Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE
The Museum Dedicated to Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri
Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE is a museum dedicated to Nebuta festival, located in Aomori city in the north of Tohoku. In early August, huge and colorful paper floats parade in the city to celebrate Tanabata star festival. These skillfully crafted and wonderfully lit up recreations of Japanese folklore’s iconic stories are showcased in a well-designed exhibition.
The festival Nebuta Matsuri was designed Japan’s Intangible Cultural Property in 1980, and its origins date back to more than 300 years ago. Quite naturally, Aomori city became home to its dedicated museum. Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE is open all year round, and if it does not replace the in-person experience of the celebrations, it is a good substitute for those who cannot visit Aomori in early August, endure the summer heat or those who want to watch quietly and without crowding the festival’s beautiful floats.
The first steps in the museum are to discover the creation process of the monumental floats. The parts of their wood framework are stitched together with thin metal rods, so as to give volume to the pictured characters and decors. Then, a set of lights is installed inside the structures. Lastly, the floats are covered with a very thin paper and painted, to become a three dimensional picture that comes alive at night.
Impressive and almost living artworks
The exhibition is renewed each year in August to display four of the floats that participated in the last matsuri. These artworks’ gigantic size impress visitors who can closely admire the details in the drawings. An average float is 9 meters long, 5 meters wide and 7 meters high and receives two large artworks on both sides. The artists have plenty of space to give free rein to their imagination and create large scale scenography.
The characters’ movements and the decor’s elements are particularly well-made. One can almost feel the sunrays’ brightness and the wind blowing from the paper sheets. Even the large warriors seem about to move.
The main artist’s name (in English transcription), the title of the artwork and the description of the depicted Japanese mythology’s passage (in Japanese) are indicated on the floats exhibited in the museum. The best float is selected each year. In 2019 and for the first time, a woman’s artwork was designated best float, a nice highlight for in the past only men could draw and enter the competition.
A foretaste of the festival’s ambiance
To extend the visitors’ immersion in the world of Nebuta Matsuri, several animations take place throughout the day in the museum. Along with short movies projections, music and dance performances traditionally performed during the festival are held.
The most interesting and original activity is the paper pasting workshop on floats under construction for the next festival. The direct involvement in the creation of these monumental artworks makes the experience quite rewarding.
Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE is a must-see when visiting Aomori area and discovering its culture. It is a unique place where curious visitors are invited on a backstage tour of the matsuri.