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Aomori Nebuta Matsuri Guide: How to Enjoy Tohoku’s Premier Summer Festival!

Aomori Nebuta Matsuri Guide: How to Enjoy Tohoku’s Premier Summer Festival!

Date published: 23 April 2020
Last updated: 15 December 2020

The Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori is a festival where giant floats, called “Nebuta”, carrying larger-than-life figures of warriors and demons march down the streets.

One of the three great Japanese festivals of the Tohoku region, the Nebuta Matsuri draws crowds of 2.5 million people every year, painting the summer nights with vibrant colors. Just catching the parade is an enjoyable activity in and of itself, but learning about its roots, and jumping in to take part in the festival will make for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

With that, we’ll be giving a crash course on ways to get there for first-timers, and how best to enjoy the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri.

Due to the spread of the coronavirus, the 2020 run of the festival has unfortunately been canceled. As one of the prides of Tohoku’s festivals, it will definitely be back, so to be sure to take it into consideration when planning your summer holiday next year!

Table of Contents
  1. What is Aomori Nebuta Matsuri?
  2. When is Nebuta Matsuri? Ways to enjoy Aomori’s Giant Festival
  3. Nebuta Matsuri: More enjoyable if you know the history and process

What is Aomori Nebuta Matsuri?

The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is one of the main and most traditional summer festivals of Japan, taking place every August.

The “Nebuta” are giant lanterns, which can be as large as five meters in height and nine meters in length, and the lanterns, on floats, make their way around the city area, near JR Aomori Station.

Visitors from not just within Japan, but from Asia, America, Europe, and all around the world gather here to see these amazing sights.

The Nebuta going down the street. (Photo credit: Aomori Tourism Convention Association)

During the festival, the streets around Aomori Station (Shinmachi Dōri, Heiwa-Kōen Dōri, National Route 4, and Hakko Dōri, amongst others) are closed, and the Nebuta will be brought out to run down the center of these streets, in a 3.1-kilometer-long parade. Beer and other street snack stores line the sides of the roads, making for an exciting experience as you walk down the street.

The streets start to fill out during the afternoon, and by nightfall, numerous stores have set up shop too. (Photo credit: Vassamon Anansukkasem, shutterstock.com)

Though the origins of the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri are not exactly clear, it is believed to have originated from the Nara period from 710 to 794, when the tradition of floating lanterns down streams during Tanabata, or the Star Festival, arrived from China and was altered.

To ward off the drowsiness that interferes with agriculture and farm work, lanterns and bamboo were floated down the rivers and oceans.

In Japanese, the word for “sleepy” is “nemutai”, and the word eventually evolved into “nebuta”, the name of the festival.

The tradition of floating lanterns down rivers is observed all throughout Japan.

When is Nebuta Matsuri? Ways to enjoy Aomori’s Giant Festival

The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is held for six days from August 2nd to 7th every year, and everything from Nebuta lanterns made by local children to giant Nebuta make their debut here.

The route that the floats take changes every day, and though you can see the floats no matter which day you head down to the festival, the 6th is especially recommended. In particular, there are performances by famous artists and a prize presentation for the creators of the floats, and on the 6th, you can see these prize-winning floats too.

One of the previous winners of the “Nebuta Taishō” awards. (Photo credit: Aomori Tourism Convention Association)

Besides this, the last day of the festival on the 7th will have the large Nebuta going down the streets during the day, and at night, the prize-winning Nebuta will be floated down the sea. The sight of the Nebuta lanterns coming and going on the water surface is very different from the sight of them on land, and makes for an absolutely surreal image, so be sure not to miss it.

An award winning Nebuta being floated on the sea. (Photo credit: Aomori Tourism Convention Association)
For the finale, fireworks light up the summer night sky in an array of colors. (Photo credit: Vassamon Anansukkasem, shutterstock.com)

One more highlight of the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is the “Haneto”. Wearing flashy and over the top outfits, they chant “rassera, rassera, rasse-rasse-rassera” as they jump and dance, further hyping up the atmosphere of the festival as dancers. With the carts carrying the Nebuta lanterns in the backdrop, the sight of their powerful dancing makes you want to hop in and dance with them side by side.

The Haneto dancing with smiles splashed across their faces. (Photo credit: Aomori Tourism Convention Association)

Though it’s mainly the Haneto whipping up the festival atmosphere, it’s actually possible for regular festival attendees to take part as well. Foreign visitors are more than welcome to participate, and there isn’t even a need to register beforehand.

All you have to do is wear the standard outfit of the Harneto, and wait at set points along the parade course before the start of the parade for your turn to join in.

The outfit can be purchased from the Aomori City Office for about 4,000 yen, though you can rent it as well. On the official site of the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, the way to wear the outfit and places where you can purchase it are listed, and the rules are explained in English as well, so feel free to participate.

If you really want to go all out at the festival, do take part in the parade with the locals as a Haneto. The locals will teach you how to dance the Haneto, and it’s an excellent way to foster new bonds with them while learning the dance from them.

However, the dance is very physically exhausting and will absolutely drain you, so be prepared for your legs to turn to jelly the next day.

If you participate in the festival as a Haneto, you’ll definitely make some unforgettable memories from your holiday. (Photo credit: Aomori Tourism Convention Association)

Other attractions gracing the festival include the clear sound of flutes and strong beat of taiko drums, along with the loud and unforgettable “shan, shan, shan” ringing of the teburigane, a type of cymbal.

The musical performances at the festival are called “hayashi”, and it is said that without them, the festival cannot be called the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri.

The clear sound of the flute stirs up the atmosphere. (Photo credit: Aomori Tourism Convention Association)
The roar of the taiko drums in your chest leaves an impression of the festival in your heart. (Photo credit: Aomori Tourism Convention Association)
The playing of the teburigane adds to the hayashi. (Photo credit: Aomori Tourism Convention Association)

To the already impressive Nebuta lanterns, the Haneto and Hayashi join in to rile up the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri. For those who absolutely have to see everything up close, you can get a paid viewing seat from various ticketing services or the vending machines at the Aomori City Office.

All seats have assigned seating, at 3,500 yen (with tax) per ticket, and the pipe chairs and box seats allows you to get up close to the parade, for a feel of just how truly magnificent it is.

Of course, you can view the Nebuta and Haneto, and enjoy the music of the Hayashi for free along the streets as well, though it can get rowdy and chaotic, making it easy for you to lose your companions. Do be careful not to get injured as well!

When viewing it up close, you can feel how imposing the Nebuta are, and the liveliness of the Hareto. (Photo credit: Aomori Tourism Convention Association)

The 2020 edition of the parade has been cancelled. For details on the 2021 parade, you can check out the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri official site, which offers support in multiple languages.

  • Aomori Nebuta Matsuri (Planning committee office)
    ⻘森ねぶた祭(実⾏委員会事務局)
    • Address 1-2-1 Aomorisyoukoukaigisyokaikan4F, Shimmachi, Aomori Shi, Aomori Ken, 030-0801, Japan
    • Phone Number 017-723-7211
    • Festival period: August 2nd to August 7th
      Festival timing: 7:10 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. (1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., and 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on the last day)
      Admission fees: Free. Seated viewing at 3,500 yen (with tax) per seat, reservations required.

Nebuta Matsuri: More enjoyable if you know the history and process

For sightseers who plan to see the Nebuta at night, you can spend the daytime exploring the surrounding facilities, learning more about its history, and the construction process of the Nebuta, for a more enjoyable festival experience.

For example, a one-minute walk away from JR Aomori Station is Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE, a museum which highlights the history and draws of the Nebuta Festivals, and has an information corner where you can learn about the origin and history of the festival from the large Nebuta on display, and even an event space where you can experience the Hayashi and Haneto for yourself.

The exterior of Nebuta-Museum WA RASSE is painted in red, a color symbolic of the Nebuta.

The explanations on the exhibits inside are available in English, Chinese, and other languages as well. Recently, a translation system that allows you to scan a QR code with your smartphone to view information about the Nebuta in your own language was also implemented.

With multi-language support, you can have fun without any worries. The place is open all year round, and it’s recommended to try out the Nebuta Matsuri experience during the off-season too.

Medium and large-sized Nebuta on display in the “Nebuta Hall”.

On top of that, about eight-minutes away from JR Aomori Station is “Nebuta Rasse Land”, in Aoiumi Park. Every year from spring to summer (end May to August 7th), around 20 large Nebuta are lined up for display. You can see the pristine state of the Nebuta before departure up close, and seeing them while taking in the ocean view is an enjoyable activity indeed. (As the 2020 Aomori Nebuta Matsuri has been cancelled, Nebuta Rasse Land is closed as well.)

Visitors to Nebuta Rasse Land. (Photo credit: Aomori Tourism Convention Association)

Rather than simply watching the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, learning about its origins and history, and participating in various experiences will make your first visit there 100% more enjoyable.

Hype yourself up at the festival with the locals, and have an unforgettable six days together. Foreign language support is available as well, so do be sure to come and enjoy Tohoku’s largest festival next year.

  • Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE (Nebuta museum, Nebuta hall)
    ねぶたの家 ワ・ラッセ(ねぶたミュージアム、ねぶたホール)
    • Address 1-1-1, Yasukata, Aomori Shi, Aomori Ken, 030-0803, Japan
    • Phone Number 017-752-1311
    • Business hours: 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Until 6:00 p.m. from September to April)
      Closed on August 9th and 10th, December 31st, and January 1st
      Admission fees: 620 yen for adults, 460 yen for high school students, 260 yen for elementary and middle school students

  • Nebuta Rasse Land
    ねぶたラッセランド
    • Address 2-1, Yasukata, Aomori Shi, Aomori Ken, 030-0803, Japan
    • Phone Number 017-735-8750
    • For volunteer guides from the Nebuta Guide Group, please call 017-752-1311 (to Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE)
      Open from: July 1st to August 6th
      Business hours: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
      Free entry

Text by:Tsubasa Shimoda

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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