Also known as the Star festival, Tanabata is a festival held every summer across Japan. It celebrates the legend of Orihime and Hikkoboshi, two celestial lovers who are only allowed to meet once a year on the 7th of July.
On the day of the festival about 60 bamboo trees decorate the main street leading to Kongo-ji, a zen Buddhist temple more than 600 years old in Minami Ashigara, close to Odawara. Many bamboo branches decorated with paper strips written by old and young are on display. At night the bamboo is lit up which gives the place a very beautiful atmosphere.
A photo booth is set up near the main hall, where couples can take a picture in front of a star. During the festival people can get free paper strips, called Tanzaku, to write their wishes and hang them onto the bamboo branches. At Kongoji, one chooses the color of the paper strip depending on the wish.
White: Goals in life
Red: Relationships (family, friends and other people)
Purple: Study, School
The zen temple has a small dry stone garden which can be found when entering the main hall on the right side. As this part of the temple will not be lit up at night, it can only be seen from 1pm to 5pm. Between 6pm and 8pm a food truck stands on the end of the street, where one can buy food and drinks to enjoy during the festival.
To reach Odawara from Tokyo, you can take the Odakyu Line, JR Tokaido Line or Shinkansen bullet train. From there, take the Daiyuzan line to its terminal at Daiyuzan Station, or Fujifilm Mae Station. The temple is about ten or fifteen minutes' walk from either station.
As the temple doesn’t have many parking spaces, visits by car are not recommended.