Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Namahage museum

On March 20, hubby and I went to see Namahage museum located in Oga peninsula in Akita prefecture. Namahage festival is an event passed down from ancient times around Oga peninsula. Namahage is the name of a strange deity resembling a demon (ogre) known as oni. Namahage festival is a new-year eve ritual and is an old and important folk-cultural event. This festival has been designated as a national important intangible folk cultural property. Namahage, played by young men in demonic masks and traditional straw garments, make the rounds of houses in their village. They burst into these houses searching for new members like young wives and children. In a throaty scream, the Namahage 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 placated with sake and food. In the month of February, another festival known as Namahage-Sedo festival takes place in Shinzan shrine in Oga every year. This festival is carried out as a tourist event that combines the Shinto shrine Sedo festival and the Namahage folk festival.

Oga rest and service area
Since hubby and I were unable to attend Namahage as well as Namahage-Sedo festivals this year, we decided to visit Namahage museum to experience the folklore of the Namahage. The entrance of Oga city was about one hour car drive from our home. At the entrance of the city there was an amazing rest and service area called Oga sogo kanko annai jyo. Just outside the rest area building, next to the national highway, there were two enormous fifteen meters high Namahage statues welcoming the people to Oga city. It is one of the main attractions of the city.
Namahage statues at the entrance of Oga city

Me standing with the Namahage statues

Inside the rest area building, there were many sight-seeing guidebooks and pamphlets. There was also an exhibition area where life sized Namahage were exhibited. Many cute small Namahage were also on display.
Hubby standing with life sized Namahage exhibits

Cute small Namahage

Namahage museum
Namahage museum was another 30 minutes drive from the entrance of Oga city. Outside the Namahage museum, surrounded by tall Japanese cedar trees, was an enormous ten feet sphere decorated with a mosaic over its surface. This is called the Namahage ball (Namahage no tama in Japanese) and was installed outside the museum in July 1999. This art symbolizes Oga seas, mountains, night sky, and the Namahage.
Namahage ball

The building of Namahage museum looked very interesting and beautiful from outside.
Namahage museum

Inside the building, there was a room called ‘shinpi no hall’ where we could acquaint ourselves with the nature and culture of Oga. Traditional local tools and other items were displayed in this room. A computerized information retrieval system was also provided.
Display of traditional local tools of Oga

Next, we visited the Namahage exhibition room known as Namahage seizoroi. In this room, masks and costumes of sixty former districts of Oga were displayed. This showed that Namahage were portrayed in many different ways.

Namahage exhibits

After this, we visited the Namahage densho hall (legend theater), and saw a fifteen minutes short documentary film about the authentic story of Namahage.
Namahage densho hall

There was also a Namahage costume booth where we could try on the Namahage costumes. I put on only the mask and did not get an opportunity to wear the straw coat as there were many visitors trying to change into a Namahage demon :). I was unaware at that time that the red mask represents a male ogre while the blue mask is symbolic of a female ogre. I put on a red mask!
Red Namahage mask

Me wearing red Namahage mask

Hubby took several photos of me while I walked around the museum enjoying various kinds of Namahage displays.
Me standing next to a Namahage statue

Me standing next to a board displaying various types of Namahage masks

Me standing next to a painting of Namahage festival

We saw a craftsman making a Namahage mask out of Japanese cedar wood. It was amazing to see his expertise in making the mask.
A craftsman making a Namahage mask

Oga Shinzan folklore museum
Next, we visited Oga Shinzan folklore museum, which was located adjacent to the Namahage museum. Here we enjoyed a summary of the Namahage ritual performance in a traditional home atmosphere. This show can be enjoyed year-round. The show was captivating and the talk between the Namahage and the household head was funny. The folklore story of the show was as follows. On new-year's eve, Sakidachi (female ogre) banging on wooden pails with kitchen knives and the Namahage (male ogre) holding a sacred staff with strips of attached paper, went around visiting the houses at night, and danced along as they gave out strange cries. They shouted out menacing cries such as "Any children crying or disobeying their parents?" and "Any lazy daughters-in-law neglecting their work?" The Namahage stomped around the house and eventually settled down near the fireplace. The Namahage were received by the head of the family in formal dress, who offered them sake and mochi rice cakes. Appeased by the warm hospitality, they took leave of that house, promising that the family will be blessed with good health and a rich bumper crop in the new-year, and then set off to visit the next home. Namahage are believed to chase away bad luck and evil spirits with their loud voices and noisy actions. We really enjoyed the show. Hubby took a short video of the show, when the Namahage deities very noisily entered the house.
Oga Shinzan folklore museum

A short video of the show

Household head offering food to the Namahage

Household head offering sake to the Namahage

Shinzan shrine
Finally, we visited Shinzan shrine located on mount Shinzan. This shrine is one of the most revered on the peninsula and is deeply associated with the Namahage rites. Every year in February, the Namahage-Sedo festival is held in this shrine.
Shinzan shrine

Inside the Shinzan shrine

Hubby and I enjoyed our visit to Oga peninsula and learned about Namahage festival and folklore culture of Oga.


Anonymous said...

u and ur hubby really are into the historical stuff huh...i am amazed of how much info u seem to know abt culture/history elements...

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Hi ckuramitz, thanks for your comment. Presently, hubby and me are really enjoying the historical and cultural aspects of Akita prefecture and Tohoku region. Akita prefecture has a lot of history associated with it, especially the Edo period. I love places with a looong history :)

Your comment also made me realize that in Tsukuba, where I lived previously, I did very little sight-seeing! I liked the place a lot, though. The city, although has a lot of scientific institutes and is known as the Science city of Japan, was formed just about 50 years back and was a forest area prior to that. And I had to be satisfied with sight-seeing places like Kyoto, Nara,....

And, I do not really have much knowledge about the places I visit. I use the pamphlets to know about them :)

Anima said...

Hi Manisha,
Namahage is really scary...
I was born in Tokyo and never have experienced this festival, but if I had seen Namahage when I was a child I would have panicked and cried probably!
Great to know there is a Namahage museum. Now I want to visit here when I go back to Japan next time!

Anonymous said...

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Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Anima for your comment. Yeah, I know Namahage looks scary. I saw several children burst into tears in the museum and saying 'kowai'. I guess the Namahages are supposed to scare the children into obeying their parents. So in a way, they succeed, at least in scaring the children :(

And please visit the Namahage museum. It is very interesting. In fact, everyday I am learning something new about Tohoku region which is also known as 'Another Japan'.

Runa said...

This was quite interesting and a bit frightening.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for your comment Runa. Yeah, watching Namahage show was somewhat frightening.

Anonymous said...

Were Namahage maska available for purchase, if so do you remember how much?

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

@Anonymous...Yes the masks are available for purchase at the souvenir shop located inside the museum. Unfortunately, I do not recollect the cost now. But there are a lot of varieties and sizes...In fact, I have seen such masks in many shops in Akita prefecture but I am not sure how authentic those are.