Aomori, Japan Oct. 01 Sun 6:48PM
Tohoku is known for its great matsuri, or festivals,, and Aomori’s Nebuta festival is one of the most instantly recognizable, with its huge, shining, and dynamically depicted floats leaving an impression on all who see them. The floats are accompanied by dancers called “haneto,” who skip and jump along the street in unison, their name referencing the Japanese word “to hop,” haneru. Scores of flute players and taiko drummers complete the entourage, and their urgent beats and whispy notes match the hopping dancers and provide backdrop to the sometimes violent movements of the paraders carrying the floats.
Although Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri is one of the country’s most famous instantly recognizable festivals, its origins remain a mystery. Some claim that the flutes and stampeding parade are a reference to the flutes Sakanoue no Tamuramaro employed on the battlefield, and that the stomping paraders represent the Emishi people who Sakanoue subjugated, who were forced to stomp the graves of their war dead, carrying floats that may originally have represented Sakanoue no Tamuramaro. However, it wasn’t until after World War II that the parade began to be a regular and major event, as it was heavily invested in by the local communities and championed as a way to promote tourism to the region.
Those who aren’t able to be in Aomori from August 2nd to 7th, when the festival is taking place, can still enjoy seeing the floats of the previous year year-round at the Nebuta Warasse museum in Aomori. Locals spend all year constructing the intricate floats for the festival, so they’re definitely worth taking a look at to get a taste for local culture. But it’s the wild, movement and clashing noise of the festival itself that will really give visitors a different view into Japanese culture.