Information for two back to back festivals in Kitamoto City this November: the Neputa Festival and the Industry Festival. Both of which will be on for the first time in four years. I have also included an account of visiting the fascinating Neputa Festival at night.
Each year on the weekend closest to Culture Day, a public holiday on November 3rd annually, Kitamoto host a Neputa festival and an Industry festival. The Neputa Festival in particular is very interesting. It is the largest Neputa Festival in the Kanto region. Apart from having large Neputa floats, you can also see a giant bale big pulled at the festival.
What is a Neputa?
A neputa is a type of lantern festival float with dramatic images painted on a fan shaped canvas. Traditionally the images are of warriors.
What is a Neputa Festival?
The Neputa Festival is a type of lantern festival that originated in Hirosaki City in Aomori. It is often confused with the Nebuta festival which is also a lantern festival from Aomori. The main difference is that the Neputa festival lanterns are smaller than those of Nebuta and shaped in a fan. A key feature of the lanterns is the difference in the front and back images of the lantern. The floats are accompanied by traditional music played on the taiko drums and Japanese flute. It is said that the lights and music were used to scare off a sleep demon that was believed to be responsible for making people sleepy during the height of summer.
Kitamoto Neputa Festival
In 1991 a team of Kitamoto city officials visited Hirosaki in Aomori, the home of Neputa, to learn how to make the festival floats used in the parades. And to study the techniques used in painting the distinctive and captivating images.
They brought their knowledge back to Kitamoto to create a Neputa Festival in the city with an aim to get young people involved. The festival in Kitamoto is also a competition and to this day even a local school participates by entering a neputa made by the students.
Traditionally they design the Neputa of Hirosaki in a fan shape with a fierce image on one side and a softer image on the other. The Neputa of Kitamoto – about 20 in total – are more varied. A lot of them are the typical traditional variety, but you can also see original neputa.
My personal favourite in 2019 was in the shape of a cherry blossom, as in the photos above. It is in recognition and celebration of Saitama’s most famous sakura: the Kabazakura of Kitamoto, the only one of its kind in the world.
You could also see a lantern float in the shape of a globe. And there were smaller square floats too, as per the photo above.
The Kitamoto festival is family friendly and involves a lot of the youth of the city. You can see even preschoolers participating in the parade and even playing the taiko drums. The drums and flutes really accentuate the festival atmosphere and invigorate the audience.
They also involve the local foreign community with one of the Neputa created by a local international club. The lantern float in the design of a globe is pulled by foreigners and teachers of the international club. And if you express interest you can also apply to participate.
There is a very amiable ambiance at the festival. It is easy to get chatting to the locals before the procession. Tonight, even though I hadn’t preregistered in advance, I was invited to don a happi coat and pull a lantern float. Several of the lovely volunteers, from different lantern float teams, even gave me free beer and onigiri!
Giant Bale Pulling
During the day, from 2.45 pm, they pull a giant, five ton, bale through the streets of Kitamoto.
The festival starts from 1.30 pm. During daylight there are different music and dance performances. Festival and food stalls line the road from the Kitamoto station. The giant bale pulling starts at 2.45 pm. From 5.30 pm the hayashi and lantern floats are pulled through the streets. You can see them lined up for about 40 minutes before the processions begin. They are pulled up and down a one kilometer stretch from the west exit of Kitamoto station to near the Hotto Motto on Nishi Chuo Road. All the while festival music accompanies each float as it parades. The festival will finish at the earlier time of 7 pm this year (used to be 8 pm).
Kitamoto Industry Festival
The Kitamoto Industry Festival pales in comparison to the Neputa Festival! It is on the day after the Neputa Festival, on Sunday November 5th 2023 from 9.30 am to 2.30 pm. It is on the grounds of Kitamoto City hall.
Kitamoto Festival Information
Event: Kitamoto Neputa Festival 北本まつり宵まつり and Kitamoto Industry Festival 産業まつり
Dates: The Neputa Festival is on Saturday November 4th 2023 and the Industry Festival is on the following day, Sunday the 5th.
Times: the Neputa Festival is on from 1.30 pm to 7 pm and the Industry Festival is on from 9.30 am to 2.30 pm
Cost: there is no admission fee
Venue: the Neputa Festival is held along the main thoroughfare from the West exit of Kitamoto station, 2 Chome-171-3 Central, Kitamoto, Saitama 364-0031. View on Google Maps. The Industy festival is held at the Kitamoto City Hall, 1 Chome-111 Honcho, Kitamoto, Saitama 364-8633. View on Google Maps.
Neputa Festival Access
They hold this festival close to Kitamoto Station on the Takasaki Line. You can also come by car as they have several car parks set up for the festival and each of them are within walking distance of the festival area. I used the Ishido Daishi shinpuku temple and there were only about 12 cars there.