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MISAWA, Japan — Despite lingering rain clouds at Misawa, the season of the summer festival is here — one of the most festive times of year in rural northern Japan.

The fun starts Friday with the city’s annual Tanabata, or Star, Festival, when for three days, sections of a street outside Misawa Air Base’s main gate take on a carnival-like atmosphere with food, games and special events, including a karaoke contest and concerts.

Local business owners drape colorful paper mâché decorations and streamers from bamboo poles. During Tanabata, people write their wishes on paper strips and hang them from bamboo branches. The festival, said to date back more than 2,000 years, is based on a Chinese tale in which two lovers, the Weaver Star Vega and the Cowherd Star Altair, are separated by the Milky Way and allowed to meet once a year.

The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, and 1 to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The Friendship Gate (main gate) at Misawa will be closed to vehicle traffic on the following times and dates: from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday; from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday; and from 1 p.m. 10 p.m. Sundy. The main gate will continue to be open to pedestrian traffic. Levitow Gate will open for vehicle traffic during the main gate’s closure. Call DSN 226-4001 for more information.

Other summer festivals on tap for the city or neighboring areas include:

¶ Hachinohe Sansha Festival: The 280 year-old festival will be held from Sunday to Aug. 4 in Hachinohe. The festival features parades of floats based on myths and Kabuki stories. The parade begins at 3 p.m. Monday and Wednesday and at 6 p.m. Aug. 2. About 27 decorations will be on display from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sunday and Aug. 4.

¶ Hirosaki Neputa Festival: Starts Monday and ends Aug. 7, from 7 until about 9:30 or 10 p.m. About 30 to 50 floats will parade through the city.

¶ Nebuta Festival: Aug. 2-7. Northern Japan’s most famous summer festival features large, lit-up wooden floats that parade several miles through the city from 6:50 p.m., Aug. 2-6. On Aug. 7, the parade starts at 1 p.m. and ends in the evening when five floats that won awards during the festival will be displayed on ships in the water near Aoi Umi park. A fireworks show begins at 7 p.m. More information can be found at festival Web site at: www.nebuta.or.jp/english/index_e.htm

¶ Yosakoi Sankai Festival: Aug. 6, noon to 4:30 p.m. at Ms. Veedol Dome in Misawa. It’s the fourth annual festival of its kind in Misawa, according to www.misawajapan.com, and features dancers of all ages in colorful and versatile costumes.

¶ Misawa Festival: Aug. 19-21. On the 19th and 21st, a festival decoration parade winds through the city starting at 2 p.m. in front of Misawa Station, and a costume parade follows the route from Omachi intersection to city hall on the 20th starting at 3 p.m. A mikoshi (portable shrine) parade also will be held on the 20th, starting at 5 p.m. There will be drum and chanting competitions on the eve of the festival.

¶ Misawa Port Festival: Aug. 28 at Misawa Fishing Port. It features fireworks and events throughout the day, including a children’s sumo tournament.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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