Oga ~ The land of "Namahage" ~

In the northeast of Japan, in Akita prefecture, as the snow covers the lands of the Oga peninsula, during the first moon of the year, the gods of the Oga mountain go out to visit the villages surrounding. These gods are played by men dressed in demonic masks, armed with long knives, in straw suits; enough to terrorize the bravest of children in the region.



They run and come near houses, screaming, looking for children who have not been wise, or lazy people. They shout: Are there children here who do not listen to their parents? Scammed, they find refuge only in the arms of them, swearing to be wise, some are amused by the incredible costumes of this ancestral tradition. When the Namahage enters a villager's house, it should be received with care, offered a glass of sake accompanied by a little food, and the children must answer its questions occasionally and prove that they are wise alongside their parents. Otherwise the Namahage threatens to take them with it to the mountains. The child promises to be exemplary for the next year. The Namahage assures in return that he will protect the family from evil spirits and bring them happiness.
The name Namahage comes from the word Namomihagi, from the Akita dialect, which means, "remove the bulbs (from the foot)". It is actually a metaphor that means to make laziness disappear. That's why the costume of these "demons" includes a long knife called Deba Bocho, to slice the blisters of the feet and hands. The masks are made of wood and paper mache, and come from the expertise of local artisans. They wear on their backs a handmade straw coat called Kede, shin guards called Habaki, and boots called waragutsu.


The Namahage mask is unique, piece of art of wood carving

You can admire a dance of the Namahage, accompanied by Shinto rituals during the folk festival of Sedo in Oga. Around burning torches and bonfires, disguised men walk and dance on the snow in a night of ink, along the side of the "torchlight mountain". The show is breathtaking. This folk festival is now classified in the intangible cultural heritage of Japan as a very important living ethnological heritage.

 

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