Nebuta Museum WA RASSE

This is my second visit to Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE. It is a facility that introduces the history and charms of the Aomori Nebuta Festival. Every year the best floats from the Nebuta Festival – which runs between 2-7 of August, are exhibited at the facility for the next 12 months. So, in a way no two visits to the Nebuta House will ever be the same.

I have written an in-depth article on the nuances of the Nebuta festival and how the museum facilitates the unique tradition in the Aomori prefecture. You can more about it here.

For this article I will be focusing more on the beautiful architecture of the unique building.

Architecture style of Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE

Nebuta House (Nebuta-no-ie Warasse) is a museum and center for creative culture in the Northern Japanese city of Aomori inspired by the craftsmanship and spirit of the Nebuta Matsuri. The festival, one of Japan’s largest, is a form of storytelling during which heroes, demons and animals from history and myth come to life as large-scale paper lanterns illuminated from within.

The first ideas of a cultural facility was initiated by Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen, who had previously worked closely with the city of Aomori to address the it’s evolving needs. In 2002, they had helped build the Aomori Lantern Houses and Community Center. The aim of that project was to create a lively, culture oriented space with the intent of revitalizing the city scape.

The partners identified the cultural importance of the Nebuta festival as one of the biggest draws of the prefecture. After selecting a new site for the awarded project – located adjacent to the JR Aomori train station, they proposed a building dedicated to preserving and enriching the festival’s heritage.

Their proposal was received with initial hesitation. The celebration itself was such a large, living part of the city that a museum didn’t seem essential. But after continued insistence from Forsythe and MacAllen, the local government realised that despite the festivals scale, there were hardly any lasting artifacts or methods of educating tourists about the festival.

In 2011, with assistance of the Kajima – Fujimoto – Kurahashi Construction JV, construction was completed on the unique, sculptural building – resting along the waterfront of Aomori City.

On first appearance the museum exterior looks like giant steel ribbons, parted like curtains to welcome visitors. These ribbons of steel enamel-coated in deep red, envelop the structure, creating a shifting pattern of light and shadow that separates exterior, everyday life from the otherworldly realm within. The design is said to have been inspired by the paper lanterns. The architects copied the movements of strips of paper caught in the breeze to generate the twists of each ribbon on the museum’s exterior.

For each steel ribbon, the bottom was set to a unique and specific angle, with thought to how sunlight would permeate the ribbons as it moved throughout the day, while the top part of each ribbon remained parallel to the building. These twists create openings that let in light and lead into a sheltered passageway between the ribbons and the glazed inner facade.

Dring fall the yellow Ginkgo trees look fabulous against the red nebuta museum

In all, the building is encased in 820 steel ribbons, 12 m tall, encircling the glass-and-steel structure inside. The exposed round steel columns are as slender as possible, giving the structure a feeling of physical lightness. The floor to ceiling window mullions are black, galvanized solid steel and fastened to the steel structure of slender columns to contribute structural support to the steel ribbon screen of the façade.

Enough with the boring stuff! Lets now enter the museum.

Exhibits from Nebuta Matsuri 2018

Aomori Nebuta House is a museum that houses and honours heroes and demons that are handcrafted into luminous floats for the Nebuta festival. Each year the five best Nebuta are selected for their creative artistry and craftsmanship and displayed at the Nebuta Wa-Rasse museum.

The interior is black, like a black box theatre. The abstraction of materiality, detail and colouring of the building allow visitors an intimate focus on the exhibits. The ground floor of the complex features a restaurant and a well stocked museum shop selling all sorts of local souvenirs and food. To witness the nebuta floats, take the stairs to the next floor.

Nebuta Tunnel

The tour starts with the Nebuta Tunnel. Along the red corridor lined with photos and images from the Nebuta Matsuri’s 300 year history, you can learn how the techniques and styles used in creating the floats has changed over the years.

Just beyond the Nebuta Tunnel, lanterns in the shape of red goldfish, another symbol of the festival, hang along the corridor where the recorded sounds of taiko drums, flutes, and voices play. These luminous Nebuta appear suspended in the darkness of the corridor, their vibrant colours reflected in the rippled, water-like floor. This is a subtle analogy to the last day of the festival when most of the Nebuta are set out to float on the sea.

One the walls along this corridor. the museum exhibits dioramas, drawings, photographs and artifacts that grant a deeper understanding of the unique culture and its evolution over time.

Aomori Nebuta Exhibit Hall

The Nebuta are creatures of light, and their home was designed as a realm of darkness. As you wind your way beyond the galleries and educational displays, you will find yourself in a dimly lit hall where you will be confronted by the Nebuta themselves.

There are no barriers, you can go as close as you want up to the paper structures with their expressive facial features and delicate detailing. In the darkened main hall of the museum these were five floats from this years festival.

I walked around the floats, taking pictures and admiring the craftsmanship that went into their construction. The floats reminds me of the “Durga Festival” we have back in my home town of Kolkata. Every year the deity is created using mud in numerous life-sized styles only to be submerged in to the Ganges after the festival ends.

A platform lies in one corner of the Hall, used for occasional performances by “Haneto” dancers. I have not been lucky enough be around during one of their dances. I would love to see them demonstrate the unique Nebuta Matsuri dance with taiko drums and flutes.

If you want to check out the nebuta floats from 2016, click here.


Nebuta is a living part of Aomori, and it continues to grow as an art form as individual artists bring their own style and innovations to the tradition. The Nebuta Warasse museum attempts to capture this spirit of the festival and gives visitors a teaser of its lively atmosphere, history and traditions.

The creation of the building dedicated to Nebuta allows people like me to visit Aomori at other times of year and yet experience the skillful craft of the artists that are the backbone of such an immersive festival.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I continue to explore the lovely Aomori waterfront.

How to access Nebuta Warasse Museum

The Nebuta Warasse is about a five minute walk north of JR Aomori Station.

Admission price of tickets

Adults: ¥600

On what days is the museum closed?

31st December-1st January (whole facility is closed)
9th-10th August (The museum is closed for the changing of the floats on display. The shop and restaurant are open for business as usual.)

Warrior dolls of Aomori Nebuta Museum

Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is one of the largest Japanese festivals in the Tōhoku region. It is held every year at the beginning of August. Unfortunately I missed it by a whisker. However there is still a ray of hope for people like us if you visit Aomori during a different period of time, you can still enjoy a part of its beauty at the Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum.

The Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum in Aomori showcases some of the most spectacular Nebuta Floats from Aomori’s annual Nebuta Matsuri. The museum is a great place to learn about the world-famous festival and everything Nebuta. It walks the visitors through the history of Nebuta and it’s importance to Aomori City.

I took the early morning 6 am Komachi Shinkansen from Akita to Morioka and from there switched to the Hayabusa Shinkansen to Aomori. It took me about 3 hours for the full ride and I reached Aomori at 9.30 am. The museum is located at a short walk from the JR Aomori Station and opens at 8:30 am in the morning.

I bought my ticket at the admission booth for ‎¥600. The ground floor does not contain many exhibits and the space is taken up by a quaint restaurant and a few souvenir shops. Here, one can enjoy views of Mutsu Bay as they feast upon delicious seafood dishes prepared at Restaurant Den.

Up on the first floor I went past a red hallway, the walls adorned with photos and images from the Nebuta Matsuri’s 400 year history.

Beyond the hallways I found myself in a large, dimly lit hall where the colorful, brightly illuminated award-winning parade floats from this year’s festival were on display in all their splendor. These are replaced each year with new winners from that year. I walked around each of the floats admiring the craftsmanship that went into their construction.

A large screen on the wall displayed scenes from the just finished festival. In one of the corners of the hall, smaller components of the floats in wire frames were displayed on stands that visitors could touch and feel.

History of Nebuta Festival in Aomori

Nebuta Floats are generally created based on scenes from Kabuki, Japanese history and mythology or some popular current affairs. The Aomori Nebuta Festival is one of Japan’s most colorful festivals but it has had a rather chequered history. The festival began in the 1600’s during the Edo period and has been banned at various times in yesteryear mainly due to the fire hazard it represented during those times when candles were used to light the paper floats. Nowadays these floats make use of electric bulbs for illumination.

The floats themselves are believed to be the result of an amalgamation of several key elements in the Nara Period (710-794): ancient Tsugaru traditions, dolls, insect-repelling torches, the sending off of ancestral spirits, and the aforementioned Tanabata Matsuri. All of these customs were brought together in the form of lanterns, at a time when the use of paper, bamboo, and candles was becoming increasingly common in society. The lanterns would eventually come to depict human figures – the original Nebuta Matsuri floats.

The word Nebuta finds its roots in the Tanabata Matsuri. The lanterns that appeared during the festival processions were known by this name, and on the actual night of Tanabata itself (July 7), they were floated down rivers or the sea, serving as both a cleansing ritual and a prayer for good health. This custom was called nebuta-nagashi, and can be seen today in the form of Aomori Nebuta maritime displays.

Many contemporary Nebuta floats depict kabuki actors – a custom which most likely began in the Bunka Period (1804-1818), when folk art was at its peak. In the past, the nebuta were quite smaller and were created in every alley. In those times the festival was more of a personal enjoyment. A festive atmosphere filled the entire town, from one corner to the next. Nebuta floats grew even larger as Japan entered the Meiji Period (1868-1912). One particular Nebuta from Hamamachi in 1871 is said to have been about 20 meters tall (the reasons for which are unknown) and carried by a hundred people. During recent years however, both the schedule and course are set and the main purpose is to have a spectacular show, showcasing the floats to festival goers.

The incredible color, intricacy and the sheer size of the floats is mind-blowing. The Nebuta floats reminded my of the similar spirit during the celebration of goddess Durga in my hometown of Kolkata.

While the Nebuta Festival in Aomori is the biggest in the area, there are many other Nebuta festivals around. So when visiting Aomori during festival time, make sure to check out the festivals in the small towns, too. Every town has its own way of building these floats. The floats in Aomori are wide, the ones in Hirosaki they are not so wide, but higher. There are some floats that also have movable parts.

As I moved on towards the exit, there is a wall adorned with many Nebuta faces, all looking down on me with extreme fierceness.

It was time for me to head out towards my next stop at Yamadera Temple. Nebuta Festival is held every year in early August, but for those who can’t make it to the festival itself, Nebuta Museum Wa Rasse offers a glimpse into the experience all year-round. The museum is a fantastic place to see the floats live and up close without having to jostle for a place in the festival streets. On weekends and holidays, there are occasional performances by “Haneto” dancers who demonstrate the unique Nebuta Matsuri dance accompanied by live music played on Taiko drums and flutes. If you are in Aomori, I highly recommend a visit to the Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum.

Tanabata Festival at Ogawa River

Mani & I go to the banks of the Ogawa River to celebrate Tanabata Festival where 50,000 blue led lights are floated along the Ogawa River. Tanabata celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi, represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively. According to legend, the Amanogawa (Milky Way) separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of July.

Lights of NaraRurie

Nara Rurie, a winter illumination festival is celebrated in early spring in Nara. The Park is covered in a beautiful world of azure blue, believed to usher happiness into everyone’s lives. The deep blue Rurie, has been held sacred as a supreme color by the Japanese people since being introduced via the Silk Road. This year Nara Rurie marks its 5th anniversary.

Once I started to discover Nara, the first thing that impressed me about this city is its amazing historical highlights. Nara is an ancient city with thousands of historic treasures. It is most noted for the many ancient Japanese Buddhist buildings and artifacts in and around the city, including the Seven Great Temples.

Nara was established as Japan’s capital in 710 CE by Empress Gemmei, and remained so for another 80 years. But for a small duration of 5 years(740-745), when the capital was moved elsewhere, it emerged as the fountainhead of Japanese culture. During this period Nara enjoyed great prosperity. The city was heavily influenced by the Chinese, so much that it was remodeled after the Chinese city of Chang’an. During the time of Emperor Shomu, who very much patronized the Chinese, the Japanese upper classes adopted Chinese written system and the religion of Buddhism. The historic monuments of ancient Nara that still stand, bear witness to the evolution of Japanese architecture and vividly illustrates the cultural evolution during that time. The city’s Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and the excavated remains of the great Imperial Palace provide a vivid picture into the lives of the Japanese in the 8th century.

During the first couple of weeks of February, these monuments are being showcased with light projections and laser shows culminating with the Izumi Iwaki festival, celebrating the 136th anniversary of Nara Park. The winter evenings are illuminated with colorful lights at the symbolic structures of Nara Park — including Nara National Museum, Kasuga-Taisha Shrine, Kofukuji Temple and Todaiji Temple.

The walk to Nara Park is not more than 15 minutes from where I stay. To escape the crowds we left home late at around 8 p.m. Note, the lights stay on only till 9 p.m. We entered the park from behind the Todaiji. Todaiji wasn’t open but the Kagamiike Pond in front was illuminated with a laser show. Inside the temple, the organizers had opened the window of the hall so Daibutsu’s face could be seen from the gate. The window stays closed for the better part of the year. So if you want to witness the face of Todaiji’s Buddha from outside, this would be a nice time. We stayed there for a few minutes enjoying the cool laser show over the pond.

We then head off towards the Nara Forum, where the main illumination takes place. The park was lit up with illuminated gates along the path. Stalls offering Japanese delicacies are set up along the entrance path.

The entry to the Nara Rurie cost us ¥500 each.

The garden inside was immersed in a carpet of glowing azure. Rurie or Lapis lazuli, a deep blue semi-precious stone that has been prized since antiquity by the Japanese for its intense color.

We walked into the astonishing meadow of blue lights. At some places along the Tanabata Road, some life-sized illuminated figures of the famous Deer of Nara Park are also placed.

It was really an immersing experience of lights at the Park. The walk around the azure lights is very romantic and great for a pre-valentines date.

One can get the latest information about the upcoming schedules of the Nara Rurie festival from here: