The Intense Power that Lasts a Lifetime in One’s Heart
The Japanese Fire Festival, Nebuta
Are the Floating Lanterns of Tanabata the origin of Nebuta?
Aomori Nebuta and Neputa Festivals are quintessential summer festivals of Japan. With live music by ohayashi players and energetic shouts, the bright colored nebuta floats parade through the streets just as if floating on a river.
The people of Aomori live through the harsh winter of the northern country then devote their passion to the festival during the short summer. The root of the Nebuta festival is the peoples’ prayer and their pride for their homeland. As one of the representative fire festival of Japan, people in Aomori unite their souls and devote themselves to the festival.
Though there are several theories as to the origin of Nebuta, the mostly accepted theory says it derived from the floating lanterns of Tanabata festival. In Tsugaru dialect, Nemutai (sleepy) is said “neputee”, which is believed to have changed overtime to the currently known festival name, nebuta/neputa.
Aomori Nebuta, visited by 3 million people annually
The Aomori Nebuta is a summer festival held annually from August 2nd to 7th in the city of Aomori. The energetic and intense festival welcomes over 3 million visitors every year from all over Japan and the world.
There are two types of nebuta (neputa), a human shaped nebuta and a fan shaped neputa. The Aomori Nebuta is a human shaped float. The largest nebuta, including the cart, was 9 meters (29 feet) in width, 7 meters (22 feet) in depth, and 5 meters (16 feet) in height. It weighs 4 tons (8818 lbs). In 1980, the Nebuta Festival was designated as one of the National Important Intangible Folk Culture Properties.
The Nebuta master draws the preliminary sketch and decides on the entire structure and colors. It takes about three months for a team of artists to give birth to a nebuta, beginning with making the base structure with wires and applying washi (Japanese paper).
On the day of the festival, the haneto (nebuta dancers) dress in their colorful costumes. The shouting voice of “Rassera, Rassera” echoes through the streets of Aomori. With musical performance by hayashi performers, the festival begins to reach its peak. As the dance of haneto intensifies, the crowd cheers loudly and the festival climaxes. On the night of the 7th, the nebutas are placed in boats and ferried around the Aomori Bay as fireworks light up the night sky to conclude the festival.
Why not experience the festival as a haneto dancer?
Visitors can participate in the festival as haneto dancers, an experience one can never forget. All you have to do is dress in the haneto costume and join one of the nebuta groups before the start of the parade. Participants can enjoy the festival freely. There are rental and dress-up services available.
Touring the Nebuta Production Site
Every year from May to the end of the Nebuta Festival, the Rasse Land, the nebuta production and storage facility is set up on a corner of the Aoi-umi Park. There are nebuta personal guides available from July to August 6th.
The Hirosaki Neputa, a Beautiful Contrast of Stillness and Motion
The Hirosaki Neputa Festival is held every August, from the 1st to the 7th. About 80 neputas of various sizes – large fan-shaped floats depicting epic and fantastic images of warriors – parade through the town. It boasts the largest number of floats among all nebuta/neputa festivals. In 1980, Hirosaki Neputa Festival was designated as one of the Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties of Japan.
The key feature of a neputa is the contrast between the gallant kagamie (front picture) and the elegant miokuri (back picture) and is characterized with the contrast of stillness and motion. Typically, neighborhood associations and citizen groups gather together to make and carry one float. The neputa parade through town accompanied by children shouting “Yah ya do!” accompanied by flute and taiko drum players. The children carry kingyo neputa (gold fish neputa), a neputa shaped like the gold fish “Tsugaru Nishiki,” an ornamental fish bred since feudal times. Kingyo neputa are quite popular for thier adorable shape.
The Goshogawara Tachineputa, the Stunning Magnificence
Among all of the nebuta festivals in Aomori prefecture, the one with the greatest scale is the Goshogawara Tachineputa. Tachineputa are floats with a height equivalent to a seven story building, these 23-meter (75 feet) tall floats parade through the city of Goshogawara every year from August 4th to 8th.
Once upon a time, successful merchants of old competed against each other to construct the highest neputa as a symbol of their power. The great neputas were lost for a long time but were revived in 1993 when some lost schematics and pictures were found. A group of volunteer citizens brought it back to the public after 80 years. The massive floats and the energetic shouting of “Yattemare!” never fail to captivate the audience.
Enjoy the Nebuta Festival All Year Around The Permanent Exhibition of Nebuta
The Nebuta House Wa Rasse of Aomori city, the Tsugaru-han Neputa Mura of Hirosaki city, and the Tachineputa no Yakata (Tachineputa Museum) of Goshogawara city exhibit nebuta/neputa permanently for tourists to enjoy the enchantment of nebuta even during non-festival times.