Sunday, January 06, 2008

Nebuta and Tachi-Neputa Festivals

In the first week of August, we (along with 6 close friends) went to the Aomori Nebuta festival. One of the largest festivals in northern Japan, it celebrates the warrior Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro who defeated the Ezo people in the 8th century. According to legend he hid warriors in giant dolls luring his enemy. Today the festival runs along several city blocks and has an array of haneto (dancers in traditional dress) who march and dance to the sounds of drums and festival music...not to mention the three dimensional nebuta warriors that are as big as a house. One of the most exciting things was when 50 or so people moving the float would start to spin it around. You can get a sense of the atmosphere from this video:

This festival goes on for a week with the parade occurring every night. Despite the frequency of the parade, the streets were jam packed. We had a good location thanks to our friend Junko. While enjoying the parade, there were plenty of street vendors offering up all our favorite festival foods. After almost 3 hours of parading, we were ready for some sleep.
Before we had moved to Japan, we had heard of capsule hotels that were used by businessmen who needed to sleep off a hard night of sake before they could drive home. And after seeing them on the Amazing Race, we wanted to stay in one. So our whole group got reservations at one in Aomori.
It's really all you could ask for in a hotel room...and more. As you can see they are stacked one on top of the other down a corridor. There are no doors, just a bamboo curtain. Inside your capsule you had a TV, radio, reading lights, hooks, a couple of little shelves, and a thermostat.
The entire capsule floor was about 6 1/2 feet long and about 3 feet wide covered by a mattress. There was a community style bathroom (one female, one male) equipped with showers. Although it wasn't luxury, I got a great night's sleep. The next morning we took a detour on the way to our next festival. Each year, farmers in the town of Inakadate in Aomori prefecture create rice art using different colored rice (purple and yellow-leafed kodaimai and green-leafed tsugaru-roman). In the past they have done famous Japanese characters and one year actually did the Mona Lisa. This year’s creation was a pair of rice reproductions of famous woodblock prints from Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mt Fuji.
We took the picture from a four story observation deck connected to a hotel (built specifically for the rice field art). As you can see from the car in the background, this is quite an undertaking. The two fields were each as big as football fields. To see the progression, I found this website:
After our rice art viewing excursion, we headed for the town of Goshagowara. Since this was a smaller town, we found a campground just outside of town and took the train in. Although the town is much smaller, it seemed like there were twice as many people there. The Tachi-Neputa festival was much shorter, but the floats were very impressive.
Unlike the Nebuta Festival, these floats towered sometimes as much as four stories. And while there weren't as many of the tall floats, they were indeed impressive. And as you can see in both the Nebuta and the Neputa, these floats are being moved by people. Here are a couple of quick videos of some of the taller floats going by: