Aomori Lanterns

IMG_6657 We visited Aomori at a quiet time in the year. It was still summer, but well past the cherry blossom season that sees a huge influx of visitors to the region. We came to the city with the goal of seeing the huge floats that are used in the Nebuta Festival every year. IMG_6881

The festival takes place at the start of August and we were there way too early for that. Fortunately, there’s a museum open year round that showcases the floats themselves. It doesn’t have the same atmosphere as thousands of people chanting and dancing but the visuals were stunning.

IMG_6753

The tradition of Nebuta runs murkily into the past, where legend and hearsay mix, focused on military tactics and victories. If there is a factual origin story it’s likely long gone by now and all that remains are the floats themselves. The combat-related story is fairly clear in the statues : grimaced-faced men and gods with wild hair point fierce, decorated weaponry at beasts and demons and other foes. Fire erupts where they clash, the fingers of the sea rush in to take their toll, nature in its most violent forms is represented.

IMG_6827
IMG_6793 IMG_6808

IMG_6800

They’re giant, nine by eight meter platforms with a five meter statue mounted on top. Some of them weigh as much as four tons. This is incredible because, when you look at how the statues are constructed you realize exactly how many pieces of art there are in any of the large displays.

IMG_6841

The lantern statues were traditionally made of bamboo frames with painted paper panels and actual burning lanterns illuminating the artwork. This was cause for the floats going up in flames at an alarming rate, so the introduction of wire frames and modern lightbulbs was a huge improvement.

IMG_6811

The wires are bent into shape and tied together, the paper panels are glued on and painted, and the internal lighting is hooked up. Making these floats is a task for many people, usually volunteers and amateur painters from the area.

IMG_6895

IMG_6803

Along with the fury and elements present in many of the floats, there are minor, whimsical aspects that – if I knew more about the symbols involved – might add a layer of depth to the stunning display.

IMG_6788

In recent times there seems to have been a movement towards master makers, professional float crafters who study and master this as a craft. It was heartening to see that there were several women represented in the group. Their photos and workshops were on display, along with an example of each artist’s work. The theme to this display was the face – fierce, expressive, and imposing.

IMG_6940 IMG_6931
IMG_6763 IMG_6767

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s