When I was planning for my summer holiday in Japan, the four most important things on the checklist were:

  • Big Bang Anniversary Concert in Osaka (29th July)
  • Inakadate Rice Paddy Art (1st August)
  • Aomori Nebuta Festival (2nd August)
  • Nagaoka Fireworks Show (3rd August)

“Man proposes, God disposes”. Only after I had arrived at Kansai International Airport (KIX), Osamu-san told me that  he was going to Miyagi for some meetings and couldn’t meet me during the weekend. Therefore the whole itinerary had to be sadly adjusted with the fireworks show left out and Aomori Nebuta Festival replaced by Hirosaki Neputa Festival.

Now I realised, in hindsight, that going to Hirosaki was not a bad choice at all when the city was indeed one of the filming locations of Nice Guy (a K-Drama released in 2012). Remember the matsuri in Episode 6 where Song Joong Ki and Moon Chae Won were having a date? That was Hirosaki Neputa. And their kiss scene on the red bridge? Well, that was in front of Hirosaki Castle.

The giant lanterns were right behind them!

The giant lanterns were right behind them!

Around 2PM, I arrived at Hirosaki Station. The 100-yen loop bus tickets were all sold out and most of the roads were blocked for festival preparation therefore I decided to walk for 30 minutes to the centre.  That was when it started to rain so heavily. People were rushing to cover the lanterns with huge nylon sheets, matsuri viewer seats on the pavement all got wet. Not bringing along any umbrella or poncho, I quickly took shelter from the rain in a convenience store and checked weather forecast for the night, hoping that the festival could continue to happen as planned.

“Easy come easy go”, after one hour waiting I was relieved to realise that Tohoku region’s rain was exactly the same with Saigon’s. The sun came out again and people poured into the streets to clean up the dirts and get things ready for the festival.

Motivation talk before unwrapping the nylon sheets covered the lanterns during the rain

Motivation talk before unwrapping the nylon sheets covered the lanterns during the rain

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People sitting on the pavement waiting for the festival to start

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The opening ceremony of the festival

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An important man was giving a speech

According to Japan National Tourism Organisation, the Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri is characterized by the 60 small and large fan-shaped neputa with pictures depicted from ‘Sangokushi’ or ‘Three Kingdom Saga’ and ‘Suikoden’ or ‘Outlaws of the Marsh,’ both of which are heroic legends handed down in China.

What exactly is a neputa? In short, it is a giant lantern. Today, light bulbs are used inside the giant statues but in the past, they were lit by candlelight.

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All lanterns are marked with number (marching order I think)

It was absolutely free to join the festival, however if you want to have a comfortable seat to enjoy cold beers and finger foods, tickets could be bought in advance with the price of 1,800 yen (~360,000đ). As a budget traveler, I preferred to save the money by standing for one hour and walking along with the performers for one hour. The festival was from 1 – 7 August and there were 3 different courses. I attended the first day so the right map to use was Dotemachi course.

Matsuri Course (the map was free to collect from Tourist Info Center)

Matsuri Course (the map was free to collect from Tourist Info Center)

In 2015 when I was volunteering in Wazuka tea town, I had the chance to join Uji Tea Festival (organised on the first Sunday of October) and Wazuka Chagenkyo Matsuri (organised on the first weekend of November). However both of them were not as big as this Hirosaki Neputa Festival and the atmosphere was much less exciting.

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The very first lantern starting its march (the sky was not so dark at 7pm)

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Close-up view of the second lantern

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The backside of a lantern (the gate was in the middle I guess)

The average height of one lantern was 3 metres which already left me a strong impression. However, later I get to know that the size of the lanterns in the festival is nothing compared to the tachi-neputa of Goshogawara festival (also in Aomori prefecture), the gigantic floats rise to some 22 meters high and can weigh up to 17 tons.

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There were two men on top of every lantern, I don’t know what they were doing there though.

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Small kids were marching together with the lanterns. There were even some babies.

While buying coffee latte from Lawson I came across a book that collected all lantern designs and the explanation behind each design. Unfortunately my credit card was left in the hotel and the remaining cash was far from being enough. It was even more upset to find out later that the book did not have any digital version *sobbing*.

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Basically I just need to stand at the same spot to see all the lanterns passing by.

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These designs were all characters from Chinese literature.

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When marching through the streets, people shouted “Yaa ya do!”

The festival finished at 9pm. I enjoyed a bowl of ramen in a restaurant near the station then walked back to the hotel in satisfaction. I guess it would be several years  until the day I have the chance to go back to Aomori during summer time for the other famous two – Aomori Nebuta Festival and Goshogawara Tachineputa Festival.

But no worries time does fly.