Namahage (生剥?) is a Japanese ritual which is observed throughout Oga Peninsula, Akita Prefecture in northern Honshū, Japan. It is said to have originated as a ritual for cleansing people's souls, and for blessing the new year. It is a kind of toshigami.
Young children; loud, obnoxious, and naughty are often the blight of many parents’ existence. Thankfully for the parents in Japan’s Oga Peninsula, Akita Prefecture in northern Honshu, Japan, there is a solution: the infamous Namahage; where an annual ritual takes place in February. Dozens of young men and women from Akita, Japan dress like the Namahage demon. Each portrayer adorns an eerie demon mask (red: female, blue: male), a straw raincoat and waistband and carries a scary tool made of wood depicting a knife; and a pale. They re-enact the folklore dressed as these demons and march around the village in hopes of scaring prepubescent kids into total parental submission. Going door-to-door, they sweep the village threatening to drag any spoiled disobedient children. As the story goes, a child that is disobedient is dragged into the snow covered mountains away from their parents. Knowing the story very well, upon barging into each home, the young children is immediately frightened by loud roars as they are chased, kids typically scream with agony and fear. This prompts parents to sooth their kids worries of being taken away by the Namahage, letting them know that they’ve been behaving.
The Namahage then encourage the children to keep studying and working hard, as a result the kids make a promise, or a New Year’s resolution to behave. The Namahage deities are then received by the head of the family in formal dress, who offers sake and mochi rice cakes. Upon appeasment by the warm hospitality, they take leave of that house, promising that the family will be blessed with good health, a large catch and a rich crop in the New Year, and then set off to visit the next home. The annual event is only localized to the residents of Akita. However tourists who look to plant the fear of the Namahage in their children can also take part by staying at an in that participates in the event. Tourists are warned to be mindful that the citizens that play the Namahage can sometimes get out of hand. In the past, the event had made the news when a drunken Namahage actor strolled into a public bath house and proceeded to rape several unsuspecting women.
Similar traditions in other regions are called:
- Amamehagi in Hokuriku.
- Amaburakosagi in Shikoku.
- Suneka, Anmo, Nagomi or Nagomihakuri in northern Iwate prefecture.
Namahage in Japanese means blister.
Namahage is a kind of toshigami in the folklore of the Oga peninsula (Akita Prefecture in northern Honshu) that has originated as a ritual for cleansing people's souls, and for blessing the new year.
Set geographically away from the economy, commerce, politics, and population by several hundred kilometres, Akita prefecture had been largely isolated from modern society until after the year 600. Akita was a region of hunter-gatherers that thrived principally by provisions of the land. The first historical record of what is now Akita Prefecture dates to 658, when the Abe no Hirafu conquered the native Ezo tribes at what are now the cities of Akita and Noshiro. Hirafu, established a fort on the Mogami River, and thus began the Japanese settlement of the region. In 733, a military settlement—later renamed Akita Castle, was built in modern-day Akita city at Takashimizu, and more permanent roads and structures were developed. The region was used as a base of operations for the Japanese empire as it drove the native Ezo people from northern Honshū. It shifted hands several times. During the Tokugawa shogunate it was appropriated to the Satake clan, who ruled the region for 260 years, developing the agriculture and mining industries that are still predominant today. Throughout this period, it was classified as part of Dewa Province and remained politically quite stable. In 1871, during the Meiji Restoration, Dewa Province was reshaped and the old daimyo domains were abolished and administratively reconstructed, resulting in the modern-day borders of Akita.
Akita is located in the northern part of the Tohoku Region, bordering the Sea of Japan. The prefecture is rectangular in shape and runs 181km from north to south, and 111km from east to west. With a total area of 11,612.11 square kilometers, it is the 6th largest prefecture in Japan and contains 9 cities, 50 towns and 10 villages. The 40 degrees north parallel cuts through the middle of the prefecture and also runs through the cities of Beijing, Madrid and New York.
The Ou Mountain Range running north to south marks the border with Iwate Prefecture and is a series of mountains as high as 1000 meters. Running parallel to the west of this range are the Dewa Mountain Ranges that average a height of 400 meters.
Three large rivers (the Yoneshiro, Omono and Koyoshi) created the Noshiro, Akita and Honjo plains between the Dewa Mountains and the Sea of Japan. The Hanawa, Odate and Yokote Basins are all located inland.
Akita has long winters and short summers. The Dewa Mountains divide the region into two distinct climates. The Tsushima current warms the Oga Peninsula and coastal areas and the temperature is moderate all year round. Inland, the summers are hotter and the winters are colder, with large amounts of snow in the Yokote area.
Legend has it that the Han emperor brought five demonic ogres with him to Japan a little more than two millennia ago. These oni, as they are most commonly called in Japan, stole crops and young women from Oga's villages.
One Legend states that the Namahage originated from China to Oga and caused the people much trouble. The citizens of Oga struck a deal between the people and the Namahage that if they could build a staircase with a thousand stairs for the main shrine in a single night, the villagers will supply them with a young woman every year. But if they failed the task they would have to leave.
The Namahage agreed and set to work. They were so efficient that by the end of the night they had 999 steps with only one stone left before dawn. One person, however came to the rescue and pretended to cry like a rooster. This signaled that dawn had arrived. The Namahage, believed they had lost, left and went into the mountains but they return every year to retrieve a young woman. There are several other theories as to the origins of the Namahage. Another theory is that Namahage are derived from an ancient mountain deity. There are numerous native traditions of gods coming for a visit - though not quite with the fanfare for the Namahage. Another theory hints that the Namahage may be based on shipwrecked sailors from Europe. Given from when the festival first started, it could be that they are the ghosts of explorers or the Vikings. It gives light to the idea that they couse trouble by foraging raids and the bet with the supply of women.
On New Year's Eve, after a ritual Shinto ceremony to purify the Namahage masks, selected local men turn into monsters for a night. Disappearing into the mountains for a time, they return shortly thereafter in full monster countenances. Roaring menacingly, they dance around bonfires, play taiko drums and visit each house in the village, shouting: "any misbehaving kids live here?" They then scare children in the houses, telling them not to be lazy or cry, though little children often do burst into tears. It is the ritual of the fathers or husbands to intercede on their family's behalf, plying the Namahage with food and saké. Then the parents will assure the Namahage that there is no bad child in their house, and give food or traditional Japanese alcoholic beverages to the demons. As the festival draws to a close, the Namahage hand out rice cakes covered with powdered black sesame seeds, another gesture of good fortune for the coming year.
An obvious purpose of the festival is to encourage young children to obey their parents and to behave, important qualities in Japan's heavily structured society. Some ethnologists and folklorists suggest it relates to a belief in deities (or spirits) coming from abroad to take away misfortune and bring blessings for the new year, while others believe it is an agricultural custom where the kami from the sacred mountains visit.
Namahage (なまはげ) are enemies first encountered in Kamui. These masked creatures wear straw-like garments and are stronger versions of various Imps and Guardians. Use the Galestorm technique on them all for a Floral Finisher, except for the drummers who take a Cherry Bomb.
Types of Namahage
Namahage are the embodiment of the loneliness inherent in snowy lands. Raising a terrifying voice, they seek out and attack living things. It is said that if you cross paths with one, you should play dead. They befriend the lazy and are lulled into a false sense of security.
It can be quite frightenin to hide in plain sight of an armed foe. A legend tells of a samurai that tried to banish the Namahage. The samurai attacked at the Namahage's blade with a nearby brush to the skin while it was distracted, the Namahage sword escaped it's hands. Without its weapon, it grew afraid and left, promising to reform.
Anyone who has seen the land blanketed in snow, beware. Namahage's favorite hiding spot is under the snow in order to trap victims in their large buckets. They say to escape from the bucket Namahage, clap once and take a step away. They will flee when they do not see the source of the sound.
There are old folklores of flying Namahage, who are often seen with umbrellas. One tale describes a man who was attacked during a snowstorm. He said, "It is too windy for Namahage to be out flying". Hearing this, the Namahage left the scene in embarrassment. We can assume that they won't show themselves when it is windy.
The Cannon Namahage is the strangest of the Namahage. He doesn't care about the lazy, instead he/she gravitates toward cowards and sissies, screeching and bellowing to scare some bravery into their victims. Yet, they seem to be the kinder of the Namahage's considering their demonish tales.
- Official Akita Prefecture website (English)
- Media Akita
- OGAKKO ('NAMAHAGE' Japanese TAIKO percussion Team
Yamamoto Yoshiko: The Namahage: a festival in the northeast of Japan. Institute for the Study of Human Issues, Philadelphia 1978, ISBN 0-915980-66-5
Nelly, Naumann. ""Yama no Kami": die japanische Berggottheit (Teil I: Grundvorstellungen)." Asian Folklore Studies (1963)
Nakamura, T. Notes on namahage (Possible remnants of primi- tive secret societies on the Japanese archipelago).(1951)