When we were up north earlier this month, we were lucky enough to catch the Neputa Festival in Hirosaki, which I highly recommend to anyone of any age. But if you’re in Hirosaki outside of the festival dates (August 1st-7th), make sure to swing by the Neputa Mura, the “village” that houses some former Neputa floats and offers a host of activities for younger visitors.
You’re treated to a mini performance as soon as you walk in the door. Staff members beat the taiko (drum), play the flute and spin one of the large floats that stands just inside the entrance. After the brief show, all of the kids in the audience are invited to come up front and try their hand at the taiko, while the flute player accompanies them and one staff member keeps the beat. An explanation of the floats is offered in Japanese, but one staff member is training himself to at least deliver the same spiel in several foreign languages (although return questions stump him a little bit) so we were able to have an on-the-spot English explanation.
The museum leads up a ramp, past numerous Neputa floats and painted panels, before passing through a small history room. During our visit, a local artist had set himself up amidst the displays, selling lanterns featuring the zodiac animals (a hit with many of the kids there).
Just down the steps, you’ll pass the hands-on workshop. This is not exactly ideal for the quick or casual crafter or kids who don’t have at least a decent attention span. But the choices are numerous and in 60-90 minutes, kids (and adults) can craft their own goldfish lantern, paint and wax over a Neputa-inspired fan or make a Tsugaru kite (Tsugaru is the old name for the region that included Hirosaki). Some of the items may need to be mailed but things like the goldfish lanterns can be carried home that day. Prices are incredibly reasonable – the goldfish lantern was only around ¥1000.
The route then leads past a room where shamisen performances are held several times a day (the staff at the front will give you a schedule when you buy your ticket) and then deposit you in the central Japanese garden. It’s not the most beautiful of traditional landscaping I’ve ever seen but there is fish food on offer here for ¥100 and a whole horde of hungry carp.
The final room is dedicated to kids, with locally crafted spinning tops and wooden train sets as just a few of the toys set out to play with. Sometimes, staff members will be in the room to engage the kids in interactive games (knowing at least a bit of Japanese helps with participation). Our daughter spent a very happy half an hour just building block towers.
The Neputa Mura complex sits at the northeastern corner of the Hirosaki castle grounds and is very easy to access from the castle itself. From Hirosaki station, a dedicated bus runs to and from the complex several times a day. The service is available from April 1st to November 30th only, but look for the bus marked Tamenobu-go. The fare is only ¥100. For drivers, the parking fee is waived if you buy anything in one of the on-site shops (minimum purchase amount may apply and you have to show a receipt).