The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is one of Japan’s most colourful and spectacular summer festival and is a must see event in August. The festival is one of Japan’s most famous and is one of the ‘Three Great Festivals of the Tohoku region’ of Japan, called Tohoku Sandai Matsuri in Japanese.
The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is held in Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture which is situated at the northern tip of Honshu in the Tohoku region of Japan. Aomori Prefecture is a beautiful part of Japan famous for its apples and historic castle, Hirosaki-jo.
Historian cannot agree on the origins of the festival, but some believe the nebuta floats were invented by General Sakanoue no Tamuramaro in the 800’s during a battle. The general and his army created gruesome creatures from cloth and bamboo to scare away the enemy. It must have worked because from this the floats of the present day Aomori Nebuta Matsuri were born. The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is held every year from August 2 to 7.
The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is a colourful festival featuring enormous illuminated lantern floats. The name ‘nebuta’ refers to the floats, which feature famous historical or mythical Japanese characters along with samurai warriors, gods, kabuki actors and characters from the popular NHK Taiga Drama TV series. The floats are paraded to the accompaniment of taiko drums and dancers dressed in a unique traditional costume called haneto.
The highlight of the festival is the final day where the colourful parade floats are pulled through the city by teams of chanting participants. The festival floats are built by local teams and are constructed of painted washi paper over a bamboo frame. They take an entire year to design and construct and can be up to nine meters wide and five meters tall. To complete the floats, hundreds of light bulbs are weaved throughout the floats to illuminate the parade with amazing colours.
Audience participation is greatly encouraged and anyone wearing a haneto costume is invited to join the parade and festivities. You can purchase the costume in a variety of places in Aomori Prefecture, or simply rent one for the day along the festival route.
Every night there is a daily parade which starts at sunset where the floats are wheeled out onto the streets of downtown Aomori. On the final day (August 7) the action starts around noon and lasts to around 3 pm.
The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is one of Japan’s most vibrant and colourful festivals attracting millions of visitors every year. It is one summer festival that should not be missed in Japan.
Location: Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture
When: August 2 – 7
Time: Sunset for the daily parade (7:10 pm – 9:00 pm) & noon for the final day parade August 7 (1:00 pm – 3:00 pm)
Cost: FREE (reserved seating is also available)
From Tokyo take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen to Shin-Aomori Station, where you can transfer to a regular train to JR Aomori Station. The festival route is a five minute walk from JR Aomori Station.