8/2/19 – Aomori and the Nebuta Festival

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

Today was the day of the Nebuta Festival! The Nebuta Festival is a Japanese summer festival where people from all over the country gather in Aomori to watch a few days of celebration and parades. Our cruise was centered on this entire festival, so everybody on the ship was full of excitement!

My family spent the morning and afternoon just walking around the city of Aomori. There weren’t many attraction spots besides an apple themed pyramid building thing and the Nebuta museum. However, we got to see people setting up for the festival by laying tape down on the ground and putting out stands to sell food, drinks, and bells. Aomori and the region around it are very well known for its garlic and apples. We passed by a grocery store, and the garlic was bigger than a fist.

I don’t know where I heard that Aomori was known for miso ramen, but I was WRONG and misled my family into thinking it was so we were blindly hunting for miso ramen for a solid hour in the burning heat. A person at the visitor’s center directed us to a sardine ramen place which was not miso ramen but still ramen. Upon later research, I found out the Aomori is known for one particular shop that sells a special miso ramen called the miso curry milk ramen, and it was only four blocks from the sardine ramen place. However, my family was hungry and I didn’t want to drag them across the city any further since it was around 98 degrees Fahrenheit. We settled for the sardine ramen shop, and could not figure out the ordering machine at all!

To clarify, a lot of restaurants in Japan have a machine ordering system where you go to a machine, insert cash or a credit card (normally cash), select the item you want, and then a ticket comes out along with your change. You then give the ticket to the host or hostess and then they seat you.

This was the case with the sardine ramen place. The main issue (and still kind of the main issue for me in general here) was that we couldn’t read Japanese, and the English setting of the machine just made no sense whatsoever. Luckily, we used pictures and common sense to break the language barrier and get our noodles.

Let me just tell you right now that I do not like sardines.

When I realized that the ramen shop was a sardine ramen shop when we first got there, I took like five steps back and away from the shop because the smell of sardines was so potent and infiltrated every single sense that I have (which unfortunately does not include common sense. The previously mentioned common sense was mostly my parents). However, traveling is all about being adventurous and this restaurant had received many awards, so I just thought, “why not?”

BOY. I stand by my hatred of sardines, especially a sardine ramen broth. I was inhaling sardine steam the entire meal, and I normally can’t stand very strong fishy smells. I will commend the restaurant, though, because those were the best ramen noodles I’ve ever had. I’m not a fan of the straight, white ramen noodles. I like the yellow, wavy ones because they’re generally chewier and absorb the broth more. These noodles at the sardine ramen place were so perfectly cooked that they actually made me enjoy the meal. The only bad part was the sardine taste and smell and feel and sound and everything and all of the above sardines.

*sardine sound*

We walked back to the ship after lunch and bought a souvenir along the way. My mom likes to buy small items from every place we visit to hang on our Christmas tree. No two ornaments look alike 🙂 I proudly bought some socks that look like fish but have ears. We don’t question the socks.

We just relaxed back on the ship for an hour and a half, and then we met up with the rest of our extended family to get with our tour group and head back onshore to see the Nebuta festival!

Do you want to know another fun thing that happened?

We booked our tour in Japanese! And we couldn’t understand a thing the tour guide was saying!

Luckily this wasn’t a guided tour, and the purpose of the entire “tour” was just so that we’d have reserved seats for the parade. We still couldn’t really understand what the tour guide was saying on the bus, though, so I missed all the information about what we were supposed to chant during the festival. I loved her enthusiasm though. She did some incredible hand gestures to try to help us understand, and her voice inflection in general was quite entertaining.

The festival started right at 7PM, but before that, we could see everyone getting ready as we walked to our seats. There were people of all ages: high school boys dressed in blue costumes, middle aged women dressed in the traditional Nebuta gown, older men dressed in black with their drumsticks in their hands, and little children in mini kimonos parading around with bells.

I was curious to see how everyone in the parade would know when to start playing their music at the same time, but as always, Japan never fails to amaze me with creativity. The whole Nebuta festival was kicked off right at 7PM with a single firework in the sky, and immediately the entire street lit up with paper floats and musicians playing large drums, flutes, and cymbals. Everyone was yelling the same phrase in the same rhythm and it seemed like the entire parade was centered on that phrase. I’ll get to that later, though.

The major attraction of this Nebuta festival was the gorgeous paper floats. They were carried by a bunch of men, and I felt sorry for them because they were hunched over the entire time while carrying the float. They looked like they were having fun, though! The paper floats lit up, so the colors radiated and made me so happy. I could kind of tell that the floats were depicting a story because there were consistent paintings of the face of a devilish creature amid the swirling colors. I didn’t know exactly who he was, though.

When we got back to the boat, my grandpa sat us all down and told us the story behind the Nebuta festival. Even though he is Taiwanese, he grew up during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan so he speaks fluent (and very eloquent hehe) Japanese and understands the culture quite well. My Japanese side actually comes from my grandma who was born and grew up in Alberta, Canada, so our whole family background is a bit jumbled up.

As my grandpa always says, “back in the good old days” there was a war between the good and bad and the good side was trying to defeat an undefeatable enemy. This enemy was a devil who never came outside. The good people went to seek help and learned that the devil was very curious. They decided that they could use that to their advantage.

The good side played the flute for the devil, and the devil loved it so much that he not only came outside, but also fell asleep to the music. While he was sleeping, the good people went around and stabbed the devil in the back, killing him.

It’s because of this legend that the paper floats depict the devil in his different forms and the people in the parade play the flute, drums, and cymbals. The phrase that the crowd and performers chant in Japanese actually means “don’t sleep”, as it relates to the devil.

I’m so happy I got to see this festival in full action. I swear that there were more people performing in the parade than actually watching, and it was so cute to see people of all age groups get together to celebrate one unitary legend.

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