Nebuta Festival and its Shiny
Aomori prefecture, situated at the northern end of the country's
main Honshu Island, is known as the 'snow country'. The
areas of prefecture's eastern part facing the Sea of Japan
is covered by snow almost a third of the year, thus making
Aomori one of the snowiest regions of the country. The arrival
of summer thus turns out to be the time for celebration
and outdoor enjoyment for the people of the snow covered
land, where long winters also mean regular extra work of
shoveling snow away from their doors and rooftops.
drummer playing his hands on a Taiko drum.
wonder that Aomori's most famous cultural events, the Nebuta
Festival in Aomori City and the Neputa Festival in Hirosaki
City, fall in the mid summer when after long hot and humid
days evenings provide ample opportunity for people to move
around in a relaxed mood. Both of these festivals are held
in early August and among the two, the Nebuta Festival of
Aomori City is considered to be the biggest and brightest
of all summer festivals in Japan.
the festival time Dashi, large colourful floats, glide slowly
through the streets of the city to the beat of Taiko drums
and wooden flutes. The Nebuta Festival is also well known
as one of Japan's foremost fire festivals, and in 1980 the
event was designated as a national intangible cultural asset.
Large colourful floating dolls, each of which takes almost
a year to take the complete shape from original conception
to actual construction, are one of the most integral parts
of the festival. A recent press tour to Aomori allowed a
group of Tokyo-based foreign journalists to watch the process
of making the Nebuta floats and also attend a briefing on
the making of the floats by a master creator of those colourful
figures made of paper and wires.
festival, which is held annually from 2 to August 7, has
its root in Japan's ancient history. There are various explanations
for the origin of the Nebuta Festival, but the one most
often cited traces back to the beginning of the Heian period
or the era of peace and tranquility that lasted from the
end of the eighth century to the late twelfth century. It
was the great period of classic aristocratic culture in
tradition of displaying Nebuta floats in summer festivals
is said to have originated after the subjugation of a rebellion
in the northern part of Honshu by a general named Tamuramoro
Sakanoue, who ordered his army to create large artificial
creatures to frighten the enemy. Tamuramoro also tricked
his enemy by hiding soldiers inside large paper dolls depicting
creatures and ferocious warlords. A second interpretation
gives the credit of introducing the huge paper dolls to
the folklore tradition and holds the view that the purpose
of their introduction was to give people physical and mental
inspiration and invigoration. Yet another view is that the
special illuminated effigies have Buddhist significance.
But whatever the origin, the Nebuta Festival has become
an integral part of the rich cultural heritage of Japan's
days information about Nebuta and the festival has spread
throughout Japan and beyond, resulting in streams of tourists
to Aomori City during the six days of festival. Moreover,
troupes of musicians, designers and their Nebuta floats
have traveled around Japan and to many countries of the
world carrying the message about these wonderful creations
and their origins. A special exhibition of Nebuta floats
held in London's British Museum during 2001-2002 attracted
a large audience who has appreciated the refined artistic
beauty of those huge paper dolls.
colourful image and warrior motif's that give Nebuta floats
their distinct character.
many of Japan's traditional forms of art, Nebuta dolls do
not have a direct link with any religious shrine or divine
power. As it frequently happens with shoulder-carried deities
in Japan's numerous summer festivals known as Matsuri, Nebuta
floats do not end up in any shrine or temple once the festival
is over. Most of them are simply dismantled and some of
the best floats these days find their way to 'Nebuta-no-Sato'
or the house of Nebuta, which is a permanent display museum
for such paper made artistic creations.
master artisan of Nebuta floats, Kosei Akihito guided the
foreign press members to show the various stages of creating
the dolls, it became clear why it takes almost a year to
complete the process of making one single unit of those
paper dolls. The whole work is painstakingly done by hand,
thus demanding masterful skill from all who are involved
in the process. The designers or the creators of Nebuta
floats are responsible for making the initial designs and
guiding others in the process of giving the dolls their
concrete shapes. Metal wires and pieces of wood are what
hold the structure where specially made paper is pasted
and then coloured to give the dolls their distinct images.
the Nebuta festival, the whole city of Aomori comes out
on the streets where the floats are carried in the evening
as haneto dancers cry out the melodic sound “rassera” with
their dancing beat. The time is also the peak of tourism
for the region as almost 400,000 visitors flood to Aomori
city during the six days of festival. This also makes the
festival time the most important part of city life with
sales picking up to the record height for the whole year.