Hubby and I went to see Aomori Nebuta Festival in Aomori City on 3rd August. It is an annual festival that is held from August 2 to August 7 in Aomori City. This festival is considered to be one of the top three festivals of the Tohoku region and is often referred to as the most colorful festival of Japan. The festival features enormous and gorgeous lantern floats shaped after famous historical and mythological Japanese characters or warrior figures. Such floats are constructed of painted Washi papers over wire frames, and have lanterns inside. The floats are huge and can be up to nine meter wide, five meters tall, and seven meters deep. 22 such colorful floats are paraded through the night time streets at the center of Aomori City. Each float is flanked by hundreds of dancers called Haneto who wear unique traditional colorful costume and dance around the float to the sounds of traditional music.
On 3rd August, hubby and I started from our home in Yurihonjo City at about 8 am and went to Aomori City by our car. Aomori City is located about 250 kilometers north-northeast of our home and it took us about 4 hours of car ride to reach the city. Although the parade of Aomori Nebuta Festival was to be held in the evening at 6.30 pm, we had reached the city by 12 noon. So we visited a few sightseeing places in the vicinity of Aomori Railway Station area. We parked our car at a parking lot located near the railway station and walked up to a museum named Warasse, where right in front of us we saw Aomori Bay and Aomori Bay Bridge. It is actually a port area, and we strolled along a recreational trail located under the bridge. While walking along the trail, we got superb views of the bridge and a Seikan ferry memorial ship named Hakkodamaru. Aomori Bay Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge which is 1219 meters long and crosses the railway station. It is an automobile traffic bridge and was constructed with a great emphasis on its aesthetics. Hakkodamaru is a memorial museum ship that is moored at Aomori sea-port, and is one of the famous attractions of Aomori City. It is a former Japanese National Railways Seikan ferry which operated between Hokkaido and Honshu islands until March 1988. The ship and the bridge made a perfect sight. While continuing strolling along the trail, we saw a triangular building named ASPAM in front of us. It is a fifteen storied 76-meter tall building and is a landmark of Aomori City. It is a multi-use structure that introduces local food and handicraft products of Aomori City and many tourist attractions of Aomori prefecture. We enjoyed viewing the bridge, the ship, and the funny looking building. Afterwards we walked back along the trail and next went to an observatory located on Aomori Bay Bridge. From the observatory, we again enjoyed seeing the bridge, the memorial ship, and the triangular building along with stunning superb views of Aomori City in the background.
Aomori Bay Bridge and two Nebuta floats (discussed in next paragraph) near Warasse Museum
Hubby is standing along the recreational trail. Aomori Bay Bridge (left side) and Hakkodamaru ship (right side) are seen in the background.
Hakkodamaru memorial ship
I am standing along the walking trail. The side view of ASPAM triangular building (red arrow) is seen in the background.
Aomori Railway Station as viewed from the observatory located on Aomori Bay Bridge
Hakkodamaru ship as viewed from the observatory
Aomori Bay Bridge and ASPAM building (red arrow) as viewed from the observatory
Afterwards we walked back to the starting point of the recreational trail, where we saw a display of two Nebuta floats under Aomori Bay Bridge. Both the Nebuta floats were based on Star Wars characters. Adjacent to the floats, we saw a building named Warasse which is a museum of floats dedicated to Aomori Nebuta Festival. Nebuta Museum Warasse opened recently in 2011 and the building is strikingly unique. The distinctively designed museum building is encased in red metal slats and stands along the waterfront of Aomori City, just north of Aomori Railway Station. It is really a funny looking building, where the red vertical beams curve and bend to create the entrance of the museum. The entrance is so inconspicuous that we did not notice it at first glance. Our trip to Aomori City included a plan to visit the museum, so we went inside the building and bought tickets worth 600 Yen per person as admission fee to enter the museum.
Hubby is standing in front of a Nebuta float based on Star Wars characters. The float was displayed outside Nebuta Museum Warasse.
I am standing in front of another float based on Star Wars characters. This float was also displayed outside the museum building.
I am standing adjacent to the Nebuta Museum Warasse. The building is prominently seen due to the red metal slats entirely covering the building.
The entrance area of the museum building
Now I will briefly introduce Nebuta Museum Warasse. It is an interesting museum dedicated to Aomori Nebuta Festival which is held annually in early August. The museum is devoted to preserving and showcasing the festival. The museum captures the spirit of the festival and introduces visitors to its history and traditions. Visitors can read about the history of the festival, see many festival related photographs, watch videos of past festivals, listen to the festival sounds, learn about the production techniques of Nebuta floats, and get information about some of the famous artists who have painted the warrior figures on Nebuta floats over the years. In addition, five carefully chosen huge floats from the previous year's festival are displayed inside the museum. This gives visitors an opportunity to see some actual Nebuta floats up close and to somewhat experience the festival all year round. The museum has two floors. The first floor has gift shops, restaurants, and the display of the five huge Nebuta floats. The second floor has an observation deck that provides a bird's eye view of the floats on the first floor.
As written earlier in this post, we bought admission tickets at the first floor entrance area inside the museum building. The first floor has a gift shop, a restaurant, and a cafe, but we decided to visit these later on. We went to the second floor of the building where the entrance to the museum exhibition hall is located. As we reached the top of the staircase leading to the second floor, we saw a display of a small colorful Nebuta float which hinted us as to what may be inside the exhibition hall. Near the Nebuta float, there were displays of two Haneto dancers, one was a life size statue and the other was a stand-in life size cardboard cutout without the head. I posed and put my face appropriately on the cutout and took a photo of me being a Haneto dancer. We loved the unique colorful hat of the Haneto dancer. After walking for a few more steps at the second floor, we saw a huge electronic display of an exotic Nebuta face in black and white at the entrance area of the exhibition hall. The Nebuta face seemed to welcome the visitors inside the hall.
A Nebuta float located outside the exhibition hall at the second floor of the museum building
I am posing next to a statue of a Haneto dancer
I am standing near the entrance of the exhibition hall
Upon entering the second floor entrance to the exhibition hall, we walked along a red corridor lined with photos and images about the history and traditions of the Nebuta Festival. In addition, video movies and picture panels of the past festivals are there for the visitors’ perusal. It felt quite interesting to read the historical facts while recorded sounds of Taiko drums, flutes, and voices played in the background. We loved reading about the historical details of the early Nebuta floats and how the festival has evolved over time. Along the corridor, we saw an area where visitors can design their own Nebuta face, which is then projected onto a blank mask on a screen above us. We noted that this section of the corridor was very popular with children, who were very busy designing the masks. As we walked further along the corridor, we saw small lanterns in the shape of red goldfish, an important symbol of the festival and a decoration of the floats, hanging from the ceiling of the corridor. The end of the corridor was dark and had a faint glow, which somehow felt so peaceful. The corridor led to a dark observation deck with many huge lit Nebuta face masks exhibited at the deck. Such face masks are made of bamboo, wire frames, and brightly colored Washi papers. We clicked photos of a few of these masks. More importantly, the observation deck provided us with a bird's eye view of the darkened main hall located at the first floor of the museum. This main hall at the first floor clearly highlighted what the Nebuta Festival is all about. Five huge actual floats that were built for the past festival were exhibited at this main hall. The Nebuta floats are changed after each year's festival. All the colorful lit Nebuta floats painted with striking traditional designs looked stunning from the observation deck. We loved viewing the massive floats from the deck. We concentrated on clicking the photos of the nearest float and completely forgot to take photos of the first floor main hall in its entirety. But believe me, the main hall looked absolutely gorgeous with all the colorful floats.
I am standing at the beginning of the corridor in the second floor exhibition hall of Warasse Museum and watching a video movie about the history of Nebuta Festival
I am standing along the red corridor lined with photos and images about the history and traditions of the festival
Hubby posing at the red corridor
I am standing at the corridor area where visitors can design their own Nebuta face which is then projected onto a blank mask on a screen above
Two designs of the Nebuta face masks designed by the visitors
Hubby walking along the corridor with many small lanterns in the shape of red goldfish hanging from the ceiling of the corridor
The red goldfish shaped lanterns hanging from the ceiling of the darkened corridor looked so mystic
I am standing next to a lit Nebuta face mask displayed at the second floor observation deck
Hubby standing in front of another Nebuta face mask
Hubby and yet another Nebuta face mask
An actual huge colorful Nebuta float displayed at the first floor main hall of the museum. The photo is clicked from the second floor observation deck.
I am standing next to a hands-on cutaway display of the lower leg portion of a historical character or a warrior figure depicted on the above Nebuta float. This photo is also clicked from the observation deck.
Next we walked further down the corridor, into the darkened main hall located at the first floor of the museum where the five carefully chosen actual Nebuta floats from the past festival were exhibited. As discussed earlier, the floats are changed after each year’s Nebuta Festival. Present day Nebuta floats are made of Japanese Washi paper supported by wire frames and bamboo constructs, and lighted from the inside with many light bulbs. Nebuta floats are designed and shaped after famous Japanese folklores, themes, and historical characters or warrior figures. Many floats tend to depict battles between warriors, demons, and mythological characters. Stories of gods defeating demons in epic battles are masterfully recreated in meticulous details which make for quite dramatic imagery. The Washi papers used for making the floats are beautifully and painstakingly hand-painted. We noted that the interior of the hall was dimly lit so that we could appreciate the full splendor of the five Nebuta floats. We walked around the Nebuta floats and learned about the story behind each float as well as appreciated the structure of the floats. We soaked in the artistry and admired the craftsmanship that went into the construction of such colorful vivid floats. The colors and the details of the floats were simply amazing and made for a vibrant spectacle. We loved seeing the gorgeous floats. Visitors were given flower hats of Haneto dancers to pose for a photo in front of one of the floats. It was fun to wear the hat, though it was too big and kept falling down over my eyes or to the sides. Walking around the main hall with the exhibits of huge Nebuta floats was a wonderful experience and made a lasting impression on us.
The first Nebuta float we saw at the main hall located at the first floor of the museum. Earlier we had clicked photo of this float from the observation deck too.
Left side of the first float
Right side of the float
I am standing in front of the first float. Only the lower base portion is seen which shows the enormity of the float.
The second Nebuta float we saw
The third Nebuta Float we saw
I am wearing a flower hat of Haneto dancer and posing in front of the third float
The flower hat was too big and kept falling down over my eyes or to the sides
The fourth Nebuta float we saw
I am standing in front of the fourth float
Hubby standing in front of the fifth Nebuta float (left side of the float is seen)
Right side of the fifth float
While walking around the Nebuta floats in the main hall, we saw several hand-on cutaway displays that showed the underlying structure of the floats. It was really interesting to see the actual size cutaway displays of the lower leg portion as well as the face of a historical character or a warrior figure depicted on the Nebuta floats. Standing next to these displays, we realized the hugeness of such depicted characters and figures. The meticulous details, design, quality, and craftsmanship were amazing. While walking around, we noted that several Taiko drums were also displayed in one corner of the main hall. Visitors were allowed to play the drums but because of the absence of Bachi sticks I played the drums with my hands just like a Dholak.
Hubby standing next to a hands-on cutaway display of the lower leg portion of a historical character or a warrior figure depicted on a Nebuta float
Hubby standing next to a hands-on cutaway display of the face of a historical character or a warrior figure
I am playing a Taiko drum with my hands
In addition to the five Nebuta floats, we saw two more floats displayed inside the main hall of the museum. Both these floats were not the typical traditional floats but featured characters from the Star Wars films. Earlier we had seen two more floats based on Star Wars characters displayed outside the museum. In fact these four floats were supposed to participate this year in the main parade event of Nebuta Festival held at Aomori City center in the evening but their participation was cancelled at the last moment as the organizers of the festival felt that they go against the festival’s cultural tradition. Instead, the four floats were exhibited at Warasse Museum, two inside the museum and two outside.
A Nebuta float based on Star Wars characters is displayed inside the main hall of the museum
Another float based on Star Wars characters is displayed inside the main hall
Near the exit area of the main hall of the museum, we saw a display of a series of Nebuta face masks with detailed descriptions of the artists who made them. We enjoyed looking at these masks with various facial features and expressions.
Display of a series of Nebuta face masks
Hubby and a few Nebuta face masks
At this point we finished touring the exhibition halls of the museum, and so we left the halls. Afterwards we had late lunch at a restaurant located inside the museum building. We had set lunch menu of two different kinds of Kaisendon seafood. We were very hungry after walking around inside the exhibition halls, and so we enjoyed the food very much.
Our lunch sets of two different kinds of Kaisendon seafood
After lunch we left Warasse Museum building, and saw an amazing street performance by two Shamisen players right in front of the museum. The performance was superb and I have compiled a video clip of the performance.
Two street performers playing Shamisen
A compiled video of the two street performers playing Shamisen
After enjoying the Shamisen street performance, we started walking towards the venue of the main parade event of Aomori Nebuta Festival. We reached the parade venue located in the city center at about 5 pm. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing the parade of many huge Nebuta floats and Haneto dancers about which I will write in the next post.