Namahage: Japan’s Baby-Scaring, Woman-Stealing Holiday Tradition

Source: Gaijin Pot

Well, we are in December and the countdown has finally begun to the most wonderful time of the year — and no I don’t mean the release of the latest Star Wars movie!

Christmas and New Year are a big deal in Japan these days. The Japanese have adopted traditionally western icons such as Santa Claus and Christmas trees into their culture. However, there are some festive traditions here that pre-date the western notions of “the holidays.”

One such tradition is the legendary Namahage: Akita Prefecture’s most famous festive visitor. However, this big guy with his angry red face and huge stone club is more Krampus than Claus.

He and his fellow oni (demons) visit the homes of children across the city every New Year’s Eve, warning children of the dangers of behaving badly or disobeying their parents. In local colloquial dialect they shout various phrases as they rumble down the street such as: “Are there any crybabies here?” and “Are there any naughty children in this house?”

Giant Namahage statue.

In modern times, the Namahage tradition has actually become a useful tool for teaching morals to young children in the area. Those donning the namahage costumes will often liaise with parents ahead of time to see which specific warnings they need to give to the children in each house. “Listen to your parents” or “Keep your room clean” for example. For their hard work, our resident Oni demons are usually treated to mochi cakes from the houses they visit.

The demon has even become such a popular legend that it has its own museum and festival every February. But where did this all begin?

Once upon a time in Akita

The story of Namahage actually predates Santa Claus by centuries. While the exact origin of the legend may be lost to time, according to some noted scholars …continue reading