Dwarfed. No other word better describes how you feel standing under one of the gigantic Tachi Neputa parade floats that dominate the streets of Goshogawara city in an annual late summer parade.
When we moved to Misawa, we were excited to get to attend the Aomori prefecture summer festivals and see the floats, famous throughout Japan.
But this year's record-setting heat wave wilted our enthusiasm, and we decided to skip the Aug. 4-8 festival.
Instead, we opted for a close-up, air-conditioned view of the floats in a museum near the city's train station.
The 70-foot-high, 22-ton floats are handmade and hand-painted, and the warehouse-like museum offers an interesting vantage point. Upon entering, we rode an elevator to the fourth floor, face-to-face with a fierce samurai fighting a glowing red demon. We were on a gently sloping ramp that winds its way around the building, circling the floats for a perfect 360-degree view until you reach the ground level.
The walls along the path are peppered with displays and video monitors that detail the work that goes into making the floats. There aren't many English translations, so you'll have to rely on the English-language pamphlet provided when you purchase your ticket.
Each year, craftsmen labor for about four months to design, paint and build a new float to replace one of the three on display in the museum. And when it's time to take to the streets, a giant door on the side of the warehouse slides open, the path that visitors descend is opened like a drawbridge, and the floats are wheeled into the street.
The history behind the festival is almost as interesting as seeing the floats in person. According to the pamphlet, the huge floats were paraded through the town in the early 1900s as a way for merchants and landowners to show their wealth and power. But when electricity finally made its way to the rural community, power lines prevented the floats from transiting the streets, and the practice was abandoned. Officials believed that the photos and blueprints detailing those early floats were lost in two major fires that hit the city in the 1940s, but a treasure trove of old documents and photos was discovered in 1996.
Two years later -- with power lines now buried underground -- the city once again introduced the historic and towering floats. The festival is extremely popular, with nearly 1.5 million visitors this year.
In addition to the display, museum visitors can also create their own paper kites, lanterns or mini-floats for a fee in the Studio Kawarahiwa.
KNOW & GO
Tickets: Adults, 600 yen; high school students, 450 yen; junior high and elementary students, 250 yen.
Getting there: Take the Michinoku toll road toward Aomori city. After exiting the toll road, look for the entrance to the Tohoku Expressway. Follow it to the Namioka interchange and enter the Tsugaru toll road. Take that to the Goshogawara central exit and follow signs to the train station. It's about a two-hour trip one-way, so make a day of it.