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Lanterns and Light at Nebuta Festival

Posted By on Aug 10, 2014

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Grown out of the Tanabata festival tradition of lantern lighting are the hugely popular nebuta/neputa festivals.   The two biggest festivals of this type are located in Aomori and Hirosaki in Northern Honshu Japan and they both take place in early August.

Happening rain or shine, the Aomori Nebuta festival attracts over 3 million visitors each year, making it the biggest Nebuta festival in the world. Watch large brightly lit Nebutas parade the street accompanied by thousands of costumed haneto dancers shouting “rasse” or “rassera”.  Originally lit by candles, with a frame made of bamboo, these washi-paper covered floats shine more brightly as technology improved.

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These large Nebutas could be as big as 9 meters wide, 5 meters tall, and 7 meters deep and are now lit by electricity and made with wire. Part of the allure of this festival is that anyone can join in.  As long as you have a haneto costume, you can be a haneto dancer for a memorable visit.  Don’t worry if you don’t own one, you can easily rent one during the event.

Haneto outfits are available at department stores, clothing stores and elsewhere from about 10,000 yen. Some stores lend out the costumes and help dancers get dressed. The rental fee is about 4,000 yen per person.

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While the largest is in Aomori, Hirosaki’s Neputa Festival is just as famous as it was also designated as an important intangible folk cultural property of Japan in 1980. This festival is said to be less rowdy than the Aomori Nebuta Festival but features a similar number of floats and just as lively of performers.  The floats bear the design of famous figures from literary works such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sankokushi) or The Water Margin (Suikoden).

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Be on the lookout for specialty fan-shaped ogi-neputa alongside the traditional kumi-neputa while the perfomers chant “yaa ya do.”  While you are in Hirosaki, be sure to visit the Neputa Mura.  Translated as Neputa village, this is a museum that features some information and example floats used in the festival.

Address: Aomori and Hirosaki, Honshu, Japan

[post by Beth]

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Beth Williams

Originally from Chicago, Beth got her first true taste of travel when she studied abroad in Japan during her final year of university. She ended up loving Asia so much, she found herself moving right back upon graduating and is currently teaching English full-time in Hong Kong. Armed with her camera and a passion for travel, she is currently on a mission to photograph the world-- proving that you can work the normal “9-5” and still find time to travel on her blog Besudesu Abroad.

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