The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri (“Aomori Nebuta Festival” or simply “Aomori Nebuta”) is a Japanese summer festival that takes place in Aomori, Aomori Prefecture, Japan in early August. The festival attracts the most tourists of any of the country’s nebuta festivals. And is counted among the three largest festivals in the Tohoku region.
2nd to 7th August.
Not National Holiday
It was designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 1980. And as one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan by the Ministry of the Environment in 1996.
The highlight of the festival is the daily parade of enormous lantern floats. Flanked by large taiko drums, musicians and dancers. The Nebuta Matsuri together with Akita’s Kanto Matsuri and Sendai’s Tanabata make up theTohoku Sandai Matsuri.
History of Aomori Nebuta Matsuri
The most widely known explanation is that the festival originated from the flutes and taiko future shōgun Sakanoue no Tamuramaro used to attract the attention of the enemy during a battle in Mutsu Province. The Tamuramaro Sho (Tamuramaro Prize) was created around this explanation in 1962 to be awarded to the festival’s best group participant (later renamed to the Nebuta Taisho). However, it is unlikely that Tamuramaro actually conducted military expeditions in what is currently Aomori Prefecture. So this explanation is considered to be a legend.
The festival most likely evolved out of traditional Shinto ceremonies like Tanabata. Another explanation involves the etymology of the word Nebuta. Aterui, a general from the Tōhoku region, united the Emishi people who had been chased out of their native territory and defeated Ki no Kosami’s army of 50,000 at Kitakami River to advance all the way to Fuji, Shizuoka. This army battled Sakanoue no Tamuramaro’s forces for over 12 years, but was ultimately defeated. Aterui was captured and taken to Osaka Prefecture, where he was granted an audience with the ruler before being beheaded. Aterui’s severed head was shown off to the public, and his family and followers still remaining in the Tohoku region were forced to dig large holes where they were buried alive.
Dirt was thrown over these graves, and those who surrendered to the Japanese forces and became slaves were instructed to stomp over the dirt. This event is said to be the origin of Nebuta (written in kanji), as Aterui’s followers were sent back to their roots or to the world of the dead with the dirt as a covering. According to this episode, the dancers stomp the ground while carrying the float of Sakanoue no Tamuramaro on their shoulders.
Aomori Nebuta Matsuri Celebrations
Nebuta and Neputa are a type of Tanabata related summer festival held in towns around Aomori Prefecture. The largest of these festivals is the Nebuta Matsuri of Aomori City, held every year from August 2 to 7. Every night of the festival the floats are wheeled out onto the streets of downtown Aomori for a parade, except on the last day (August 7). When the parade is held in the afternoon. The floats are pushed along the street by human power, weaving back and forth, and spinning around for the crowd. Each float is accompanied by teams of taiko drummers. Flute and hand cymbals players, as well as hundreds of dancers. It also called haneto in the local dialect, who follow the procession chanting “Rassera, Rassera” while performing a dance that looks a little bit like skipping.
On the first two nights of the festival the parades are somewhat smaller with only about two thirds of the lantern floats participating. However on the nights from August 4th to 6th the parades are in full swing and every float makes an appearance. All the floats are also displayed in the afternoon parade on the last day of the festival. Before some of the floats are put onto boats and paraded around the bay in the evening. Finally, a two hour fireworks display along the waterfront closes off the festivities.
How to get there
The Nebuta Matsuri parade route is a three kilometer loop around central Aomori and is a five minute walk from JR Aomori Station. Rassera Land, where the floats are stabled. It is located next to the ASPM building along the waterfront, a ten minute walk from JR Aomori Station.