5 Places to Visit Namahage on Oga Peninsula
Oga Peninsula sticks out into the Sea of Japan from Akita Prefecture. It is where the legends of the Namahage, or demon-like ogres, originated. There are many places on the peninsula where you can see Namahage and learn more about them and the stories associated with them. You can even experience one of the Namahage festivals!
Shinzan Shrine is one of the most revered shrines on Oga. Closely tied to the Namahage legend, it's here that the annual Namahage Sedo Festival is held every February. The shrine is located on the 567-meter (1,860-ft) Mount Shinzan. The buildings were renovated in 2007, but its history is said to go back to the Heian Period (794-1185).
- www.namahage.ne.jp (Japanese)
The Namahage Museum is a delightful museum. Most of the exhibits relate to the legend of the Namahage, but there is a section that has exhibits related to the history of the Oga Peninsula. The main attraction, though, is the room where you can see the wide variety of Namahage costumes that come from across the peninsula. Their areas or villages are labeled in Japanese. The basic idea of the costumes is the same but the details, especially of the masks, can be quite different. There is also a room where you can dress up as a Namahage.
The museum also shows a 15-minute documentary explaining the Namahage legend and the related festivals.
Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum
This traditional farmhouse near the Namahage Museum is where you can experience the Namahage Festival, designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property, all year round. The Namahage Festival is the New Year's Eve tradition where men dressed as Namahage visit homes and inquire whether the residents, especially the children and wife, have been good during the past year. After being assured that they have been, the Namahage consult their book and list off cases where they have failed to do as well as they should have. The head of household serves them sake and food and does his best to calm the Namahage and assure them that they would all do better in the next year.
While in Japanese, the exchange is still very interesting to watch and you can get a general feel of the old, yet ongoing, annual event.
Goshado (Akagami Shrine)
Thought to have been built at the beginning of the 17th century, these five, side-by-side shrine buildings are the inner sanctuary of Akagami Shrine, and are said to enshrine five demons. To reach them, one must climb up 999 stairs. These stairs tie into the Namahage legend. It's said that long, long ago, five Namahage were stealing crops and young women from the local villagers. Wanting to end this, the villagers decided to trick the Namahage. They offered the Namahage a deal: if the Namahage could build a staircase of 1,000 steps in a single night, the villagers would give up all their young women. If the Namahage failed to do so, they would have to leave the area. The Namahage agreed, and as they completed the 999th step, a villager made the sound of a rooster indicating that it was morning, tricking the Namahage into believing they had failed. The dismayed Namahage left, never to return.
As one may imagine, stairs built in such haste are not the smoothest to climb up or down, but the effort is rewarding.
- www.tohokukanko.jp (Japanese)
Namahage Statue at Monzen
This statue is located next to a free parking lot near the beginning of the 999 steps up to Goshado. While there's not much to see here aside from the statue, it's worth a visit for the great photos you can take!