In summer, you’ll see all kinds of merch with designs inspired by Japan’s big festivals. Hand fans, bottle covers and towels printed with fireworks, or with people dancing, stuff like that.
But not all summer festivals look the same.
Nebuta matsuri – Japan’s festival of lights
The Nebuta festival’s the pride of Aomori prefecture, in northern Japan. It’s a huge summer event held in early August. Oh yeah, and it’s also an ‘Important Intagible Folk Cultural Property’.
How come other festivals don’t get that? Well, you can tell you’re at a matsuri from the food stalls, crowds, and people chanting. But you know when you’re at Nebuta. It looks and feel different, in the good way.
We’ve never been to Aomori – some day! – but we’ve watched the Nebuta parade at the Furusato Matsuri event in Tokyo. Take a look at how it all comes together:
The work that goes into those floats is incredible. If you think they look hard to build, you’re half right. Each bit’s shaped from wire, with lights underneath to make them glow. They’re over 30 feet wide and 16 feet high.
It takes 10+ years to master crafting parade floats. But helping with festival prep only counts as ‘seasonal work’. That leaves people without regular jobs and income in winter. And that’s gotta suck. Every year, younger Nebuta apprentices are quitting – they can’t afford to live.
So, Nebuta Style gives those artists the chance to work and create more stuff during off season. By turning Nebuta into a year-round project, these artists are pushing the festival’s development and survival. They hope it’ll encourage the next gen to keep the craft going.
Is a rainbow float something that floats your boat?
Nebuta’s style is bright, colourful, and with strong lines and shadows. The paint and shading effects go onto bright white Japanese washi paper. Kinda like the contrast on this Nebuta candy.
The fate of all Nebuta floats is to be destroyed after each festival. Mostly, they get torn up (down), burned, and thrown in the sea. Fire and water? We think that’s overkill, but hey.
Even floats that get saved somehow are only kept until the year after. With the work that goes into crafting and decorating them, it’s a real shame to see the floats go. In a way, Nebuta Style items stop the designs from disappearing completely.
Decorate everything that isn’t already taped down
Check out Rakuten or Amazon Japan, and you’ll find lots of Nebuta Style masking tape.
The fun and funky designs are things like dancers, fish, angry faces, and people fighting giant paper lions. All chosen by asking women who love Nebuta matsuri for their opinions on what’s cute. Yep.
Every surface you see can be a matsuri. Tape’s sticky, so you can’t TP a house with it or anything. But they’re great for stationery deco – that’s what we use masking tape for here. Use them to ‘festival up’ a diary, notebook or bullet journal, maybe.
Become one with a Nebuta float, from the neck up
New for 2018: more Nebuta face masks!
We’d expect most people to use a face pack after a festival, to take their makeup off and chill out. With these designs, you can keep the matsuri atmosphere going a bit longer.
If you have housemates, try not to scare them… much.
Pick a dragon, samurai, or a demon, and pat it onto your face. The masks contain collagen, cherry flower extract, hyuralonic acid, and other hydrating ingredients. That’s what your skin needs, after an intense day pulling a 16ft float around (or watching someone else do it).
Take a genuine matsuri souvenir home
‘KAKERA’ lamps are meant to give you flashbacks to the climax of the Nebuta festival.
They’re not just designed to look like the floats – they’re made from floats. Recycled paper, if you wanna put it that way. And that makes them limited edition by default. At most, 300 lamps can be made from 1 Nebuta, and they’re all numbered.
The word ‘kakera’ (欠片) means ‘piece/fragment’ in Japanese. The best name, for lamps that have a piece of Nebuta float at their heart. Every item description’s got the year that paper covered a parade float.