Yoshihito and Junko Yonezawa brought the Tanabata tradition to Los Angeles. (Photo by Susan Jekari)

The story of the Los Angeles Tanabata Festival has involved so many people and organizations volunteering their time, their creativity, and energy — yet it all started with one man over 13 years ago.

Yoshihito Yonezawa was born in Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture. He grew up experiencing the community and wonder shared by the largest Tanabata festival in the country. As an Issei in Los Angeles and active within the JA community, he dreamed of bringing the same joy and community spirit to Los Angeles.

The first Tanabata Festival can be traced back to 16th-century Japan, at the start of the Edo Period. It is a celebration held on the seventh day of the seventh month and brings the legend of the Princess and the Cowherder to vibrant possibilities and colorful life in the form of seven decorations:

Tanzaku 短冊 (paper strips of handwritten wishes)

Orizuru 折り鶴 (paper cranes to symbolize long and healthy lives)

Kinchaku 巾着 (purses to symbolize wealth and good business)

Toami 投網 (nets made of paper to catch not only large hauls of fish but also good fortune)

Kamigoromo 紙衣 (paper kimono to display a wish for improved sewing and artistic skills)

Kuzukago くずかご (ornamental paper trash bags to celebrate cleanliness and frugality)

And perhaps most famously, fukinagashi 吹き流し (long streamers of paper hanging down from a frame to symbolize the art of weaving) that are usually hung underneath a circular ball or box frame.

The famed Sendai kazari (decorations) are now available for us to view during our festival that we set in August, to coincide with Nisei Week festivities thanks to the hard work and dedication of Mr. Yonezawa.

Given the incredible work effort and diligence of many volunteers and painstaking meetings to discuss legal issues, city codes and renting spaces to be able to welcome the greater community into the cultural climate of Little Tokyo, the first-ever Los Angeles Tanabata Festival caused eyes to widen and jaws to drop in 2009.

Since then, more and more people have enjoyed the various workshops that would teach people how to make decorations while humbly asking for donations to keep this group working. Workshops were held at various cherry blossom festivals and JA events and many organizations. We wholeheartedly enjoyed crafting a kazari to enter into the competition.

In 2019, LATF held a workshop at Anime Expo downtown and widened its appeal to even more people. The festival that year hung kazari outside the MOCA for everyone to view, boasted food booths sponsored by kenjikai groups and community organizations and various other booths, and also held a competition for kazari in different categories.

But the pandemic brought the festivities to a screeching halt and it’s been a road of recovery for its committee, so 2022 will be seeing a new version of the Los Angeles Tanabata Festival that will focus even more on community and sharing those stories with the public.

In partnership with the Japanese American National Museum, this year’s kazari submissions will also be asked about why they are involved with this festival. Every decoration that graces the winds in Little Tokyo has a story to share and we are eager to document it from the people who make them and the organizations that sponsor them.

The LATF Committee is proud to announce the theme for this year’s festival is “Fusion” and looks forward to organizing its free events to spread the hope and optimism we have been holding in reserve during these tough few years.

Los Angeles Tanabata workshops are held every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until August. We are in Room 405 in the JACCC building. Please call Junko Yonezawa, (323) 721-8523, for special workshops.

Kits are available for purchase. Weekday appointments can be made by contacting Junko Yonezawa at junyonela@yahoo.co.jp, Miyako Kadogawa at miyako1@att.net or Kiyo Fukumoto at kiyofukumoto@yahoo.com.

Information on current activities and schedules can be found at http://facebook.com/TanabataLA or on Instagram @tanabatafestivallosangeles.

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  1. Thank you for this VERY informative article, Ms. Susan JEKARL!! You should have also had a by line to this article, as well!