Oga no Namahage
The Namahage Festival
Though this New Year's Eve ritual is observed throughout Oga, all that is known of its origins is that it is an old and important folk-cultural event.
Namahage, played by young men in demonic masks and traditional straw garments, make the rounds of houses in their villages. They burst into these houses searching for new community members such as young wives and children.
In an inimitable throaty scream, the Namahage encourage and order these newcomers to work and study hard, and obey their parents or in-laws.
Other household members "protect" their relatives, assuring the Namahage that they are good people. The Namahage are then offered with a little sake and some food.
There are several theories about the precise meaning of this rite, but one common theory is that it welcomes powerful deities who in turn bring good luck in the new year.
In 2018, Oga no Namahage was designated as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. (that was already designated as national important intangible folk cultural property in 1978)
The Legend of 999 Stone Stairs and the Namahage
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 Japanese, stole crops and young women from Oga's villages.
The villagers decided to trick these ogres, promising to give up all their young women if the demons could build a stone staircase of one thousand stairs in a single night. If, on the other hand, the oni failed to reach the local temple to which the staires were to be built, they would have to leave Oga never to return again.
The ogres accepted, and had reached 999 stairs when a quick-witted villager imitated a cock crowing for the arrival of dawn.
The surprised and dismayed oni fled, never to be seen again.
Namahage Sedo Festival
This famous winter rite is the union of the folk Namahage tradition and a Shinto festival.
The festival begins with Chinkama, Yu-no-Mai, a sacred kagura dance particular to the area. This is followed by the dynamic Namahage dance and drums. Finally, fifteen Namahage march down from the mountain bearing torches, bringing the night to its climax. Don't miss the sticky rice cakes passed out by the demons themselves: they are said to ward off disaster.
- Date / Feb. 2nd Fri, Sat, Sun
- Venue / Shinzan Shrine (near Namahage Museum)