Tokyobling's Blog

Namahage Demon Masks

Posted in Japanese Traditions, Places by tokyobling on December 1, 2011

In Akita, in the north of Japan, there is a peculiar tradition on New Year’s Eve. In villages and town across the prefecture local families will be visited by scores of demons, dressed in straw rags carrying buckets and weapons. These demons will do their best to scare the children of the family into promising to behave and not be lazy. I have never seen this tradition in real life but in Aoyama earlier this autumn I got to see a few of these demons dressed up for action! I can only imagine the terror experience by Akita children, but everyone I have ever met from the prefecture was perfectly pleasant and hard working so maybe the demons actually work! They are called Namahage (生剥), which fittingly comes from the name for the burn you get if you are lazy and spend too much time under the heated tables, the kotatsu, in winter.

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  1. andy1076 said, on December 1, 2011 at 4:06 am

    I think there are schools that appreciate this tradition ;D


    • tokyobling said, on December 2, 2011 at 12:19 am

      Haha… that is funny! I would think so too!


  2. marika said, on December 1, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Oh God! It’s incredible: here you can fine the same kind of tradition… they’re called Krampus and on the 5th of december this monsters go around scaring children… I remember that as a child too… trying to hide behind my mum back! You can see pictures of them here
    Thank you: I feel closer to Japan now! 🙂


    • tokyobling said, on December 2, 2011 at 12:22 am

      Thanks Marika! I had seen them before but had no idea where it was! I think most countries have some sort of tradition of scaring children. I wonder if that is a good sign? haha… Now I want to visit Italy, not the tourist spots but the real thing!


  3. JUURI said, on December 1, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    They indeed look like the scariest of oni! Are their masks really carved out of wood, as it appears? Good for them for making something of such high quality to scare kids! 😛


    • tokyobling said, on December 2, 2011 at 12:23 am

      Thanks Juuri! Yes they are carved out of wood, there are other much finer crafted masks but these are from rural areas with a more robust usage so I guess they would be a bit more folksy! (^-^;)


  4. Timi said, on December 1, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    They look cool 😀 kinda similar to what we have here?


    • tokyobling said, on December 2, 2011 at 12:27 am

      Very cool Timi! Did you ever dress up as one? (^-^) I’d love to see them for real some day!


      • Timi said, on December 2, 2011 at 9:13 am

        No I didn’t, it is a tradition for a certain place, but I want to go and see it for myself sometime.
        I’m not even sure if I could dress up like that, as far as I know it’s for the guys, the girls wear different traditional clothing 😀


  5. D... said, on December 2, 2011 at 7:16 am

    You know if they got me by surprise I would spring up and yelp to loud. Even seeing them kind of spooks me a bit. Those masks are so intense.


    • tokyobling said, on December 2, 2011 at 7:27 am

      Their roars are even better! (^-^)


  6. archive78 said, on December 2, 2011 at 10:41 am

    That’s really interesting to see. When I was in Salzburg, Austria there was a similar tradition that the people had on the 5th of December called “Krampustag.” The Krampus are devils that go around with St. Nicholaus to the homes and good children get gifts from the angel and the bad children are punished by the devils. I saw a parade where there were young men dressed in very hairy costumes with large demon masks. They all had cowbells around their waists to make a lot of noise and carried usually bundles of sticks as switches and would actually hit people that were nearby by on the legs and such. It was my first time seeing such an activity, but it’s really interesting to see a similar activity in another culture. Makes me wonder if there’s any merits to it! Haha


    • tokyobling said, on December 5, 2011 at 12:00 am

      Thanks for the interesting story! It sounds like a great thing to see! I love that they were actually hitting people! With the cowbells and all at least the gave people ample warning to get out of the way. I’d love to see that sometime!


  7. Be Real Be Happy said, on December 2, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    This is my first time reading about something like this but I love it


    • tokyobling said, on December 5, 2011 at 12:40 am

      Thank you for the kind comment! (^-^)


  8. Colombina said, on December 2, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    These demon masks are simply stunning, i especially like the red one and the blue one.


    • tokyobling said, on December 5, 2011 at 12:44 am

      Thanks Colombina! (^-^)


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