Aomori Prefecture : Explore The Nebuta Matsuri Parade Japan (Festival)

Made of fragile washi paper, hand-designed wire, bamboo frame

The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri (ねぶた祭) is the largest of these festivals of the Aomori City, held every year from August 2 to 7. Every year more than 3 million visitors gather for the festivities from all over Japan and abroad to attend.

Hundreds of light bulbs are weaved throughout the floats, illuminating the parade with amazing colors.
Truly a festival of brilliant colors!

Local teams build the festival's two dozen floats, which are constructed of painted washi paper over a wire frame and take an entire year to design and construct. They can be up to nine meters wide and five meters tall and often depict gods, historical or mythical figures from both Japanese and Chinese culture, kabuki actors, and characters from the popular NHK Taiga Drama historical TV series.

Origin of Aomori Nebuta

It is believed that the Tanabata Festival from China and the cultural traditions of Tsugaru region blended together. People began to make lanterns with paper, bamboo, and candle, which over the years changed in shape and size to the current nebuta.

In the old days, the nebutas were made by the people of different towns and were passed on through generations. Nowadays, it has become more common for the nebutas to be made by businesses and organizations. The nebutas have grown in size and the Nebuta Festival has become one of the most popular festivals of Japan. 

Traditional Dance on Nebuta Matsuri - “Rassera" are called haneto (ハネト).

On the Parade, performer will playing the festival musical

During the festival, over twenty dynamic nebutas – massive lanterns floats based on kabuki or mythical stories – parade through the city of Aomori. On the evenings of August 2nd through 6th and daytime of the 7th, colorfully dressed Haneto (nebuta dancers) as well as flutists and drummers convey the nebuta floats through the city. 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.

The best part of this festival is not necessarily the intricate floats, nor the taiko drums, dancers, or musicians. It is the audience participation. Onlookers, regardless of their age or ability, are allowed to participate in the festival, dancing around the hand-pulled floats and chanting “rassera,” a nonsensical phrase only seen during the Nebuta Matsuri. Anyone who is wearing a traditional haneto dancing costume is invited to join in the parade. 

Tourist can join it and dance together with Haneto Dancers

However, as a tourist, you do not need to worry about the competition. You can just enjoy the festival food, haunting flute music, dancing, and brilliantly lit floats. Try getting some close-up pictures of the gorgeous, three dimensional nebuta floats.

Also, if you are feeling adventuresome, trying renting out a costume and dancing alongside your favorite float. Very few other festivals in Japan allow this level of audience participation.

To prepare you for the excitement of the Nebuta Festival, you may also want to visit the nebuta builder’s huts. 22 of them are set up in the Aoi-umi Park next to ASPAM (Aomori Prefectural Center for Tourism and Industry) from spring to summer every year. The Nebuta Rasse Land is within an 8-minute walk from JR Aomori Station.