Held every year from August 2 – 7, the Nebuta Matsuri is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; the sheer scale of it is overwhelming to say the least. If you plan to visit Japan in August, consider spending a day in Aomori and a day in Akita for the Kanto Matsuri. You can cover the Nebuta and Kanto festival in one go.
Known to be around since the 1700s, Nebuta (ねぶた) are enormous, dynamic paper floats with painted images of warriors, samurai, mythical characters as well as modern ones. This festival was said to have originated from the legend of Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, a shogun, who used flutes and taiko to get the attention of the enemy. Nemutai means sleepy or drowsy and Nebuta became a festival to jolt one’s sluggish soul.
Held over six days, more than 20 nebuta are paraded through the main street from Aomori Station and over six million people visit during this time. The exhilaration and energy in the air is contagious as the nebuta move to the music of taiko (drums), musicians and dancers.
Each one of the enormous Nebuta is carefully handcrafted by artisans who are called Nebuta-shi. Each nebuta can weigh about 4 tons and is 9 meters wide, 7 meters long and 5 meters high.
The floats are made using washi (Japanese paper) and constructed with a wire frame. It takes well over a year to create accurate 3D representations of not just mighty characters but also topical issues and prefectural mascots. You will see cute and scary!
The Nebuta are entirely operated by hands and it is quite amazing how skillfully these gigantic objects are handled. The participants bring the floats close to the onlookers and lower the nebuta (almost like a bow) in order to bless those in front!
Each local team has its own drummers, flutists and cymbal players.
Several dancers called “haneto” are dressed in interesting costumes including a cane hat with flowers, hold bells and fans and dance about shouting “rassera, rassera.” Even foreigners can participate in this parade; all you have to do is either rent (4000 yen or so) or buy the costume (7000 yen or so).
You also see people dressed as comical characters distributing little bells as blessings as well as taking photos with onlookers and keeping the audience entertained while the nebuta take a break.
The floats on the first two days are smaller than on the last two days. You can also see mini floats of mascots or advertising sponsors.
On the last day, the floats are displayed in the afternoon and then taken to the waterfront to submerge them. You can also see a wonderful display of fireworks. And as expected, no festival in Japan is complete without street food.
Getting the best viewing spot!
The floats travel through many intersections and finding a spot at one is the best as you can get a much nicer view. In fact, the roads are blocked around 18:00, so make sure to be at an intersection around that time. Reserved tickets (about 3000 yen) are also available but you don’t want to be constricted to one location!
No matter which day you visit, arrive an hour or so before the parade begins. Bring your mat, bottles of water or drinks. If you are driving, arrive at least two hours before the parade to get a spot in one of the many designated parking lots that are made available for these days.
For more: https://www.nebuta.or.jp/
And it’s no surprise that a festival of this scale has its unique manhole cover!
Schedule and Location
August 2-3: 19:10-21:00 Children’s Nebuta, Large Nebuta parade
August 4-6: 19:10-21:00 Large Nebuta parade
13:00-15:00 Large Nebuta parade;
19:15-21:00 Aomori Nebuta Matsuri parade in the sea. Aomori firework display
The floats follow a circular route and are dragged for about 3 km around the center of Aomori. You can easily access the route from JR Aomori Station, just a five minute walk.
Official Website: https://www.nebuta.or.jp/
So are you tempted to join as a haneto or just enjoy the glory of these massive works of art?