The evening promised to be an adventure when I learned what the Nebuta Festival was all about. The term “nebuta” refers to the beautiful 3 dimensional lantern floats made to resemble human figures, constructed of paper and illuminated from within. There are several possibilities regarding the origin of the Nebuta Festival, the original and biggest festival held in Aomori City in northern Japan (see link).
Our good friend and unofficial tour guide, Danny, told us that the festival was not far – just a 20-minute train ride to Tachikawa and that the festival was “near” the station. Hubby and I had to laugh because we know that our definition of “near” and Danny’s definition of “near” are not quite the same. So, of course we wore our “sensible shoes” in preparation for quite a walk and our friend Danny did not disappoint. We walked to the nearby town/city of Kunitachi, which was a little less than a mile from the train station and the walk was actually quite fun. I am still quite enthralled with the culture, the people, the architecture, the food and so the walk provided the perfect opportunity to take it all in.
Entering the area of the street barricaded for the parade, white tents were set up with vendors selling yakitori, frozen treats, sodas, beer and other alcoholic beverages. I could smell meat grilling on open fire cookers and so I followed my nose to a tent where three young men were cooking yakitori. I first took a picture, unnoticed. Then when one of them saw me provided the “peace sign pose” (that is almost mandatory when you get your picture taken in Japan). He then nudged his co-worker and they gave me a thumbs-up sign. I laughed, took their picture and then they called me over to their booth and gave me 2 Yakitori -free – saying “present!” Wow!
The curbs were lined with people staking out their claim for a first row seat and of course those “seats” were all taken. We found a spot where we were on the second row. We could see the first float in position a block or two down the street, but it was not illuminated yet – 15 minutes until “show time.”
Many children and adults wore colorful yakata, a lightweight kimono and others wore colorful feather and sequin covered costumes. Dancers performed to a tune from the movie “Frozen” as the sidewalks became more and more crowded. A collective “ahhh” went up as the first float was illuminated!
Slowly, slowly the parade began moving toward us as children were hoisted on shoulders and people moved from the street to the sidewalks. As the first float came closer, it was so beautiful it reminded me of stained glass – bright and beautiful…and big. The characters were designed to be warrior dolls some of which reminded me of Kabuki. Several floats passed and then the “music float” approached and stopped right in front of us. Our friend Rick commented “prime real estate” and I couldn’t have agreed more – how lucky we were. The sounds of Taiko drums, flutes and miniature hand cymbals filled the air as groups colorfully costume-clad folks danced joyfully in the street. The floats began to move again as we saw one fabulous one after another. As the parade concluded, we headed to the train station with our minds full of nebuta and wonderful memories!