Of course, not all Japanese families do this anymore, but it isn’t terribly uncommon, particularly in more rural areas, to find signs of invitation — a lantern, perhaps, or little animals outside houses made of cucumbers and eggplants to help carry ancestors to our world and back to their own. Plenty goes on during Obon (find more information here), but by far my favourite activity is the bon festival.
There are three fairly large bon festivals in Kamakura, in addition to smaller neighbourhood events. The big ones are at Engaku-ji, Kamakura-gu and at the beach.
Engaku-ji: TBA (usually mid-August)
Kamakura-gu: August 20, 21 (This is according to the person we spoke with at Kamakura-gu — but the city website says 19, 20… Will be looking into this again later in the month.)
Kamakura Hama no Bon Odori: July 28 (Hosted by Asia beach house. Not quite sure where the beach house is this year, but once you hit the beach, it should soon become obvious.)
Summer just wouldn’t be summer without seeing some fireworks. Fingers crossed for a light breeze to carry the smoke offshore!
70th Kamakura Hanabi Taikai, Yuigahama Beach: July 24 (7:20-8:10pm) *Rain date: July 25
Enoshima Noryo Hanabi Taikai, Katase Nishihama: August 21 (7-7:20pm) *Cancelled if weather is poor; no rain date
Of course, there are plenty of other little festivals here and there at various temples and shrines, and in small neighbourhoods, so always keep an eye out for lanterns and an ear cocked for taiko pounding. Sometimes the best festivals are the unexpected kind.