The area around Hiratsuka has been settled since prehistoric times, and mention of the area as part of ancient ďsumi District, Sagami Province is found in Nara-era records. From the Heian-era through Kamakura-era, the area was divided into sh˘en controlled by various samurai clans and in the Sengoku period was the site of several battles between the late Hojo clan of Odawara and the Miura clan. After the defeat of the Hojo at the Battle of Odawara by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the area came under the control of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who built a summer palace (the Nakahara Goten) in 1596. Hiratsuka was retained as tenry˘ territory after the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate, and flourished as Hiratsuka-juku, a post town on the Tokaido connecting Edo with Kyoto. After the Meiji Restoration, Hiratsuka town was founded on April 1, 1889 as part of the new Naka District within Kanagawa Prefecture. It merged with neighboring Suma town on April 1, 1929 and was proclaimed Hiratsuka city on April 1, 1932.
Prior to World War II, Hiratsuka was the location of the Hiratsuka Navy Ammunitions Arsenal of the Imperial Japanese Navy and Japan International Aircraft Industries, a Nissan group military aircraft factory. Hiratsuka was largely destroyed on July 16, 1945 during the Bombing of Hiratsuka in World War II. Due to its strategic location and wide beaches, it was also one of the targets for the planned invasion of Japan during the final stages of World War II.
The city quickly rebuilt after the war, annexing several neighboring villages in the mid-1950s to attain its current area. The population exceeded 200,000 by 2001 and Hiratsuka became a special ordinance city with increased autonomy from the central government. The current mayor is Ritsuko Okura the city's first female mayor, who was re-elected in 2007 for a second term with approximately 60% of the votes cast.
Hiratsuka has a mixed economy, with several industries located in industrial parks in the outskirts of town. Major plants are operated by Nissan Shatai, Yokohama Rubber Company, Canon, Furukawa Electric, Kansai Paint, and Mitsubishi Plastics. Nissan Shatai produced the largest employment on the City, but announced the plan to let a factory move to Kanda. Hiratsuka is also a bedroom community for Yokohama and Tokyo, with residents attracted by the "Shōnan lifestyle".
The Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata matsuri in Hiratsuka celebrates Tanabata or the star festival. It is held in the summer every year on July 7th which is the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the old lunisolar calendar. It lasts for four days ending with a large parade on the 10th .
The Tanabata matsuri in Hiratsuka is an especially large-scale event with around 2,000,000 people in attendance each year from all over Japan and abroad during the four days of the matsuri.
The matsuri fills the main streets of the downtown, north and west of Hiratsuka station, filling 3 major streets and 6 minor streets that are closed for the duration of the matsuri.
The main attraction of the matsuri are 3 metre long bamboo poles which are decorated with beautiful Tanabata ornaments and coloured decorations. These line all the streets around the main shopping district of Hiratsuka. At night these decorations are lit up and give the area a romantic feeling. Around 2,000 food stalls line the streets and many of the shops along the streets have sales on during the matsuri.
On the night of Tanabata (July 7th), there is a custom of writing wishes on strips of paper with 5 colours. These can be seen all along the street in between the decorations.
During the matsuri there are special performances such as a Kiyari matoi (firemen's parade) and a Sennin Odori in which 1,000 dancers perform traditional Japanese dance. There are performances from local schools showing modern hip-hop and ballet, brass bands, and baton twirling girls. To cap it all off there is the annual Miss Orihime Tanabata beauty pageant.
One can rent the three metre long bamboo poles to hang decorations from, the fee is 100,000 yen. Prizes are awarded that can help defray this expense. People begin working on the Tanabata decorations months in advance. Some of the decorations are sponsored by local businesses. Many of the 3,000 decorations are also animated with moving figurines or statues depicting famous scenes from Japanese history as well as local tales. Prizes are awarded separately for daytime and nigh-time displays. Some decorations remain the same each year with traditional tales from the Shonan area or decorations to support the local Bellmare soccer team.