Tanabata Days at Tokyo Disneyland
Tanabata Days or (ä¸ƒå¤•) is the traditional Japanese Star Festival and is held annually at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea June 24 through July 7. During the special event, there are decorations, short Tanabata greetings in each park, special menu and merchandise items, and Wishing Places in each park and at the monorail stations for guests to write Wishing Cards and hang them on posts in the parks. This post features some photos from Tanabata Days at Tokyo Disneyland, as well as thoughts on the event.
Tanabata Days is one of the shortest festivals at Tokyo Disneyland, immediately following Disney’s Easter and lasting only two weeks until the traditional date of the Tanabata, on July 7. Because the celebration is so short, there really isn’t a ton to it. It’s just one of those nice little touches that is cool to see, and probably not a reason to book a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort (at least not for a visitor traveling from overseas).
Because there’s really not a ton to this, I feel compelled to pump up the word count of this blog post with a drawn out story of the origin story of the Tanabata that I’ve pieced together from several highly reliable sources, such as Wikipedia and random unvetted Japanese blogs. This site is nothing if it isn’t where you all come for your daily dose of knowledge. 😉
Let’s start with that, and then cover some of what Tokyo Disneyland has to offer for Tanabata Days…
As legend goes, Orihime is the daughter of the Tentei, the Sky King, who wove beautiful clothes by heavenly river Amanogawa (Milky Way). She weaves to please her father, but because of her dedication to weaving, she is never able to meet and fall in love. This concerns Tentei, who arranges for her to meet Hikoboshi, the cow herder who lived on the other side of the Milky Way. The two fell in love instantly and married. Their love and devotion was so deep that Orihime stopped weaving for Tentei, and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to wander the heavens.
In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers across the Milky Way and forbade them to meet. Orihime became despondent at the loss of her love and pleaded with Tentei to allow her to see Hikoboshi again. Tentei loved his daughter and was persuaded by her tears, so he decreed that on the 7th day of the 7th month if she worked hard and finished her weaving. The first time they tried to meet, there was no bridge over the river of the Milky Way for them to cross. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies came and made a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet. Consequently, the Japanese typically wish for good weather on the Tanabata so that the lovers may meet. So basically, it’s the story of Romeo and Juliet crossed with a bit of that one Pirates of the Caribbean sequel and a dash of The Little Mermaid thrown in for good measure. Or something like that.
In Tokyo Disneyland, guests can find a Wishing Place in the center of World Bazaar. Mickey and Minnie Mouse will ride on rickshaws along the parade route and can also be spotted in a “Tanabata Greeting” mini parade.
In addition to the theme parks, the Disney Resort Line Monorail stations will also offer a Wishing Places and original Wishing Cards.
The Wishing Place and Tanabata Greeting are the main elements of Tanabata Days, and the Greeting is pretty low key. It’s simply Mickey & Minnie in traditional kimono, plus a band and a few princesses. Most guests stake out spots “only” 30 minutes or less in advance, which should be indication of its scale. The costuming is excellent and it has a nice soundtrack, but it’s nothing to plan your day around.
As with any good celebration, there’s also special merchandise and menu items. For the menus, it’s mostly shaved ice, and almost every popular snack spot (at least the ones we frequent) has a special shaved ice. The number of choices is pretty impressive, as is the inventiveness of the shaved ice options, but this should come as no surprise given how seriously Tokyo Disneyland takes snacking. These are my people.
Merchandise consists mostly of a couple of plushes, pins, buttons, and little things with the Tanabata Days logo, but there also are awesome kimonos. We couldn’t resist the kimonos, which are not only a rare piece of Tokyo Disney Resort location merchandise, but also are unique.
World Bazaar is packed with guests during Tanabata Days, from park opening until the last guests are herded out by security at park closing. I noticed many guests in traditional kimonos, and stopped a few to ask if I could take their photos. When I do this, I typically use pantomime to convey the question, pointing to my camera, then to them, and asking the question in English. The vast majority of the time, people I ask in the parks are flattered to have their photo taken. Sometimes, they then ask if they can get a photo with us.
It turned out that two of the guests I asked happened to be Disney fans, Moko and Kaho, with whom we had been interacting on Twitter and planning to meet up with later in the day. Talk about coincidence!
While this is a relatively small scale celebration, as a Westerner, it is one of my favorites. We planned our trip to coincide with the end of Disney’s Easter and start of Tanabata Days specifically so we could see the celebration (and also because we really enjoy rain and humidity). While most special events at Tokyo Disneyland are based upon Western holidays that have been embraced by Japanese culture as part of the All-American appeal of the Disney theme parks, Tanabata Days celebrate something that is more on the traditional end of the Japanese cultural spectrum.
I think Tokyo Disneyland always has its own unique anthropological appeal as there is cultural appropriation of American customs that is really fascinating, but Tanabata Days creates an “East Meets West” vibe. There are a lot of guests in kimonos, and given the gathering of people near the Wishing Place in World Bazaar, it’s clear this is a practice that is taken seriously by many Japanese people. Given my belief that Tokyo Disneyland is one of the most authentic (as bizarre as that may sound) slices of culture that most American tourists will see on a visit to Japan, this just heightens the experience for me.
Overall, Tanabata Days are a really cool, small celebration that showcases a small slice of traditional Japanese cultural. It’s certainly no replacement for visiting a World Heritage site in Japan or wandering the streets of Kyoto, but definitely is interesting seeing Americana meet Japan…icana(?) So long as you don’t go in expecting one of the lavish parades or stage shows for which the Tokyo parks are known during their special events, you won’t be disappointed with Tanabata Days.
If you’re thinking of visiting Japan for the first time and are overwhelmed with planning, definitely check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Planning Guide. It covers much more than the parks, from getting there to WiFi to currency and much, much more. To save money on a visit to Japan, read our Tokyo Disney on a Budget article. For more photos and an idea of what we did day-by-day during our first visit, read our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report.
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Do Tanabata Days look interesting to you? Have you been to Japan during Tanabata? If you have any other comments or questions, post them below and I’ll try to answer!
Hello – I have just read that Tanabata Days will not be occurring at Tokyo Disney for 2020. Do you know why or what might be replacing it? My first trip to Japan and so disappointed that there will be no special event!
studied your articles religiously for my trip to disney last year in june and am re-reading them again for my 2nd trip again in june this year!
Looking forward to experiencing tanabata days (last year easter – magical with all the eggs 🙂 )
my question – do you know how many special passports I can buy? I have some japanese friends with me and was wondering if they could tag along on my ticket. I made some fellow disney fans on my last trip and have been in contact (I am very lucky).
Thanks in advance for info.
Hi Can i check if the event is from 24th June till July 7 or it’s from 16th June till July 7?
We are looking forward to Tanabata Days at Disney Tokyo this year in 2016…your blog has been a great resource for information! Last year we did Disney Easter, this year Tanabata…next year maybe we will be able to visit for the summer event! 🙂 Really looking forward to the trip again this year, especially with all the tips and info you provide!
It must have been really hard to throw out that Stitch cup. Why can’t the US parks have such nice thing? (instead of the generic Disney Parks paper products)
Sarah looks SO cute in that kimono! And this celebration sounds fantastic! I think I may need to play my Tokyo trip to coincide with this celebration when I finally make that Japan trip happen! Thanks for sharing, Tom 🙂
It’s a great time to be in Japan both in terms of the celebration and light crowds. The only downside is that it’s rainy season, but we got pretty lucky with the weather.
I was just there for this! it was excellent really loved the unique-ness of the park celebration. this is going to sound creepy but i thought i saw you at the park when i was there on wednesday, I wanted to say hey but i wasnt sure if it was you, but anyway thanks for all the tips and blogs youve posted, they were really helpful when we were organising our visit.
I hope you enjoyed your trip as much as i enjoyed mine! 🙂
Thanks so much for this post, it was absolutely charming. I haven’t gone abroad in a long time, so it’s really nice to read about different cultural events, specially in a Disney park! So I guess next month I’ll be cheering from my little corner of the world for good weather for Orihime and Hikoboshi.
Tom & Sarah, Just wanted to say thank you for your dedication to this site. I live within driving distance to Disney World and have been fortunate to be able to visit there twice per year. However, like many I thought Disney Tokyo would be a “some day” trip until I saw your post on Memorial Day that it was cheaper to visit Disney Tokyo then Disney Orlando. I checked out the airfare and was able to lock in $690 per person (less $100 for signing up for a credit card). With the Disney Tokyo 4 day passes only costing $160 per person we were are able to use the savings toward staying at the Sheridan Grande Tokyo Bay which I also got a fairly good deal by reserving early. I thought this was the end of our 2015 vacation plans until I was looking online at the airfarewatchdog.com site you recommended and again we were able to get tickets to Disneyland for $222 round trip per person from Atlanta to Los Angeles. For this trip however, we were able to get the air and hotel for free by using Southwest points and Marriott reward points. So in addition to going to Disney World (and thanks to this website), this year we will also be visiting Disney Tokyo and Disneyland. Thank you both again for all you do!!!
What a beautiful kimono Sarah has on – looks amazing!
This looks like a wonderful tradition in the (bucket list) park, I will make my wish! 🙂
That looks lovely! So excited to visit the Tokyo parks, my husband and I just decided on a trip to Japan in 2017 (with a side trip to Hong Kong for the rugby 7s and some skiing in Japan too) so we are really excited about getting to see the Tokyo parks, especially DisneySea. As a huge ToT fan I cannot wait to experience the one in DisneySea. We won’t be there for this festival (March) but can’t wait anyway. Love the blog Tom, thanks so much for all the effort you put in to it. We are heading back to WDW next year for my birthday (it’s a big one that involves a 3…) so already planning for that so I love reading all your updates for new things to try out. We had our honeymoon at WDW last year and it wouldn’t have been nearly as organised without your help! Thanks again 🙂
Dang, you’re turning 23 next year? Congrats! 😉
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it… and thank you!
I love Sara’s Pluto dress. Where can I get one like that?
If Tom says it’s no longer available in shops, and you really want one, I have seamstress skillz ^_^
The pluto top is here
Yep. I believe Sarah will be updating her ‘What to Wear to Disney’ page soon, too.