For those visiting Aomori Prefecture, the one festival that should be at the top of your list is the Nebuta (or Neputa in Hirosaki) Matsuri. Held in the first week of August, they are the most popular festivals in the region and definitely one not to be missed; that is, if you are traveling around Aomori Prefecture during the festival week. For those traveling outside festival season, fortunately there’s still a chance to get a taste of Nebuta, learn about its history, and the traditions surrounding this exciting event.
Two museums exist in Aomori with the purpose of promoting the nebuta festival, and showcasing the cultural elements and the floats that make up this yearly event. In Hirosaki, travelers can visit the Neputa Mura, located behind Hirosaki Castle, while those visiting Aomori City have the Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE on the waterfront.
Hirosaki is actually the birthplace of the Nebuta Festival so is quite fitting for the city to have its own nebuta-themed centre. The Neputa Mura offers visitors numerous hands-on experiences, starting with a quick run at the taiko drums used during the parade and a brief explanation in various languages about Hirosaki’s own version of the festival.
As can be seen during a tour here, the nebuta floats in Hirosaki are smaller and made out of wood and cloth. None of the nebuta groups have large corporate sponsors and thus they make their floats smaller compared to the ones in Aomori City, but they also make many more. At the Neputa Mura there’s also the chance to learn about all the other nebuta festivals held around the prefecture and to try out the paper lantern workshop that lets visitors make the same paper lanterns used during the festival. Although the focus here is the Nebuta Festival, the hands on experience here extends over to other cultural traditions of the region including ceramics, kokeshi dolls, and a shamisen live show among other things. The entry fee at the Neputa Mura will set you back 550yen.
In Aomori City, the place to get your nebuta fix is the Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE. Although the building itself is good reason to make a visit, it is what’s inside what counts. Here the main focus is on the large and colourful nebuta floats featured and as such, four of the floats from the most recent festival are on display for visitors to admire. Similar to the experience at the Neputa Mura in Hirosaki, the Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE offers the chance the try out various aspects of the festival; a great opportunity for those not attending the actual parades in August. You can choose the “Haneto” dance experience and try dancing to the beat of the festivals Hayashi music.
If you are looking for more detail, why not learn about the nebuta building process through a hands on workshop or about the festival’s history through the Nebuta Tunnel. On top of this you can see footage of the festivities on large screens and find out who are the designers behind the awesome floats. All this for an entry fee of 600 yen.
All in all, even if you cannot make it to the actual festival in August, during a visit to Aomori you can still get a good sense of what this tradition is all about and why is so revered in this region. Nebuta is without a doubt a major part of a trip to Aomori and you should not leave without getting a taste of it.