MIDSUMMER NIGHTS' REVELRY
Anyone Can Join the Fun at Aomori's Nebuta Festival (July 22, 2003)
The Nebuta Festival in the northern city of Aomori is in a class by itself. From August
2 to 7 every year, the city comes alive as huge illuminated floats are paraded
through the streets accompanied by thousands of haneto
(jumping) dancers chanting, "Rasse-Rah, Rasse-Rah!"
|Top: Nebuta; Above: Haneto (Aomori Tourism and Convention Association)
Aomori is a city of 290,000. But for one week in early August, it swells to 3.5 million
as sightseers from around the country gather at the northern tip of Japan's main
island, Honshu, to experience the explosion of energy during the height of the
city's short summer. Visitors hoping to reserve a room at a local hotel or inn
during the festival must do so more than 10 months in advance.
The floats, called nebuta, are huge colorful lanterns
in the shape of famous samurai warriors and kabuki characters. Some 20 floats
are built each year from bamboo and wire frames and covered with washi
paper. When the approximately 800 light bulbs inside each nebuta
are lit as evening approaches, the floats become a dazzling spectacle.
As darkness deepens and the brightness of the floats intensifies, a drum is sounded,
stirring the milling dancers into action. Young people begin jumping as shouts
of "Rasse-Rah!" fill the streets, sweeping spectators into the excitement.
|Hiking in the Hakkoda Mountains (Aomori Tourism and Convention Association)
Anyone can become a haneto. All that is required is
a costume consisting of a woven hat decorated with flowers and a yukata
(summer kimono) whose sleeves have been tucked up with cord. The outfit sells
for about ¥10,000 ($83 at ¥120 to the dollar) at local department stores,
or it can be rented for around ¥4,000 ($33). Another important condition is
that one be healthy enough to jump continuously for the length of the 3-kilometer
Honshu's Northernmost Prefecture
Aomori has historically prospered as a regional transportation hub. Ferry service
between Aomori and Hakodate on the northern island of Hokkaido began in 1873,
and Aomori Station opened in 1891 to link the city by rail to other parts of Honshu.
As the northernmost outpost on Honshu, Aomori was a key relay point for traffic
with Hokkaido. The Seikan Tunnel - the world's longest - opened to traffic in
1988 after undergoing more than 20 years of construction, and the ferry service
consequently was terminated after an illustrious 80-year history.
A recent addition to Aomori's many attractions is the prehistoric ruins at Sannai
Maruyama. The large-scale ruins, dating back 4,000 to 5,500 years to the Jomon
period, were discovered during construction of a sports park in 1992. Of particular
archeological significance were the remnants of six huge pillars, suggesting the
existence of a mammoth structure. The site is believed to have been a locus of
power during the early and middle Jomon period. Today, it is a popular park featuring
restored prehistoric homes and artifacts.
|The Sukayu hot spring resort (Aomori Tourism and Convention Association)
The Shirakami Mountains
spanning southwestern Aomori Prefecture and northwestern Akita Prefecture were
designated a World Natural Heritage site in 1993 for the district's highly unique
ecosystem. The area contains one of the world's largest virgin beech forests,
calling to mind the kind of life the hunting tribes of the Jomon period must have
Aomori Prefecture is blessed with rich and unspoiled nature. Lake Towada in the
south was created some 200,000 years ago by volcanic activity. The lake boasts
one of the highest degrees of transparency in Japan, and its color is a hauntingly
shimmering blue. In deep autumn, the reflection of the surrounding foliage makes
for a grand symphony of brilliant colors.
The Oirase River that flows out of Lake Towada through
a picturesque gorge is at times very gentle and at others very dynamic. There
is a hiking trail along the 15-kilometer length of the river allowing visitors
to enjoy the scenic beauty without climbing gear. The variety of terrain is another
treat, as there are 14 waterfalls along the way, including the Kumoi Falls measuring
over 20 meters high.
To the north of Lake Towada are the Hakkoda Mountains comprising some 16 peaks,
the largest of which is the 1,585-meter Odake. Being a volcanic region, there
are many renowned and venerable hot spring resorts as well, including those at
Sukayu and Sarukura. The Tashirotai Marsh is a rich repository of swampland plants,
which can be viewed by following a looping footpath that takes one hour to complete.
The Shimokita Peninsula that juts out into Mutsu Bay to the north of Aomori City
is home to virgin forests and other natural treasures. Near the tip of the peninsula
is Osorezan, a sulfur-fuming mountain where the souls of the dead are believed to congregate.
There, female shamans called itako serve as mediums
enabling people to communicate with deceased family members. The "channeling"
takes place only during the grand festival from July 20 to 24 each year and an
autumnal observance, which will be held on October 11 to 13 this year.
Last but not least of Aomori's attractions is the traditional folk music of the
Tsugaru district. The Tsugaru
jamisen was originally performed by strolling
musicians who played door to door soliciting money. The shamisen
used is larger than that for other musical styles, and a great deal of improvisation
is required. The Tsugaru jamisen has a bluesy feel
and is becoming very popular around the nation among young people. While there
are live performances in Tokyo in clubs and concert halls, the Tsugaru jamisen
is best heard on its home ground in Aomori Prefecture.
Related Web Sites
"Rasse-Rah, Rasse-Rah!" in The Virtual Museum of Japanese Arts
"Sannai Maruyama" in Japan Atlas
"Shirakami Mountains" in Japan Atlas
Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
DANCING IN THE STREETS
(August 13, 2003)
RITES OF SUMMER
(June 27, 2003)
(June 2, 2003)
YOU GOTTA HAVE A YUKATA!
(August 29, 2002)
(March 25, 2002)