Shaved ice, yukata and drones: Rakuten employees celebrate Tanabata Festival in Tokyo

Walking down the hallway, a flurry of pastel colors and patterns appear as a group of employees emerge from a meeting room. Clad in yukata (the light, summer version of a kimono), with traditional Japanese wooden sandals on their feet and Rakuten Panda-themed traditional Japanese fan in hand, they discuss machine-learning algorithms—a curious merging of traditional Japanese culture and cutting-edge tech.

The reason for their eye-catching outfits? Rakuten Yukata Day, a yearly celebration timed around the Japanese star festival Tanabata that aims to bring together Rakuten Crimson House’s diverse employees through a shared celebration of Japanese culture.

“We’ve long celebrated Halloween and Christmas in the Tokyo office,” explained Ayumi, one of the event’s organizers, “but it wasn’t until the introduction of our Rakuten Tanabata festival a few years ago that we gave Rakuten employees the opportunity to experience and enjoy Japanese culture. So far, we’ve gotten amazing feedback from employees – even Rakuten’s CEO Mickey wears a Yukata to work!”

In honor of Yukata Day, employees enjoyed a number of perks throughout the week such as a special hair and nail service at Rakuten’s employee-only Hair Salon Abbey, Rakuten Ichiba discounts on yukata and a colorful festival-themed lunch menu, culminating with an office Tanabata party on July 6.

The party, which drew hundreds of Rakuten revelers, featured a professional photo booth, traditional festival food (as well as more modern party fare in the case of the giant chocolate fondue fountain), samples of wine from Andres Iniesta’s family winery and themed cocktails from a team of talented volunteer mixologists.

There was also plenty of entertainment, with performances from Rakuten’s hip hop and Hawaiian dance clubs. And not to be outdone by the dancers, Rakuten Kobo engineer Rich showed off his superhuman powers of memory by correctly rattling off the first 500 digits of pi from memory.

For new graduate Yuka, the energy of the event was inspiring. “I was surprised that there were so many people participating and everyone was so energetic. I want to have this kind of event more often!”

Fellow new graduate Kaede enjoyed the chance to show off a new look at the office. “I feel amazing,” she said with a smile. “This yukata really sets off my facial features and I even fixed my hair by myself in traditional Japanese ‘yakai maki’ style.”

Mitch of the Rakuten Rebates team was equally enthusiastic to ditch the usual dress shirt in favor of something more adventurous. “It’s great to participate in traditional Japanese culture” he said, explaining that he learned how to tie the belt on his yukata himself by watching online video tutorials.

With so many fabulously-dressed employees there were plenty of selfies snapped throughout the day, but none as dramatic as the one taken by the Rakuten Mobile team. On Friday afternoon, they gathered in the cafeteria to take a team photo via drone, a fitting moment given Rakuten’s love for both tradition and innovation.

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