Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Aomori Nebuta Festival

Japanese festivals (called matsuri in Japanese) are wild and crazy, and seem to me like block parties. They are often held in the streets, usually with floats like in a parade. People wear special costumes, and yell and dance around to the beat of loud taiko drums. There is a religious element involved as well, which is my guess as to the source of the fervor and passion at matsuri.
Recently, I went to one of the biggest festivals in Japan.  It is called the Aomori Nebuta festival and is considered one of the three best festivals in the country.
It is famous for the giant floats, or Nebuta, that are lit from the inside.

I arrived in Aomori late in the afternoon, and the city was already crowded with people waiting for the parade to start. Vendors lined the street selling souvenirs, food, and special costumes for anyone to wear while enjoying the festival. I saw some people wearing traditional Japanese kimono, yukata, and I also noticed a number of foreigners. People began putting down their blankets and marking their territory for watching the parade.

The festival was about to begin. The gigantic floats filled the streets but were motionless, as if they were waiting to be woken up. It was almost sunset and the last of the daylight was slowly dimming into darkness as the energy of the crowd rose in anticipation. Then suddenly, one thunderous beat of a taiko drum rippled through the air, then another, and another as the lights inside the gigantic lantern-floats began to illuminate one by one. The drums were beating louder and faster as all the Nebutas became fully lit and were met by the deafening cheering and applause of the crowd. There was so much excitement in the air, and the parade had not even begun to move yet. The drumming went on for about 10 minutes and then stopped just long enough for someone to announce the official start of the festival.

The drumming then resumed and the people surrounding the floats picked them up on their shoulders and proceeded to carry them down the street. Their were no cars to move them. they were all moved by hand. The floats were gigantic and impressive. They were designed to look like samurai. dragons, and even Pokemon. Each one was carried by groups of about 20 or more men. As they proceeded, they spun the Nebuta floats and shifted them from one side of the street to the other making them come to life. Sometimes it seemed as if they would crash into the crowd, but they stopped just in time. Between the floats were groups of people playing flutes, drums, dancing,and shouting RA SE RA! RA SE RA! Not only the people in the parade, but the spectators, the people around me began to jump and dance and chant as well. This, along with the thundering beat of live taiko drums created a very enthusiastic war-like atmosphere. I didn't know what  RA SE RA meant,  but I was just hoping it didn't mean "expel the white devil from our homeland". Just kidding. But seriously, I have never seen Japanese people so charged up like this. It was like they were just about to go off to war!

If you are ever in Japan and have the chance, then I recommend that you definitely stop by and see the Aomori Nebuta festival.

Here is a link to the official home page.

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