Tanabata festival returns to ‘Imiloa in Hilo for first time since 2019, drawing thousands
The first Tanabata Japanese Star Festival at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo since 2019 drew a crowd of nearly 2,500 to the free half-day event Aug. 19.
The festival featured special planetarium shows, Japanese crafts and traditional games, bon dance lessons, taiko performances, entertainment, ʻono food and more.
“We’re filled with immense pride and gratitude for all of the organizations and individuals that contributed to a successful Tanabata festival,” said ʻImiloa Executive Director Kaʻiu Kimura. “Hosting Tanabata back at ʻImiloa this year post-COVID has been a true honor and accomplishment. Being able to come together in person to celebrate this beautiful tradition after the challenges we’ve faced highlights the resilience of our community and the importance of cultural events in restoring a sense of normalcy. We look forward to many more joyful gatherings in the future.”
Close to 800 festival-goers came through in the first hour, enjoying a welcome by Hawai’i County Mayor Mitch Roth, a rousing taiko performance by Puna Taiko and a fun collaborative piece between Puna Taiko and the students of the Hilo High School Taiko Club.
Once the doors to ‘Imiloa opened, it was a frenzy of activities with planetarium shows every half-hour; a packed bon dance lesson that included multi-generational dancers from Hilo Daijingu Bon Odori, the Hilo High School Japan Club and Waiakea Japan Club; scores of craft activities in the exhibit hall; Japanese water games outside; and an amazing Okinawan folk music performance by the Honolulu group Ryukyu Koten Afuso-ryu Ongaku Kenkyu Choichi Kai USA, led by master sanshin player Grant “Masanduu” Murata.
Another taiko collaborative performance between Taishoji Taiko and the Hilo High School Taiko Club closed out the event.
Food vendors included Duck Fat, Itsuko’s, Crusty Buns, Pacific Mix Catering and AJ & Sons dba White Guava Café. Two Ladies’ Kitchen also came with trays of sweet mochi and sold out before event closing.
The Tanabata story tells the tale of the annual reunion of two star-crossed lovers — a weaving princess named Orihime and a cowherd named Hikoboshi. The two are separated by Orihime’s father, who places them on opposite sides of Amanogawa, the heavenly river (Milky Way). The couple is allowed to meet just once a year (on the seventh day of the seventh month).
In astronomy, Orihime is the star Vega and Hikoboshi is the star Altair. Both are clearly visible in the summer sky. In Japan, the Tanabata festival is celebrated by writing wishes on colorful strips of paper called tanzaku, which are hung on bamboo trees.
“The Tanabata festival is an important part of Japanese culture and a great way for us to share astronomy and culture together as one,” said Subaru Telescope director Satoshi Miyazaki. “We were happy that so many people came out to enjoy the Tanabata festival here in Hilo. These community connections show us how important we are to one another and how much we can learn from each other. We hope to have more events like this in the future.”