Sendai Tanabata Festival - the Most Famous Star Festival in Japan!
You might have not heard about Aomori Nebuta Festival, but it is a really common and the most popular festival in Aomori prefecture in the Northern part of Honshu!
Nebuta Festivals are one of the great festivals in Tohoku region of Japan. The one in Aomori city takes place in August every year and attracts over three million people from all over the world within a few days. You will witness about 30 colorful Nebuta on the streets of the downtown area. All of them compete for the main prize! During the Nebuta parades, the dancers called “Haneto” dance like they are skipping around the town while chanting “Rassera, Rassera!”
Nebuta is a massive lantern float lavishly decorated with Japanese paper (Washi, 和紙) and lights. The gorgeous paintings on Nebuta are related to both Japanese and Chinese culture, kabuki actors, and characters from the popular NHK Taiga Drama historical TV series. About 2500 sheets of A2 size Japanese papers are pasted on the wire skeleton. This tradition started between 1716 to 1735. The origins of this festival remain unclear. Though many specialists think that it originated from the Chinese Tanabata festival (Star Festival) and mixed with local traditions.
Some private companies and groups along with the local government make their Nebuta for the festival every year. It can cost about 180,000 US Dollars. Receiving the orders from the sponsors, Nebuta artisans start to create their Nebuta from the middle of May. Nebuta have the size limitations. 2 meters height for the float, 9 meters wide, 7 meters deep, and 5 meters height for the whole Nebuta. The weight about 4 tons.
It takes about 3 months to complete one Nebuta. About 300 people who decorate Nebuta with washi and lights work together day and night or even until the last minute before the festival!
After the festival, most of Nebuta are dismantled, although some of them are being used for exhibitions on some events or for the company’s PR. Artisans and sponsors start to work over the plan for the next year Nebuta as soon as the festival ends. The Nebuta festival is the most important event for Aomori citizens.
I highly recommend you come and see the Nebuta making procedure if you have a chance! Rassera Land next to the ASPM building along the city’s waterfront – a space where huge tents for making Nebuta stand in a row, appears in “The Aoi Umi Park” from the middle of May until the end of the festival. You can ask the staff to to let you watch the process of making Nebutas when you see open tents. From the early July you can join a tour about the Nebuta festival.
Aomori Nebuta Matsuri together with Akita Kanto Matsuri and Sendai Tanabata Festival are the Three Great Festivals of Tohoku region.
The main processions are held from 2nd to 6th of August. On 2nd and 3rd, about 15 Kodomo Nebuta created by local people and children, move through downtown from 19:10 to 21:00. It’s really adorable to see all these children in the traditional clothes at the festival!
You can watch this festival free of charge but the place will be very crowded, so I recommend you to watch Nebuta festival from reserved seats if you want to chill to watch it. You can purchase the tickets for reserved seats at the convenience stores or through Ticket Pia. For more information about reserved seats, please refer to the following link, URL: http://www.nebuta.jp/info/reserved-seats.html
From 4th to 6th of August, about two dozens of Nebuta move through downtown from 19:10 to 21:00. The winner of the prize is announced on the 6th of August. You will still have a chance to see all the Nebuta even on August 7th, but only during an afternoon parade.
On 7th of August, about 20 Nebuta move through the downtown from 13:00 to 15:00. And in the night, several Nebuta which won the prize, sail in the sea at Aomori port from 19:15 to 21:00. You can enjoy the beautifully illuminated Nebuta and fireworks that last for two hours at the same time!
Haneto are the dancers accompanying Nebuta. About 500-1000 Haneto for each Nebuta join the parade. They wear special costumes and straw hats (hanagasa) and jump chanting “Rassera, Rassera!” The small bells, which are parts of their costumes, sometimes fall off because Haneto cheerfully jump. They call this bell “Nebuta bell”. It is a good luck charm which brings you happiness. That is why you’ll see many people trying to get them.
Anybody can join the procession as Haneto. About 90 thousands of Haneto are joining during the Festival. In these days, lots of foreigners who come to this festival join the dancing as well! So why don’t you become one of the Haneto dancers? I think, everybody will enjoy this festival!
Haneto Dress Rental fee would be around ¥4,000. Though zori sandals, tabi socks and hanagasa hats would be available for additional cost. Join the festival as Haneto. It will definitely become a priceless memory for you!
1. Wear the Haneto costume. Many shops sell the costume sets at a reasonable price or offer rental costume and dressing service.
2. Come to the particular place 30 minutes before the procession starts.
3. Jump twice with one leg and jump twice with another leg.
The most important thing is to have fun and not to be shy! This is the most colorful festival in Japan! I am sure you will have a wonderful pastime and enjoy dancing with the crowd!
Dates: August 2nd – 7th every year
19:10 to 21:00 August 2nd to 6th
13:00 to 15:00 August 7th
19:15 to 21:00 August 7th Bay Parade and Fireworks
Admission:Free (sidewalk seating)
Place: Aomori city downtown
Address: Nebuta Rasse Land – 2-1 Yasukata Aomori-shi (By Aomori Prefectural Center for Tourism and Industry)
Official website: http://www.nebuta.or.jp/
The Nebuta Matsuri parade route is a three-kilometer loop around central Aomori and is a 5-minute walk from JR Aomori Station. Rassera Land, where the floats are stabled, is located next to the ASPM building along the waterfront, a 10-minute walk from JR Aomori Station.
If you are in Aomori in August, attending Nebuta festival should be on your Must See list. Aomori has a lot of unique festivals such as Hachinohe Sansha Taisai, Hirosaki Nebuta Matsuri, Hirakawa Neputa Matsuri, Kuroishi Neputa festival, and Goshogawara Tachineputa. But, Aomori Nebuta Festival is the most outstanding one. This traditional festival will provide you with a unique image of the Japanese North and introduce you to the outstanding culture of Tohoku region. Besides, you will have a great opportunity to know locals in their usual environment without any struggling as everybody has fun during this event!
If you would like to discover this amazing festival and Aomori city and prefecture with a friendly local guide, please check the banner below!
Image courtesy of Yuya Saito
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Image courtesy of Tomomarusan
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