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Feel the Spirit of Summer at the Aomori Nebuta Festival in Tohoku, Japan

Photos courtesy of the Aomori Tourism and Convention Association

The Aomori Nebuta Festival is believed to have originated from the Tanabata Festival, a celestial celebration and lantern floating ceremony introduced from China during the Nara period (710-794). It showcases the magnificent paper-made Nebuta floats that take center stage.

Alternatively, the term “Nebuta” is believed to stem from the word “Nemutashi” (meaning sleepiness), and the present-day Aomori Nebuta Festival is said to have originated from a traditional practice known as “Nemuri Nagashi,” which was conducted to ward off sleepiness while farming. 

Every year, new Nebuta floats are created for the festival. The artisans who create the Nebuta floats, known as “Nebutashi,” are widely recognized and highly respected within the community. Approximately 300 people collaborate to create the Nebuta floats, which are newly crafted each year. They are meticulously crafted with innovative ideas, creating beautiful works of art. Many feature motifs inspired by warriors and mythological scenes, depicting finely rendered expressions reminiscent of the glaring expressions of Kabuki actors, so detailed that every eyebrow hair is carefully drawn on. The large Nebuta floats at the festival are an impressive sight, boasting dimensions of 9 meters in width, 7 meters in depth, and 5 meters in height.

The Eve of the Festival Is Packed With Exciting Events

The festival kicks off with a celebration on the eve before the main festival, on August 1 at Nebuta Rasse Land, a large Nebuta float production and storage facility located in Aoiumi Park near JR Aomori Station. Numerous events are scheduled, including the introduction of the Nebutashi artisans and Miss Nebuta. You can also enjoy a rhythmic performance of Nebuta Bayashi. 

In addition, the large Nebuta floats that are slated to take part in that year’s festival will be on display at Nebuta Rasse Land. 

Immerse Yourself in the Captivating Nebuta Parade 

The main part of the festival is the nighttime procession that takes place over a span of five days, from August 2 to 6. Prompted by the resounding fireworks, the Nebuta parade commences. The Nebuta floats are exquisitely crafted, skillfully maneuvered along the road by a dedicated team of pullers. They gracefully glide, circle, and even sink deep. The vibrant parade featuring large, brightly-colored Nebuta floats energizes the city’s main streets for approximately 2 hours. With its sheer power, it captivates the surrounding area.

There are 3 significant roles for the Aomori Nebuta Festival.

There are Nebuta floats itself and the float pullers, music troupes called “Hayashi” that uses drums, small cymbal-like gongs and whistles to liven up the parade, and finally the “Haneto” dancers, who bounce, dance and cheer on the float pullers.

The captivating melody, created by the rhythmic beats of the taiko drums, the vibrant tones of the flute, and the lively rhythm of the hand gong, may initially seem repetitive, but once you hear it, it becomes impossible to forget and leaves you wanting more.

The Haneto dancers, dressed in vibrant costumes, jump up and down, dance energetically, and liven up the festival with their cheerful chants of “Rassera! Rassera!”

The Haneto dance originates from folklore rather than religious rituals, and its purpose is to unleash the suppressed emotions of the body and mind, inspiring onlookers to join in the dance.

We have some exciting news for those who are in the mood to dance! As long as you adhere to the rules of wearing a Haneto costume, anyone can join in the Aomori Nebuta Festival. Costumes can be rented for a fee near the festival site and advance reservation is recommended.

The dance is very simple: Shout “Rassera! Rassera!” and jump twice with one foot and twice with the other foot. The dance allows for freedom of expression, as all you need to do is repeat the steps.

If you have the opportunity, we highly recommend participating in the festival as a Haneto dancer.

The Captivating Fireworks Display Is a Highlight of the Festival 

On August 6, the last day of the nighttime procession, the Nebuta Grand Prize will be presented to the group that receives the highest overall evaluation for their Nebuta floats, Haneto dancers, and Hayashi performers. 

On August 7, the festival’s climax, the prize-winning Nebuta floats, including the grand prize winner, parade through the city in the afternoon before the four Nebuta groups are loaded onto a large boat. The ship departs from Aomori Port at night and travels offshore in Mutsu Bay. Here, the fireworks display begins, marking the grand finale of the festival as spectators marvel at the magnificent combination of Nebuta floats floating on the sea and the illuminating fireworks decorating the night sky. 

The following day, the streets return to their usual state, and all the Nebuta floats, except for the prize-winning ones, are dismantled. The Nebutashi artisans start brainstorming ideas for the upcoming year’s festival.

There Are Facilities Where You Can Enjoy the Nebuta Floats All Year Round

If you’ve read this far and are eager to experience Nebuta firsthand, a visit to Nebuta Museum Wa Rasse, conveniently located near JR Aomori Station, is highly recommended.

At Nebuta Museum Wa Rasse, visitors have the opportunity to explore the rich history and captivating allure of the Aomori Nebuta Festival. This facility showcases a remarkable collection, including past grand prize-winning Nebuta floats, a glimpse at the inside of the Nebuta floats, and special Nebuta crafted by master Nebutashi artisans.

In addition, visitors have the special privilege of getting up close and capturing memorable photos with the Nebuta floats, which are typically inaccessible during the festival.

When you visit Japan, don’t miss the opportunity to explore Aomori and witness the continuous evolution of the Aomori Nebuta Festival. This remarkable event, driven by the dedication of Nebutashi artisans and the unwavering commitment of the local community to preserve their traditions and culture, promises to be an unforgettable experience.