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Nebuta (or Neputa depending on the area) originally referred to a unique and picturesque summer festival – “Tanabata (七夕)”. This festival takes place on the 7th day of the 7th month of the year according to the lunar calendar. Tanabata, originating from ancient China, celebrates the romantic meeting of the two deities: Ori-hime (織姫) representing Vega and Hiko-boshi (彦星) representing Altair.
From the time when the Gregorian calendar came to Japan in 1872, Nebuta started losing relations with original Tanabata. People started celebrating Nebuta festivals independently as a big summer event. This tradition is especially popular in the “Kanto (関東)” region and in the “Tohoku (東北)” or Northeastern region of Japan’ Honshu Mainland. The festivals usually feature a stately procession of the elaborately designed festive floats with fabulous paper-made figurines of legendary people and animals illuminated from inside. In this article, I will provide you with a brief introduction about some Nebuta festivals, especially in Aomori Prefecture. Aomori inarguably is a Nebuta mecca in Japan and boasts the most spectacular Nebuta festivals in the country indeed.
Image courtesy of Minoruoonaka
The best 11 Nebuta (or Neputa) Festivals
Image courtesy of Yuya Saito
In summer, the whole Tohoku region is sinking in people’s enthusiasm for Matsuri. Especially, in the City of Aomori, which is famous for its enormous festive floats: Nebuta.
Since ancient times, the Japanese have cherished the tradition of purifying the spirits by sealing impurities into dolls and paper lanterns. In Tohoku, this long-standing custom came to cover not just spiritual cleansing, but ceremonies to get rid of lethargy and listlessness from the summer heat. Locals know this tradition as “nemuri-nagashi (眠り流し)”, they believe that this is the origin of the name of Nebuta.
Image courtesy of z tanuki
Each Nebuta lantern is supported by a solid wooden skeleton at its core. It provides the base for a variety of wireframes that are elaborately covered in multiple sheets of “washi (和紙)” paper. Besides, inside the Nebuta lantern, they install as many as 1,000 light bulbs, which brings the colorful decorations to vivid life, as it were. The decorated Nebuta lantern is mounted on a parade float that is equipped with an electric power generator weighing as heavy as four tons. I would say that the chaos of colors will overwhelm you through the Nebuta parades.
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Dates: August 2nd and 3rd
Located in the mountains and hills to the northwest of Lake Towada, Aomori Prefecture, Hirakawa City hosts its gorgeous Neputa festival on August 2nd and 3rd. The Neputa is unique in how the festive floats parade through the streets. Besides, each Neputa participating team has a different course and plays different music with exciting taiko rhythm. And the dancers of each team dance to their music in different costumes. What takes your breath away is, above all, the “Ohgi (扇)” or fan-shaped Neputa float, which is the largest of its kind in the world.
Hirakawa Neputa has started since 2006 when the neighboring small towns merged into a new municipality. So, it is a relatively “new face” among the other traditional Nebuta festivals. Despite its short history as Neputa matsuri, Hirakawa Neputa saw about 30 gorgeous floats in each of the past years. Thus, it has become very popular as Nebuta teams joining the festival are increasing every year.
For more details about this festival, please check out the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/hirakawa-neputa-festival.
Dates: August 4th through 8th
For me, as a literature fan, Goshogawara reminds of the native place of Dazai Osamu (太宰治: 1909-1948), one of Japan’s most outstanding novelists. Located in the Tsugaru Peninsula at the northern end of the Honshu mainland, Goshogawara attracts a lot of visitors who want to catch a glimpse of special Neputa floats in summer. The festival lasts for five days starting on August 4th through 8th. It features huge upright decorations that resemble the shape of “hagoita (羽子板)”, a rectangular wooden decorative paddle for celebrating the New Year. The Neputa decorations on each float are so tall that they reach length over 20 meters and weigh about 20 tons. That’s why people call this Neputa festival “Tachi-Neputa (立佞武多)”. This translates literally to “Stand-Upright Neputa”. So, if you would like to check the Neputa’s height from closeup, visit Goshogawara and enjoy the festival.
For more details about this festival, please check out the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/goshogawara-tachineputa-festival.
Dates: August 1st through 7th
Hirosaki Neputa Festival is inarguably one of the most spectacular summer festivals in the Tohoku region of Japan. Starting on August 1st, this one-week Neputa Matsuri features two types of festive floats: the Ohgi Neputa and the Kumi Neputa. The former ones resemble the shape of a fan and the floats of the latter type have shapes of historical characters and legendary things. During the period of this gorgeous festival, about 80 Neputa floats, parade through the streets in the downtown of Hirosaki. Thus, Hirosaki Neputa festival features the largest number of Neputa floats in Japan.
“Hikite” people, whose role is pulling their huge Neputa floats with full might, show you their superb skills of manipulating the floats to the music by traditional wind instrument and drum players. They chant like “Yah-yah-do, yah-yah-do” while pulling the floats. Their powerful chants, which are one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan, liven up the excitement circulating around you indeed.
For more details about this festival, please check out the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/hirosaki-neputa-matsuri.
Dates: August 2nd through 7th
You can safely say that the Aomori Nebuta Festival is one of the Japanese festivals that attracts the most tourists among any of the country’s festivals. Over three million people visit Aomori City to see this festival even from abroad. Besides, people know this festival as one of the three largest festivals in the Tohoku region. The festival takes place from August 2nd to 7th, with a gorgeous firework show in the evening to wrap up the festival. Aomori Nebuta boasts various floats including “children” Nebuta that local people craft, and big-size floats crafted by professional Nebuta artisans as well.
Another exciting scene of the festival is dance performances by “Haneto” dancers following each Nebuta float. They show their energetic dances with rhythmical jumps in special costumes with “hanagasa (花笠)” hats. Also, they invite the spectators to watch and join by chanting “Rassera, Rassera” repeatedly. Anyone can join the Nebuta parade as Haneto dancer. How about getting your Haneto outfit and enjoying the exciting dances with local people? Many shops in Aomori City sell the costumes at a reasonable price.
For more details about this festival, please check out the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/nebuta-festival-aomori.
Dates: On the final weekend of August
According to a local record, there was once a large horse market in Kizukuri, one of the four areas that merged into current Tsugaru City, Aomori Prefecture. Horses helped farmers with their farm work before machines came to replace the animals in the industry. After the horse auctions in Kizukuri almost fell into oblivion, local people decided to hold an equestrian event to commemorate the market place in 1975. So, this is how the Tsugaru Umaichi Festival started.
The word “Umaichi” means a “horse market” in English. The festival boasts a magnificent procession of “horse Neputa” floats. Besides, viewing these floats moving through the streets is an overwhelming experience for sure. The festival lasts for three days on the final weekend of August. Besides, in the evening of the final day of the festival, all the horse Neputa floats gather at one of the parking areas of Aeon Mall Tsugaru-kashiwa. Then, locals set a fire on the floats “cremating” the horses.
For more details about this festival, please check out the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/tsugaru-city-umaichi-festival-summer-horse-festival.
Dates: July 30th through August 5th
Kuroishi Neputa may be less conspicuous compared to large-scale Nebuta festivals held in other areas, especially in Hirosaki and Aomori. But the modest size makes the festival more adorable to see. You will notice over 50 floats with paper decorations that glow from inside. There are two different types of floats: “Ningyo” neputa and “Ohgi” Neputa. The former type features its multiple layered structures with brilliantly-colored dolls of samurai warriors on top. On the decorative back of the latter type are the portraits of beautiful women – “miokuri-e (見送り絵)” with samurai warriors’ images on the front side. The festival takes place from July 30th to August 5th, but you can see the Nebuta parades are only on July 30th and August 2nd. Kuroishi is also famous as the area of four hot spring resorts.
For more details about this festival, please check out the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/neputa-matsuri-kuroishi.
Dates: July 31st through August 4th
This isn’t a festival that features Nebuta floats, but it captivates over one million visitors with great ornate floats in the five-day exciting event. The celebration takes place from July 31st to August 4th in Hachinohe, the second-largest city in Aomori Prefecture. Like magnificent floats at India’s “Ratha Yatra” chariot festivals in summer, Hachinohe Sansha Festival, the largest Shinto event in the Tohoku region, boasts its parade with 27 floats. Besides, you will notice three portable “Mikoshi (神輿)” shrines along with the floats in the procession.
In addition, a traditional “Toramai (虎舞)” or a tiger dance by the people in tiger costumes will become a great feast for your eyes. The excitement from the festival peaks on August 2nd at the event of “Kiba-Dakyu (騎馬打毬)”. Kiba-Dakyu is a Polo-esque equestrian sport that was popular among the aristocracy in ancient Japan. The “Chojasan-Shinra (長者山新羅)” Shrine, one of the three “Sansha (三社)” shrines, hosts this sports event.
For more details about this festival, please check out the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/hachinohe-sansha-taisai-festival.
Dates: August 14th and 15th
Ojima is a small local town in Gunma prefecture. In 1986, it set a sister city alliance with Hirosaki City in Aomori Prefecture. Hirosaki is famous for its great Neputa festival. Thus, the first Neputa Festival in Gunma started in Ojima. Even after Ojima town merged with two other neighboring towns into New Ota City in 2005, the festival continues as Ojima Neputa Festival. Same as at Hirosaki Neputa Festival, in Ojima, there is a large-scale parade of floats with gallant samurai warriors’ images on the huge paper lanterns.
The celebration started in the schoolyard of a small elementary school. However, the festival became an event big enough for the city government to play a central role in its organization. About 160,000 people seeking for the excitement from the matsuri now visit this local city annually. The festival peaks when the 7-meter-high “Ohgi (扇)” Neputa starts to march to the accompaniment of rhythmic drum sounds. It lasts for two days on August 14th and 15th, which usually fall on Bon holidays.
For more details about this festival, please check out the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japab.com/events/ojoma-neputa-festival-2019.
Dates: August 7th and 8th
Hanawa Neputa Festival in Hanawa, the mountainous area in Kazuno City, Akita Prefecture, is an event that is a part of its Tanabata Festival. It lasts for two days on August 7th and 8th. The festival features the parade of 10 Neputa floats that have a shape of “shogi (将棋)” (Japanese chess). Each lantern float is 4 meters high and features illumination from inside. Locals carry the floats around the streets on the first day of the festival.
In the evening of the second day, the Neputa floats with ten big “taiko (太鼓)” drums on wheels line up on the bridge over the Yoneshiro River. Playing the drums which are 2-meter in diameter needs two drummers on each side of the drum. These drummers use baseball-bat-like sticks to beat the drums. Afterward, with the drumbeats reverberating your stomach, the festival reaches a spectacular climax by setting fire to all the Neputa floats. That creates a spectacular scene indeed.
For more details about this festival, please check out the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/hanawa-neputa-matsuri-akita.
Dates: May 1st through 3rd
In Japan, there are various festivals that feature beautiful floats with paper lanterns on their platforms. Their stately parading to the accompaniment of rhythmic “ohayashi (お囃子)” music makes you ooh and aah. But Yotaka Andon Festival makes you just utter wild wows. The 370-year-old traditional festival, lasting for three days on May 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, takes place in Fukuno Shimeisha Shrine.
The festival boasts 23 attractive and stylish “andon (行燈)” lantern floats that go around downtown of Fukuno. Besides, you will hear loud “yoiyasa” chants by young people playing the drums on the floats. Some of the floats are about 6 meters high. Seeing the parade at night on the first day will make you very excited indeed. But don’t miss the “hikiai (引き合い)” event by the floats on the second day. At the hikiai, two of the floats face each other. Then, people accompanying their floats “go berserk” and pull them to collision with the opposite one. Thus, you can witness the “fight of Neputa”, as it was happening for centuries.
For more details about this festival, please check out the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/yotaka-andon-festival.
Dates: On the first weekend of August
Since the debut in 1985, this festival has become more and more popular among local people. Nowadays, it became a representative event in Oita Prefecture which attracts 250,000 spectators from across the country every year. With various elements that a major matsuri consists of – festival floats, traditional dances, and fireworks displays, people enjoy the festivity to the full during the three-day festival on the first weekend of August.
Especially in the evening on the first day, about 20 festival floats – “funai-pacchin (府内戦紙)”, featuring gorgeous paper lanterns on their platforms, parade through downtown Oita. The word “pacchin” originally refers to a Japanese card game what we call “menko (面子)”, the precursor of current trading card games in Japan. On the decorations on Funai-pacchin you will see samurai warriors’ images that have been modeled after the pictures on menko cards in the Edo period.
For more details about this festival, please check out the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/get-great-vibes-energy-oita-tanabata-festival.
There is a famous matsuri chant: “Odoru-aho-ni-miru-aho. Onaji-aho-nara-odoryana-sonson”. This roughly means, “We are dancing fools and you are watching fools. If we are all fools alike, why don’t we dance together?” This chant comes from Awa-odori (阿波踊り), Japan’s largest traditional dance festival taking place in Tokushima. But I think these words describe what Japanese matsuri is all about. Along with the splendid beauty of Nebuta floats, how about joining the parade and becoming a dancing goofball?
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I hope you enjoyed reading this article and it made you want to visit this great festival. Lantern festivals in Japan are very popular, and you can see it in any season. If you would like to know more about other lantern festivals in Japan, enjoy its mystical atmosphere, and admire a glowing night in Japan, please click on the link below and you will find an article on the best 13 lantern festivals in Japan!
Most of the travelers who come to Japan enter the country through Tokyo. Even if it is not the main place of your destination, it would be a great idea to stay in the capital city for a few days. The biggest conglomerate in the world has much to offer to any kind of traveler. Whether you want to go sightseeing, shopping, eating out, or trying something special that you can experience only in Japan, Tokyo has it all. In the following article, you will find 100 things and many ideas on how to spend your time in Tokyo! Please, have a look, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/7726/
A lot of people when they get to a Matsuri for the first time feel a bit lost. They confuse about what is happening around. If you are new to Japanese Festivals or want to know an alternative way of how you can enjoy these events, the following article will provide you with a set of helpful tips on how to choose a proper festival and activities you should try there. Please don`t hesitate to take a look at it!
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The food presented during Matsuri is pretty different from the one you get at the restaurants in Japan. Besides, there is a certain charm in grabbing some snack from a food stall and diving back into the festival crowd. I am sure that you will discover something new about Japanese festival food from the following article!