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Nebuta are giant, wire-frame, paper lanterns shaped in various legendary and macho characters.The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is held in Aomori City in Aomori Prefecture during Aug. 2-7. Nebuta are giant, wire-frame, paper lanterns shaped in various legendary and macho characters such as samurai warriors, demons, and gods. They are fantastic works of art dramatically illuminated from the inside. The floats are paraded along the main streets of the city near Aomori Station every night of the festival.

From August 2 to 6, the Nebuta parade is held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. On the 2nd and 3rd, the parade is geared for the many children who participate by pulling the floats. About 15 large Nebuta floats and some small Nebuta floats for the children are paraded.

The festival's peak period is from the 4th to the 6th when over 20 large Nebuta floats make their rounds. Be sure to see the festival on one of these three nights.

On the 7th, the last day, the parade is in the afternoon from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Later in the evening, the Nebuta floats are put on boats to be highlighted by a fireworks display.

The festival is designated by the government as an Important Intangible Folk Culture Asset and not to be missed if you have the chance. It's well worth the trip up north.
Moving the Neputa floats into position.Held during Aug. 1-7, the Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri is without the rowdiness of the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri. Instead of the haneto, there are many children pulling the floats with ropes. The main floats are fan-shaped and more two-dimensional and lantern-like. As with the Nebuta floats, the Neputa floats are handpainted and illuminated from the inside. There are two parade routes which are followed alternately on different nights. On the 7th, there is only a daytime parade from 10:00 a.m. If it rains on any day, the parade may be canceled.
The Nebuta floats are judged in a contest and various awards are given.The Nebuta floats are beautiful objects of light. They are swung left and right and all around. The crowd applaud whenever the Nebuta faces them directly. The sculpture's lights inside are powered by a noisy generator on wheels under the float. The parade progresses quickly and the splendid Nebuta figures pass by one after another. You have to be there in person to feel the power and presence of the giant Nebuta. They represent the very soul and spirit of men. It's enough to give you goose bumps.

The Nebuta floats are judged in a contest and various awards are given. The best ones are preserved at the Nebuta-no-Sato (Nebuta Village) after the festival.
There are three types of floats: the large fan-shaped Neputa, Nebuta-type figures, and the children's small Neputa.I got to Hirosaki early enough before the parade to see the floats lined up at the starting point. Hirosaki is a 30-min. train ride from Aomori, and best known for Hirosaki Castle during cherry blossom season.
According to one story, the Nebuta has its roots in the 8th century.According to one story, the Nebuta has its roots in the 8th century when there was a rebellion in Ezo (Hokkaido). Ordered by Emperor Kanmu to quell the rebellion, generalissmo Sakanoue no Tamuramaro went to Ezo. However, he failed to capture the elusive chief of Ezo who went into hiding in the mountains.

Sakanoue then set up a trap with large votive lanterns which were lit and accompanied by taiko drums and flutes. This lured the curious Ezo chief out of hiding and led to his capture. The large lanterns were the forerunner of the Nebuta.
Lunch break
The first Nebuta was a large paper lantern made in 1593.According to historical records, the first Nebuta was a large paper lantern made in 1593 by Lord Tamenobu of Tsugaru (now part of Aomori) for the Bon festival in Kyoto. The Nebuta Festival itself started in the late 17th century.
Fan-shaped Neputa float.The painted picture on the front of the Neputa depicts mostly warriors and on the back are beautiful courtesans.
Preparation for building a Nebuta sculpture starts right after the preceding Nebuta Festival.Preparation for building a Nebuta sculpture starts right after the preceding Nebuta Festival. During fall and winter, Nebuta artists conceive the ideas for the next year's Nebuta floats. The Nebuta figures depict some scene from kabuki or Japanese/Chinese history or legend. Once a theme is chosen, a sketch or design is made and presented to the sponsor (usually a company). Upon approval, actual construction begins.

During February and March, the smaller parts of the Nebuta figure, such as the hands and fingers, are constructed at home with steel wiring.

In May, a tent village is put up. In each tent, full-scale construction of the Nebuta is executed until the end of June. Steel wiring and slender pieces of wood are used to build the frame and props.

After the skeleton of lumber and wire is completed, about 400 light bulbs and fluorescent lights are installed inside. The lights are strategically placed so that the shadow of the lumber pieces is not cast outward.

Then comes the tedious task of pasting washi paper on the wire frame. This is done by highly-skilled housewives who have been doing it for 10 to 20 years. About ten of them work on one Nebuta, taking about 10 days. Since they have to work dextrously in all sorts of contorted positions, it is not a popular job and fewer women are willing to do it.

The paper is cut to fit the exact segment (usually rectangular) on the wire frame. A toothbrush is used to apply glue on the wiring and the paper is pasted and cut. Extra care is taken when the figure's face is papered. About 2,500 sheets of 531 x 393 mm paper are consumed in the process.
The floats were jerked left and right and spun around.At 7:00 p.m., the taiko drum-beating started and the floats left the starting point one by one. The beat of the taiko drums was the same as that in the Nebuta Matsuri. A few men stood on the top of the large Neputa and collapsed the hinged, top portion to clear overhead power lines. The floats were jerked left and right and spun around.
There are fewer than 30 Nebuta artists in the world.The giant white figure is brought to life by a Nebuta artist who paints it all by himself. First, the figure's basic outlines are painted with black sumi ink. Liquid paraffin is then applied to prevent the ink from running. Then colored dyes are painted or sprayed. When it comes to the face, very special care is taken. If he makes a mistake on the face, the paper is torn away and new sheets are pasted on. The very last thing painted on the Nebuta are the eyeballs. They give the sculpture its soul.

The completed Nebuta is lifted from the ground by 50 people onto a 1.5-meter-high wheeled platform. An illumination test symbolizes the Nebuta's completion. To ensure easy movement on the street, the Nebuta float is restricted to a width of 9 meters and a height of 5 meters. The float also bears the name of the sponsoring company or organization. It costs 10 to 20 million yen to build and operate a large Nebuta float. Corporate sponsors think it's money well spent since the Nebuta makes a great advertising vehicle and enhances the corporate image.

Top Nebuta artists are given over 3 million yen to cover labor and materials costs. By the time all the bills are paid, the artist has less than one-third the amount as compensation. Obviously, Nebuta artists are grossly underpaid for their highly-appreciated work. It really is a labor of love, and not for the money.

There are fewer than 30 Nebuta artists in the world, and only three of them work as full-time Nebuta artists. Since there is no money in it, would-be Nebuta artists and apprentices are few. To make it worse, there are no governmental measures to help resolve the problem.
Nebuta-type float with a paper sculpture of a figure.
The Nebuta festival is a great visual spectacle as well as a sound delight.The Nebuta festival is a great visual spectacle as well as a sound delight. The resounding beat of the taiko drums and the shrill of the flutes give the festival its soul. These are placed at regular intervals throughout the parade. The taiko beat is simple and repetitive, yet powerful and infectious.
Neputa float. All the floats are on wheels so these people are not actually carrying the floats.
Distinctly-costumed dancers called haneto.Each Nebuta float is accompanied by thousands of distinctly-costumed dancers called haneto. The huge Nebuta overlook a sea of haneto out in front with their colorful flowered straw hats bobbing up and down. They jerk and jingle and hop all over the road while shouting "Rasse, Rasse, Rassera!" They twist and shout amid reverberating taiko drums and flutes.

Sometimes they form a small circle and dance in unison. Their costumes have little bells which often fall off. Little kids run and pick up the fallen bells on the road. It is a frenzied celebration. If you want to join in the fun, you have to rent or buy a haneto costume (for around ¥10,000).
Closeup of a Neputa float.Theories concerning the origin of the Neputa are identical to those of the Nebuta. However, in the 1880's, the Neputa gradually changed from human figures into a fan shape. The floats have come a long way since then. Candles have been replaced by generator-powered lights and the washi paper has been replaced by washi paper blended with nylon. The festival is designated as an Important Intangible Folk Culture Asset.
The parade route is quite long, and it's crowded along the parade route near Aomori Station.The parade route is quite long, and it's crowded along the parade route near Aomori Station. If you want plenty of elbow room while viewing, go toward the end of the parade route where the crowd is sparse.

In recent years, the Nebuta Festival has seen disturbances caused by gate-crashing, young hoodlums. A large police force is put in place to prevent trouble.
People pull the float along.
And sometimes they have to stop it.
Children's night at Aomori Nebuta MatsuriOn the 2nd and 3rd, the parade is mainly for children who participate by pulling the floats. About 15 large Nebuta floats and some small Nebuta floats for the children are paraded.
Float pullers at Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri
Some female haneto taking a break after the festival.
The beat was the same as at the Nebuta Festival.There were also many giant taiko drums with female taiko drummers.
The long, slender drum sticks make a very penetrating, slapping sound.The drum sticks are long, slender, and slightly elastic. They make a very penetrating, slapping sound. It's a real treat to watch these vivacious women beating these huge drums in unison.
Nebuta Danchi village where the floats are stored during the day.During the day, the Nebuta floats are housed in a tent village (Nebuta Danchi) open to the public. Each Nebuta has its own giant, green tent. These are the same tents used when the Nebuta were constructed.
Drumming at sunset.The Neputa Festival is not as big as the Nebuta Festival and has smaller floats, but it has its own, unique attractions. Hirosaki is a highly recommended side trip from Aomori.
Festival during the day.
Many children come and sit in front of the Nebuta to sketch it.
Nice during the day, but more dramatic at night.
This young girl was quite a talented artist who drew the attention of the other kids.
Perhaps she might be able to help paint (or build) the real thing someday.
Taiko drummer
Hirosaki Castle tower
Castle towerThe castle tower is so small that it looks more like a turret.
From neighboring Akita Prefecture, entering the town of Fukaura-cho, home of the Shirakami-Sanchi Mountains designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fukaura is in southwestern Aomori Prefecture facing the Sea of Japan. Nice coastal scenery on Route 101.
On Route 101 to see the Juniko Lakes (Twelve Lakes) amid the Shirakami-Sanchi Mountains (白神山地).
Turn right here for the Juniko Lakes.
Although "Juniko" means "Twelve Lakes," there are actually over 30 lakes/ponds in the area. They were created when Mt. Kuzureyama collapsed in 1704 due to an earthquake and dammed nearby rivers which formed the ponds/lakes.
About the Shirakami Sanchi World Heritage Site. Famous for primeval beech forests left untouched by man.
Walking trails along the Juniko Lakes. They are actually ponds (ike). Twelve of the ponds can be seen from the summit of Mt. Okuzure. Perhaps that's why it was named so.
Ou-Ike Pond sign.
Ou-Ike Pond as seen from our tour bus. 王池
Passed by the Juniko Visitor Center (十二湖ビジターセンター) which has exhibits of the area's flora and fauna. We didn't stop here though.
Mori-no-Bussan Kyororo (森の物産館キョロロ) is where we got off the tour bus. This is a local gift shop selling local produce and snacks. Restrooms and rest house too. We walked to the ponds from here.
From Kyororo, a 500-meter walk to Ao-Ike Blue Pond.
Along the way, we passed by the large Ketoba-no-Ike Pond (鶏頭場の池), one of the Twelve Juniko Lakes.
Ketoba-no-Ike Pond (鶏頭場の池) was green. It's one of the largest Juniko Lakes with a surface area of 41,150 sq. meters.
Birds in the forest.
Way to Aoike Blue Pond.
There's a narrow lookout deck along the Ao-Ike pond.
Sign says "Ao Ike" (青池) or Blue Pond, one of the 12 Juniko Lakes.
Ao Ike (青池) Blue Pond is perhaps the most famous of the twelve Juniko Lakes. Easily accessible.
Ao Ike (青池) Blue Pond, one of the 12 Juniko Lakes
Ao Ike is certainly a beautiful blue.
After seeing Ao-Ike blue pond, you can either backtrack and go back to Kyororo Gift Shop or go further and walk through the Japanese beech forest (highly recommended).
Experience forest bathing in this lush beech forest. Lots of ferns too.
How Juniko Lakes were formed and named.
Forest rules: Do not stray away from the trail. Take your trash home, etc.
Walking trails and roads around Juniko Lakes.
The flora around Juniko Lakes.
Flowers at Juniko Lakes.
Way to Wakitsubo-no-Ike Pond 沸壺の池(沸壷の池), another blue pond.
Wakitsubo-no-Ike Pond 沸壺の池(沸壷の池)is another blue pond along the beech forest trail.
The Music of Water...
Wakitsubo-no-Ike Pond 沸壺の池(沸壷の池).
The beech forest trail eventually goes to the main road.
Wakitsubo-no-Ike Pond's Kiyomizu (pure water). 沸壺池の清水
Wakitsubo-no-Ike Pond's Kiyomizu (pure water). 沸壺池の清水
Kannon statue at Wakitsubo-no-Ike Pond's Kiyomizu (pure water). 沸壺池の清水
Turn right here to follow the road back to Kyororo. It's an uphill road.
From the road going to/from Juniko Lakes, part of Nihon Canyon with white cliffs can be seen. It was formed by erosion and collapsed mountainsides. 日本キャニオン
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