An annual star festival in the northeastern Japan city of Sendai, known for its hundreds of brilliant hanging decorations in shopping areas, commenced Saturday with the biggest crowds expected since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sendai Tanabata Festival adds to the list of major summer events being held in Japan following cancellations or restrictions on spectators in previous years due to COVID-19, although the country is now facing its seventh wave of infections driven by the highly transmissible BA.5 Omicron subvariant of the coronavirus.

Hanging decorations are seen in a shopping arcade during the annual Tanabata Festival in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, on Aug. 6, 2022. (Kyodo)

Organizers expect around 2 million people to visit the three-day star festival, which was canceled in 2020 for the first time during the postwar era and held with reduced decorations in 2021.

"I'm pleased to see a bustling atmosphere returning after the mood of self-restraint lasted a long time," said Kikuo Shimura, a 70-year-old man visiting from Tsuru in Yamanashi Prefecture, central Japan.

As elsewhere, daily COVID-19 cases have remained high in Miyagi Prefecture, of which Sendai is the capital, with local authorities issuing the previous day a newly instituted declaration urging people to take precautionary steps against the BA.5 subvariant.

On Saturday, security personnel were seen raising placards calling for visitors to avoid crowds in various areas around the venue of the festival, said to have a history of more than 400 years.