Monday, 28 March – The capital of the Amori Prefecture in northern Japan, Aomori is famous for its apple orchards (home of the Fuji apple) and the Nebuta Festival, an elaborate yearly event in which participants illuminate giant paper representations of samurai warriors, animals and popular cartoon characters and parade them through the streets.
Snow was still on the ground in places as we made our way to the Tsugaru Kanayama Kiln. It is the end of winter but we have had great weather in Japan; today the temperature was about 8-11degC. We were warm enough in just t-shirts and jackets, but of course, the coach and all the shops are heated. It was a nice trip, through forests of beech, cedar and red pine.
Incidentally, we found out why so many people wear masks in Japan. I thought it was to avoid germs or pollution – but no – it is because many people apparently suffer from hay fever caused by pollen from the red cedar trees.
Arriving at the kiln, we discovered that Aomori is also well known for unglazed copper-coloured pottery and we had an interesting tour and spoke to some apprentices as well as the owner. Although this pottery was founded in 1985 it draws its inspiration from unglazed pottery made around 250 to 538AD. I liked that they source the clay from the local reservoir and fire the kiln with local Japanese red pine wood. We bought a small vase as a memento and enjoyed some of the local apple juice.
Our next stop was to Tachineputa no Yakata – “The Hall of the Standing Neputa” we took the elevator to view the 3 floats on display. They stand as tall as a 6-storey building and weigh 19 tonnes. We also visited the workshop and our tour guide interpreted for the owner to explain how the floats are made.
From what I remember, they start with just a drawing – not plans – and fix a metal pole into a base. 32 modules are formed using timber framing and wires which are tied together and then screwed in around the pole. Paper is pasted over the wires and waterproof paints are applied. All this work is done by volunteers. They are absolutely amazing to see and the painting is a work of art from all angles. They are lit internally powered by generators and when the huge doors open for the parade, 6 men pull them along with ropes. They are quite a sight to see.