A to Wa of Japan: Week 25

It’s time for A to Wa of Japan again! Last week’s post was about things beginning with ぬ (nu) and we looked at Numazu (沼津). This week we are looking at things beginning with ね (ne). A big thank you to everyone who joined in with suggestions this week:

UK Seikatsu suggested Nebuta Matsuri (ねぶた祭り / a summer festival at Aomori Prefecture), netsuke (根付 / carved toggles), and Nemuri Kyoshiro (眠り狂四郎 / a famous Jidai-geki novel, TV drama and film); Zooming Japan suggested Nejo (根城 / a castle in Hachinohe); Japan Australia suggested Nemuro (根室 / a city and port in Hokkaido), Nebuta Matsuri, and Neo Mura (根尾村 / a place in Gifu Prefecture); and Jay Dee suggested Nebuta Matsuri, Nezu-jinja (根津神社 / a shrine in Tokyo), Nerima-ku (練馬区 / one of the 23 wards in Tokyo), nengajo (年賀状 / New Year’s postcards), neko (猫 / cat), and negi (ねぎ / green onion).

Some really interesting suggestions there! In the end, with three votes, I decided to write about…

Nebuta Matsuri (ねぶた祭り)

Aomori Nebuta Festival 2012 ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO

Aomori Nebuta Festival 2012 ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO

The Nebuta Matsuri is an annual festival which takes place in Aomori Prefecture (青森県) in the Tohoku region (東北地方) of Japan from 2nd to 7th August. Of all the Japanese festivals I’ve ever read about, this is probably the one I would most like to go to.

The main attraction of this summer festival is the daily parade of floats featuring warriors and mythical figures made from painted washi (Japanese paper) over wire frames. They’re massive (up to nine metres wide and five metres tall) and really colourful. The floats can take up to a year to design and build, and look really impressive when they’re lit up like lanterns.

Aomori Nebuta Festival 2012 ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO

Aomori Nebuta Festival 2012 ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO

Of course, no Japanese festival would be complete without some music and dancing, and taiko drums accompany the parade as it makes its way through the streets. The floats are pushed along the street by teams of people rather than vehicles, as hundreds of dancers (called ‘haneto’) follow chanting ‘rassera, rassera’. The public are even encouraged to join in the dancing, as long as they wear a haneto costume, which can be bought at grocery stores and shops around the prefecture.

Aomori Nebuta Festival 2012 ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO

Aomori Nebuta Festival 2012 ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO

The Nebuta Matsuri is designated as an ‘Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan‘ and is known as one of the ‘Three Great Festivals of the Tohoku Region’ (‘Tohoku Sandai Matsuri’), along with Akita’s Kanto Matsuri and Sendai’s Tanabata.

I always wonder about the origin of Japanese festivals, so I looked up the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri to see what it said. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization:

There are several versions of its origins. It is widely believed to originate in the custom of neburi-nagashi for casting away into rivers and the sea drowsiness and laziness which were tremendous hindrances in farm work. There is also the legend of how Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro (758-811), the warlord of the day came to stamp out the Ezo people of Hokkaido and the very north of Honshu, the main island, who did not obey the Imperial Court. He hid soldiers inside gigantic dolls as a lure to his enemies and succeeded in destroying them. As a matter of fact, the festival of Aomori City signifies ‘departure for the front’ while that of Hirosaki City signifies ‘triumphant return’.

Here’s a video from last year’s festival:

Interestingly, I noticed that some of the floats in this video actually featured popular characters rather than warriors and mythical beasts. It looks absolutely amazing though, doesn’t it?

Find out more about the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri on the Japan Guide website and the official Nebuta Matsuri website (English, Japanese).

Aomori Nebuta Festival 2012 ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO

Aomori Nebuta Festival 2012 ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO


Next week we’ll start with の (no), so please leave a comment below suggesting a topic for things beginning with の. Topics can be anything, as long as they are connected to Japan – food, places, people, characters, whatever you want to hear about! Just remember that the words you suggest must be Japanese words.

I look forward to hearing your suggestions!  (*^_^)v

4 thoughts on “A to Wa of Japan: Week 25

  1. The Nebuta Matsuri must be great! I went to the Nebuta Festival Hall in Aomori and couldn’t get enough of the great kites there. Here are some photos I took there:

    By the way, there’s a very similar festival in nearby Hirosaki called “Neputa”:

    Sorry for the links, feel free to remove them if you don’t want them here! 😉

    Suggestions for next week: Nobunaga Oda, Nokogiriyama (Chiba Prefecture), Noh, Noto Peninsula


  2. I’d love to see the Nebuta Matsuri one of these days! A few suggestions for next week include: Nobunaga Oda (samurai general and historic icon of Gifu City), Noboribetsu Onsen (famous onsen in Hokkaido) and Nori (Japanese seaweed).


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