While many people know of Aomori's Nebuta Festival with its huge 3-D action-oriented floats, fewer people know of the gigantically tall floats of Tachi Neputa Festival in the small town Goshogawara. Towering at 22 meters (72 feet) Tachi Neputa floats put Aomori's big floats to shame in the size department.
The Nebuta/Neputa festivals of Aomori Prefecture are unique to the area. There are at least four major festivals and a slew of smaller ones which have the trademark illuminated floats made of washi (harden Japanese paper) with a bamboo frame depicting colorful scenes from Chinese and Japanese history and legends. Aomori's Nebuta Festival is the most famous of the group followed by nearby Hirosaki's Neputa Festival which features flat fan-shaped floats with painted scenes. The small town of Kuroishi has a festival similar to Hirosaki's Neputa Festival with seventy fan-shaped floats and then there's Goshogawara with its massively tall floats.
The origins of Nebuta/Neputa as a whole is murky. The popular legend is that over a thousand years ago a conquering general used giant lamps to defeat the natives of the Tohoku region. The people of northern Japan known as Emishi resisted encroachment by those who under the Imperial Court. Numerous military expeditions were sent north to subdue the Emishi which met with varying degrees of success and failures.
Finally a great general, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, was named shogun (which then was a temporary position) and sent north to quell the rebellious Emishi in the early 9th Century. The Nebuta legends say Sakanoue had giant lanterns made accompanied with flutes and drums which enticed the Emishi to see what they were. He ambushed them and took their leaders captive. It's rather fanciful as the real Sakanoue never campaigned that far north.
Other stories say Nebuta is related to the paper lanterns which are set on the water as offerings. Four centuries ago, one lord of the region arrived in Kyoto for the Lantern Festival with a huge impressive lantern which amazed everyone.
Another story is that the word "Nebuta/Neputa" derives from the local dialect word for "sleepy" and that the Nebuta/Neputa festivals were a way to ward off the sleepiness which comes with the hot humid summers.
At this point no one truly cares about the exact origins because the festivals are so amazing and so much fun. Goshogawara's tall floats began in 1907 with local merchants competing to make the tallest floats they could. After a lapsed period, the festival was revived in the 1990s. They have a handful of floats that reach 22-23 meters in height and weigh nearly 20 tons. Other floats range in size from 12 to 18 meters. The tallest ones are sometimes reused in subsequent festivals while the shorter ones change each year.
Like Nebuta, there are groups of dancers and flute and drum players surrounding the floats shouting "Yattemare! Yattamare!" Tachi Neputa though has a bit more of a madcap air about it. It feels more like a hometown festival with the locals letting loose rather than a controlled organized event.
Tachi Neputa is held annually from August 4th-8th 7pm to 9pm with a fireworks display on the 3rd.
Website : http://www.tachineputa.jp/
Goshogawara is reachable from Aomori City by bus and train. By train it takes over an hour transferring from the JR Ou line at Kawabe to the JR Gono line. They have special trains leaving later than the regularly scheduled time during the festival.