Sunday, November 15, 2015

How to Show Regional Pride by Giving the Wee Ones a Lovely Fright (A Marvelous Adventure)

First, I would like to apologize in advance for the length of this blog post, because the title might be longer.

Giant Namahage Featuring Fabulous.
To show you all how Akita prefecture records and celebrates its regional stories, I’ve chosen to talk about the Namahage museum in Oga. While the origins of Namahage are unclear, one cannot deny the influence that it has in various parts of the prefecture.

These White Men Are Dangerous...(Well, were they wrong?)
To clarify, Namahage are young and unmarried men who masquerade as ‘demons’ and visit houses around the prefecture during New Year’s. As they visit houses, the men take on the role of their characters and attempt to steal children from their homes on the claim that they’ve misbehaved and dishonored their parents. The children, who are under the impression that they are really in danger of being snatched away, struggle and plead for their parents to rescue them from their fate. The parents are aware of the ordeal and attempt to hide their laughter as they save their children while assuaging the ‘spirits’ with prospects of food and sake while the children ensure both their parents and the Namahage that they’ll behave and honor their parents’ wishes.  Curiously enough, this event helps inspire faith in the parent and strengthens the bond that they have with their children, fostering a sense of filial piety within the children, a key concept in Confucianism.

As to be expected of a museum, the entrance leads directly to the gift shop where one can find all things Namahage, from hand towels with names embroidered on them, to sleeping masks. But once you’ve had your fix of gifts and souvenirs, you enter a hall filled with an assortment of Namahage costumes that are still used in the ritual to this day, however, to preserve the sanctity and unique essence of the Namahage, it is requested that pictures not be posted on the internet.  Once you’ve exited the hall of spirit shells, there is an actual hallway, depicting the various origin stories of the Namahage on one wall, and on the other, the interpretations of the ritual not only in Akita, but also similar experiences in other parts of the world, mainly Slovenia.

Namahage, Amahage, and Nagomehagi. We Are All Part of the Same Tradition.
From there, you come upon an open room with more costumes lining the wall to create a sense of authenticity as a film plays on a large screen in the front of the room, detailing a contemporary Namahage event in Oga.

The museum, while lacking any magnificent size or grandeur, does a splendid job of telling the tale of one of the region’s traditional tales. Truthfully, the size and appearance add to the importance of the substance of what the museum houses, rather than needing to have a glossy finish or special gimmicks to explain its story and importance in the prefecture.

1 comment:

Jonah Shlaes said...

This is one of the most hilarious traditions I have ever heard of. Way better than Santa. I can see some people arguing "how could you terrify these children into thinking they are going to get snatched away", but then again we tell our kids that a big fat man breaks in to our house and steals our food and if we're bad puts coal in our socks.

On a more serious note, it's really amazing the sense in which you can see these core values (Confucian or otherwise) instilled into Japanese people at such a young age. While it is a cute tradition, I can definitely see the longer-reaching reasoning for this kind of tradition. Kind of makes you wonder how much of that old Confucian reasoning is gone and all that's left is the cute tradition though.