by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com
This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.
2009/08/06 - Tohoku Sandai Matsuri: Nebuta Matsuri
Today's stop on the Tohoku Sandai Matsuri tour brings us to Aomori City, way up on the northern coast of Japan's main island. We're here to see the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, the largest of a number of similar festivals that take place around the region, which are famous for their spectacular floats that are essentially huge paper lanterns. The Aomori Nebuta Festival is held every year from August 2 to 7.
The main event of the festival is the evening parades, where 10 to 20 floats (depending on the evening) are wheeled around the streets of the city followed by taiko drummers, flute and chappa (a type of cymbals) players, and dancers. The floats are constructed of painted washi paper over a wire skeleton and can be as large as 9 meters wide and 5 meters tall. Each float takes an entire year to build and the designers begin planning the next year's float the day after the festival concludes.
Not so surprisingly, they are quite expensive to build, costing around 4,000,000 yen on average. What I found really interesting is that it costs an additional 16,000,000 yen to operate the floats as well as their music and dance teams over the six days of the festival.
The origins of the festival are disputed, however the floats may have evolved from large statue like structures that were build during war as a way of attracting or intimidating the enemy.
Today's floats are often themed after historical myths and legends from both Japanese and Chinese culture, with NHK's Taiga Drama enjoying recurring popularity.
Hundreds of dancers, called Haneto follow each of the floats as they round the streets. They all perform the same dance while calling out "Rassera Rassera". Some of the dancers belonged to organized dance groups, however most seem to be individual participants.
An interesting legend surrounding the dance is that its stomping motion supposedly mimics stomping the ground above your defeated enemy as they are buried alive. How's that for a festive occasion!
Anyone is welcome to dance as long as they wear the Haneto costume which can be bought or rented around the city, and people come from all around to participate. It looks like a lot of fun, and I hope to come back and try it out someday.
I had high hopes for this festival and was looking forward to seeing this one the most of all the Tohoku Sandai Matsuri, and I'd say that it didn't disappoint. I'd definitely recommend it as the floats were impressive, and the atmosphere was very festive since anyone could participate in the dancing and many people were dressed up.