The Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori Prefecture is probably one of the many festivals in Japan that is not associated with any religious ceremony or temple; and the brain behind the creation of each float—the nebuta-shi—is responsible in overseeing the production of the festival floats from the beginning to the end. He comes up with the theme of the float, the sketch of designs, even the skeletal framework of the float. From the simplest detail of laying the washi to drawing the outline to painting the colourful patterns, that’s the role of a nebuta-shi.
In the 1970s most of the floats were made by a team of local volunteers where most members are carpenters and some amateur painters. However, some light specialists began to participate as the years went by when light bulbs and wireframes became one of the most commonly used raw materials in making the float. According to Takenami Hiro, a veteran nebuta-shi, there is no formal structural drawing for the creation of nebuta. The nebuta-shi has the freedom to express his ideas on the float without any rules or restrictions. The choice of vibrant and bright colors also depends on the style and the image formed in the mind of a nebuta-shi.
Perhaps what propelled people to use vibrant colors for the festival is the thick heavy snow in the local Tsugaru region during the long winter season that made them hungry for colors. But, choosing the color is just one aspect of the creation of nebuta, making sure that these chosen colors are at their best when they are lit up in the dark is another. Using wax helps spread the colors in a thin and transparent texture. This technique has been widely used at the time when candles were used to light floats.
Most nebuta-shi have a regular day job to make ends still meet while they work on their floats since they cannot depend on a steady income from these floats alone. But with a vision to see the floats recognized worldwide as a work of art and not just an element of the Nebuta Matsuri Festival, Mr. Takanami founded the Nebuta Research Center.
This research center aims to pass a long-standing tradition of the nebuta to aspiring young generations who also wanted to become nebuta-shi one day.