The streets of Aomori City come alive in summer with gigantic, vibrantly-colored floats depicting mythical legends and gods during the Nebuta Festival. It’s held annually in Aomori Prefecture‘s capital city Aug. 2 to 7 and is one of the most recognizable festivals in Japan.
The elaborate lantern floats, vividly illuminated from inside, are paraded around each day accompanied by dancers and taiko drums bellowing out thunderous tunes. They leer and sweep over the cheering crowds as teams of volunteers push the floats through the 3-kilometer circuit.
The floats’ design and construction can take an entire year to complete, consisting of dyed washi paper meticulously draped over bamboo or wire frames. Reaching up to five meters tall and nine meters wide, they depict dynamic scenes of Japanese deities and famous mythological and historical figures, along with some more modern characters. Hundreds of light bulbs are strung beneath the dyed paper, bringing them to life dramatically.
Haneto dancers follow behind the floats, cheering and throwing bells at eager audience members while performing their backward skipping dance. The sum of these parts is the most infectiously energetic festival atmosphere in the country.
Become a festival dancer
Everyone is invited to jump into the festival. There’s no need to take any dance lessons — just copy your neighbor — but you will need to wear a haneto dancer’s costume. These can be purchased from local shops for about ¥10,000, or rented for the day for about ¥4,000.
After that, walk up to any of the roped-in pods of dancers, duck under the rope, and throw yourself in! Don’t forget to shout rassera, rassera, the rallying chant of the dancers. Learn how to wear the costume here.
Know before you go
Staying on the free Summer Camping Grounds (青森ねぶたサマーキャンプ場) is a great way to enjoy the festival excitement. While toilets, trash collection and hand washing stations are provided by the local council, the site is community run by campers so be sure to clean up after yourself and separate your trash.
If you don’t want to camp, make sure to book another accommodation well in advance. Hotels fill up rather quickly due to the festival’s huge popularity.
The nighttime parade runs from Aug. 2 to 6, starting at 7:10 p.m. while the final day includes an afternoon parade at 1 p.m. and grand finale fireworks at 7:15 p.m. For further details, check out Aomori’s official guide.