The Demonical but Droll “Namahage” Deities of Oga, Akita Prefecture

Guide to Japan

“Are any of you lazy? Are any of you crybabies?” Every New Year’s Eve in communities on the Oga Peninsula, Akita Prefecture, men in demonical masks and barbaric costumes of straw barge into homes and growl angry questions like these in the local dialect, their voices booming through the room where the family is gathered. Small children inevitably burst into tears at this apparition. Then the head of the household offers them sake. With this, they turn jolly. “This sake’s good!” they declare, and they do a happy little dance before they leave for the next home on their route.

This traditional event is not meant just to frighten children and let adults chuckle at the sight. According to folk belief, the namahage are beneficent visiting deities, raihō-shin, who drive away evil and bring good fortune as they warn against vices. And their droll performances also serve as a form of entertainment.

This New Year’s Eve observance is not intended for outsiders, but visitors are welcome at the Namahage Sedo Festival that is held for three days starting on the first Friday in February. At this event they can see namahage consecration rites and take part in reenactments of the deities’ visits to homes.

(Originally published in Japanese. Created in cooperation with Cable Networks Akita.)

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