This huge festival, normally held annually but cancelled in 2020 for obvious reasons, features enormous and wonderful lighted floats at which noted artists work bringing classic scenes to magical life for an enormous parade, party and the Haneto dance anyone can join -- if you can get your hands on the right yukata, which doesn't seem to be too hard!
Its origins are uncertain, but since it's held in early August, prime farming time, it's thought it's a syncretion of the Tanabata Festival (when a couple turned into stars by angry parents are allowed to meet once a year, mid-summer, to renew their love, usually commemorated with a party and fireworks) and the Nemuri Nagashi, a festival originating in the need to ward off drowsiness during the busiest of the farming season. Why having a gigantic and complicated party during the middle of that time would help farmers stay awake doesn't make much sense to me -- you'd think everybody would sleep for days from the preparation, the exertion and the party's aftereffects -- but apparently a festival was just what everybody needed to renew themselves for the rigors of the harvest season.
The Nebuta Wa-Rasse Museum is just outside Aomori station, and while there is another very interesting (to me, anyway) museum near Shin-Aomori, it was cold and damp and that one's largely a recreation of a Jomon period village, so the Nebuta Wa-Rasse Museum sounded like a better bet for a winter day.
And it was! This is so much fun! I hope that someday I can attend the actual festival, grab a yukata of the correct pattern and join the two million people who come, at least some of them, to dance in the streets! Wa-Rasse is the chant everybody cries as they carry the floats through the streets. It seems to have no real meaning, except to keep rhythm, but as the videos of parades past show, it's chanted loudly and with great enthusiasm.
At the entrance, a model of one of the floats, giving a preview of what's within.
In this display, you can can play with light effects to make this face turn into whatever you want, something the actual artists who conceive of these magnificent floats, no doubt appreciate.
Sketches and a mock-up of one of the faces used in the floats.
Another example of one of the characters used in the classic multi-dimensional scenes recreated by some truly amazing artists!
Just the lighted faces alone are fantastic.
Then you see several of the real floats, which are on rotating display. See the person, lower right, for scale. Every angle has different characters. The scenes are detailed and huge, with something new everywhere you look.
The biggest taiko I've ever seen. It's about 7 feet in diameter. Yes, this appears in the festival with a group of six taiko not quite this large. That'll wake you up! Unfortunately, because of contagion issues, there's no demonstration and you can't play the drums, but I understand sometimes you can hear the experts and try your hand yourself. Oh, YES!
This was a close as I could get to one character off one float. Every single inch contributes to the stories from folklore, mythology and theater the floats tell.
The dragon's in there. Somewhere.
Look carefully. This shows the internal structure -- bamboo -- of the figures on the float, the lighting arrangements, how the paper covers the structure and how it is ultimately painted. There are times when it's possible to join in the construction for brief periods. I don't know how much help the visitors provide during these hands-on demonstrations, but I'm sure it's great fun.
Another character from another float. They are so multifaceted and complex it's hard to take them in.
This hall contained "portraits" and biographies of the notable artists who design and supervise the construction of these remarkable objects. Twenty appear every year. Only six are displayed at any given time.
This much smaller float comes as something of a relief -- they are overwhelming. One can only imagine them parading through the streets on a hot summer night! The videos will hold your attention for hours and make you want to join in!
Another angle of the artist's wall.
From the Hall of Fame -- only six artists have been given the title of Master. There ARE videos of the parade, the dancing and the construction process, all of which are fascinating. I could have spent hours more there than I had.
Aomori is all about apples, and next door to this museum is the A-Factory, where cider is made (closed to visitors now) and several places I recognized from Washington as apple storage and shipping facilities. This museum and Aomori station are right on the docks, so I bet these apples travel farther than Japan. In the museum shop you can buy almost every apple product imaginable but no apples, except by the case. You can, though, get snow-apple sake. So I did, and it was very good! It STILL hadn't started snowing, although the warnings increased in ferocity and threat level. Meters of the white stuff -- but not yet!
Many places sell individual servings of local sake in little juice glasses featuring art connected with the local product or event. Since I have a growing collection of those, I couldn't resist this one. This sake is good, too.
Finally, the next morning, as I prepared to leave Aomori for Tokyo on my third and last day of travel on my 3-day Tohoku pass, it started to snow. There was a small park right by my hotel. I don't know if you can see it, but I swear snow was falling in this picture.
This is also from the park. I don't know what those posts are meant to be, besides pretty, but you can see the snow a lot better. Yes! It finally happened!
And here, on the Shinkansen, as I prepared to leave Aomori behind, it's clearly and obviously snowing. In a big way. Everywhere in Japan, I gather, except the Kanto Plain, which is where Tokyo is, and where I live.
But I did see it snow! And JR East, plus the cities of Akita and Aomori, surely gave me serious value for my money. Now we're back to STAY THE HECK AT HOME as the New Year Holidays enter full swing. We know the vaccines are coming and Japan, once it approves them, will distribute them quickly and at no cost through its highly efficient and truly excellent National Health system. I think everyone has so much confidence in this that they're jumping the gun, to the point where Gov. Koike is nearly at the point of asking Prime Minister Soga to declare another State of Emergency so she can shut much of Tokyo down.
I purposefully scheduled this little trip to avoid the New Year's Holiday crowds, and I'm glad I did. I got a fantastically fun little trip before I am once again confined to quarters -- with a book to rewrite! And that I will enjoy.
I hope you've enjoyed my telling of my trip even half as much as I did doing it!