It’s been a year since I first moved to Japan for the JET Programme. The first thing I got to experience in Aomori was Nebuta. Even though I arrived too late to see Hirosaki Neputa and Aomori City Nebuta, I was lucky to catch Goshogawara Tachineputa.
First I want to talk a little bit about what Nebuta is: It’s Aomori’s largest summer festival and is characterized by elaborately painted lantern floats surrounded by taiko drums in a large parade. The floats are constructed out of painted washi paper placed over a wire frame, the design and construct takes about a year to make. The floats can be up to nine meters wide and five meters tall. The size and structure of the floats are largely based on the city they are from. The floats depict gods, historical or mythical figures, kabuki actors, and characters from popular historical TV dramas.
The floats are pushed along the street by human power. Each float is accompanied by teams of taiko drummers, flute and hand cymbal players. As well as dancers called haneto.
There are multiple places in Aomori that have their own Nebuta festivals. Each place has its own chant that the dancers call out. For example: Aomori dancers say “rassera,rassera,” Hirosaki says, “yayado,” and Goshagowara says, “yatemare, yatemare.”
Each Nebuta festival in Aomori has its own unique characteristics. For Hirosaki Nebuta it’s the fan shaped floats and the use of massive taiko drums. For Goshogawara, it’s the use of 23 meter tall, 19 ton parade floats.
These floats are conveyed through the city while float carriers and dancers shout, “yatemare, yatemare.” In addition to three large Nebuta floats that are displayed year round at the Tachineputa Museum, there are a total of 15 floats of various sizes featured in the festival.
The memory of this festival is very sweet in my mind. I had just arrived in Aomori and I was not even completely settled into my apartment yet. One of the older JETs living in Hirosaki sent a message that they were planning on going and invited us to meet them at the station. This was exciting for a couple of reasons. First, I get to meet some people and potentially make friends, I get to ride the train, and most importantly I get to see Nebuta!
Actually Nebuta was, and still is really important to me. Even though I had never seen the festival before then it is actually the reason I am in Japan, which sounds very dramatic but there is truth in it.
Long story short, the first time I came to Japan I did a traveling history class. One of our first stops was Aomori City. If you’ve ever been to Aomori station then you know what I am talking about…When you step off the train and go to exit the train station you’ll be greeted by a Nebuta lantern and three little apple daruma lanterns as well. I remember seeing it for the first time and being so impressed, that I vowed I would come back and see the Nebuta festival. Fast forward 2 years later I marked I wanted to be placed in Aomori when applying for JET and by happenstance I found myself here.
Now back to Tachineputa. We took a local train from Hirosaki to Goshogawara. It was really exciting buying my first train ticket. The train ride itself was also a lot of fun because it was packed and at one point the train goes backwards for some reason.
Once we arrived at the station people began pouring out of the train, and police officers were directing the flow of people.
Once we got out on to the street we passed dancers and taiko drums and some of the floats lined up waiting for the parade to begin.
We passed food stalls and vendors selling all sorts of goods. Of course the smell of fresh food was too alluring and we stopped to eat takoyaki, yakitori, and even cucumbers on sticks!
Eventually we found a spot to sit and wait. Which happened to be at a street intersection, which was a really good move on our part, since some of the smaller floats would spin in a circle once they reached the intersection.
The size of the floats was incredible. The amount of detail on each float from top to bottom was amazing. Typically the front of the float is a character, and on the back there is a painted woman. Towards the bottom of the float flowers and other tiles are painted. I was really impressed by the taiko drums inside the floats.
Music from the drums, flutes, and cymbals filled the air with the accompaniment of “yatemare, yatemare.” I can still vividly imagine it a year later, and it is one of my favorite memories in Aomori.
I hope eventually I will get to experience Hirosaki Neputa and Aomori Nebuta as well, but for the time being I will hold onto the memory of Goshogawara Tachineputa.