The Nebuta Festival in Aomori, Japan – An Amazing Art Form Of Sculptural Floats And Lanterns

We arrived in Aomori on a rainy and grey day.

The old and a bit worn out JR train station in Aomori, looked gloomy in the rain.
I walked straight to a taxi stand and loaded my heavy backpack into the boot of the taxi, which the white gloved taxi driver opened for me.

After getting comfortably situated in our modem hotel, we went out to explore the city.

At first glance, Aomori is not what you would call a beautiful city…
We found an elegant store and a food court called the “A Factory,” selling all sorts of apple products, (not the computer, the REAL apple products like apple juice, apple jelly, apple vinegar), since northern Honshu is well known for its delicious apples.

Downtown Aomori looked grey, the buildings old and without character and the port area is utilitarian, and not picturesque to say the least…

The main reason people come to Aomori is to participate in the annual Nebuta Festival, which happens every year in August.

It is a long running major summer festival that is well known all over Japan.
More than three millions people travel every year to participate and to see the Nabuta Festival in Aomori.

We found a lovely French restaurant in the middle of town and had a nice lunch.
The tables and chairs looked regal, and it felt very restful to sit under the large Crystal chandeliers and to enjoy a moderately priced delicious lunch, in a room with carved wooden paneling and with waiters dressed in suits and long black aprons.

Jules said that the city has on display some of the floats from last Year’s Nebuta festival.

Not knowing what to expect, we strolled towards the JR station and found the “Nebuta Warasse” which is the Nebuta Festival Museum and exhibition hall.

Let me tell you….It has been the most exciting new sculptural art form that I have seen in awhile….

It is not accurate to call it “New” since this art form is more than a thousand years old, and dates back much earlier than the running festival, which started in the 1600’s.

Some say that the Nebuta festival originated in Aomoi even earlier in the 800’s by “General TAMURAMARO”.
He created large painted creatures, called “Nebuta” which looked fierce and menacing, to frighten the approaching enemy.
He made those creature large and he lighted them so they could be seen from a large distance.

Another theory is that the Nebuta Festival is the Japanese version of the “TANABATA” festival in China.
One of the customs during this festival was “TORO” floating.

A “TORO” is a wooden frame box wrapped with painted rice paper.
Candles are put inside the “TORO” and it would be placed to float on the river or the sea.

The purpose for doing this ritual, was to purify themselves by sending all the evil spirits out to sea.
The ferocious painted faces and characters, represented evil spirits and bad intentions.
They would be put to sail the sea, and away from the peaceful villages.

The pictures I’ve posted do not do it justice…. Those floats are a VERY, VERY exciting thing to see…

The festival has those three dimensional GIANT floats, each carried by dozens of people.

The sculptures of the painted characters mixed with animals, dragons and mythical creatures on those floats, are all basically glowing intricate lanterns.

In the old days they were made from twisted bamboo, painted rice paper and inside they used to put candles.

Nowadays these amazing floats-sculptures are made by local artists, who sculpts them from wire and light wood, painted rice paper and are lit by electric lightbulbs and a portable generator.

The artists still stay true to the original spirit of the festival, and their paintings and characters have the same ferocious or guardians appearances that they had hundreds of years ago.

The scale of these floats, is HUMONGOUS.
They are so large, that when carried through the streets of Aomori, they cannot go under the electric cables.

Each float is so very impressive with beautiful details all around….they are truly awe inspiring.

The museum has about five complete floats and some examples and details of how they were constructed.
During the festival twenty of these huge floats are carried through Aomori.

The museum also has historical photos of previous festivals and floats, dating all the way back to the 1800’s, since photography and the camera were only invented in the 1800’s.
Earlier festival floats from the 800’s- 1600’s were only depicted in old drawings.

I walked around the dark museum admiring those illuminated floats.
I felt more excited than I felt inside a museum for a long awhile…… It was awesome to be in the presence of such good art…I was surprised that something so old, felt so exciting and new…

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