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Hakodate’s one-of-a-kind Tanabata Traditions: Halloween Vibes, Japanese Style!

[Last Update 2024/5/16]

Step into the whimsical world of Tanabata! In Japan, July 7th marks the annual celebration of Tanabata, a festival where wishes are penned on paper strips and fastened to bamboo leaves. While Hokkaido typically observes Tanabata on August 7th (or July 7th in the lunar calendar), Hakodate dances to its own beat, with festivities on July 7th and a unique twist: the tradition of “Candle-getting.”

In the evening, groups of children wearing Yukata and Jinbei will visit houses and shops where entrances are decorated with bamboo leaves. Their voices fill the air with a lively Tanabata song, “Let’s celebrate Tanabata festival with a big bang! Please give us one candle!”
Japanese lyrics:「竹に短冊七夕祭り 大いに祝おう ロウソク一本頂戴なー」

As the enchanting Tanabata melodies fill the air, a delightful tradition unfolds: houses and shops open their doors to the children, showering them with a variety of treats. Picture this: cookies, candies, and tiny flickering candles, each gift a surprise from the heart of Hakodate families. But wait, there's more! Some shops go the extra mile with small toys, refreshing drinks, and delicate white candles, turning the streets into a wonderland of generosity. The children, filled with gratitude, continue their quest under the twilight sky, their bags growing heavier with each stop.
If you have ever thought, “Is this Halloween?”, you are not alone! For the children of Hakodate, Tanabata is more than a festival—it is a cake and candy-coated harvest waiting to be enjoyed.

The Origin of Hakodate Tanabata Festival

Early records reveal that “Candle-getting” originated as an exclusive Hokkaido custom, possibly linked to the Tohoku Nebuta festival, though multiple theories exist. During this tradition, children wear Yukata and carry lanterns filled with candles as they visit neighbors to sing songs. In return, neighbors offer candles, cookies, and candy to them.
The practice of using candles was back to a time when Japan faced scarcity, especially during and after the war, when candles served as essential lighting tools. However, since 1975, concerns over fire safety have limited the everyday use of candles. Supermarkets have embraced the Tanabata season, replacing candles with a tempting assortment of cookies and candy.
These days, visitors no longer carry lanterns with them. Furthermore, before 1955, the lyrics of Hakodate’s Tanabata song was: “Today is Tanabata celebration with strips of paper on bamboo leaves! Hey~hey~hey… please give us one candle! If you do not give us a candle, we will keep begging!”
Japanese lyrics:「竹に短冊七夕祭り おーいやいやよ ローソク一本頂戴なー ローソクけなきゃ かっちゃくぞー」
Afterwards, under the guidance of the elementary schools, the phrase, “If you do not give us a candle, we will keep begging!” changed into, “Let’s celebrate Tanabata festival with a big bang!” Interestingly, the lyrics of the original song are very similar to Halloween’s Trick or Treat, although Tanabata in Hakodate has nothing to do with Halloween!

Feeling the excitement after learning all about it? Immerse yourself into the vibrant Hakodate Tanabata festival on July 7th this year! Practice Tanabata songs with your little ones, then embarking on a magical journey to visit every house, experiencing Hakodate in a whole new light!
If the thought of visiting and knocking on each door makes you shy, fear not! Join the festivities at iconic spots like Goryokaku Tower, SHARE STAR HAKODATE, or bustling shopping malls across Hakodate City!

Ready for the adventure? These are your insider tips:
※ When you visit a home or shop, remember to be polite and give a big “thank you” at the end!
※ Only houses with bamboo decorations at the entrance are open for visits. (No bamboo means no goodies!)
※ Who’s Invited? Children up to elementary school age!
※ Lace up those shoes! Let’s stroll together; no bikes allowed.
※ Dress code: Yukata for the girls, Jinbei for the boys. (Casual outfits are fine too!)
※ Starts around 4:00 PM.
※ Don’t forget to bring a big bag for all the sweet treasures that you will collect!