Japan’s Nebuta Festival

This item appears on page 62 of the May 2008 issue.
A demon float used at the Nebuta Festival — Aomori, Japan. Photos: McClure

During an April trip to Japan’s Honshu island, we visited the Nebuta-no-sato Museum, where some of the floats for the Nebuta-matsuri in Aomori are housed. (The festival takes place Aug. 2-7 each year; visit www.nebuta.jp/english/index_e.htm.)

Throngs of people attend this festival, the city’s most popular summer event. Origins of the Nebuta Festival are not clear. One legend has it that Tamuramaro, a ninth-century warrior who invaded Aomori, created huge, brightly colored lanterns and placed them on the hillside to lure the city defenders away from safety. Whatever the origin, the floats themselves have to be seen to be believed.

One of the floats used at the Nebuta Festival.

Made of wood and wire, covered with paper, brightly painted and illuminated with as many as 800 lightbulbs, the floats depict fighting samurai, supernatural beings or real or imaginary animals or scenes from Kabuki dramas or folktales.

At the museum, we not only saw the floats but experienced a taste of the festival by joining the haneto dancers and getting to handle a float.


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