Let haiku be on the UNESCO list!
Here is a photo and haiku about Namahage.
In the Oga Peninsula, Akita Prefecture in the northern Honshu, Japan, there is a deep feeling of mystery as the New Year begins. There is the “Devil Festival” held there on December 31, a ceremony that children find exciting and full of thrills. Two or five young men dressed in straw rain capes, large straw boots and wearing frightful masks run as fast as possible through the village in the snow and shout in a monster-like voice as they knock upon each door. When the door is open, the first devil describes himself as the spirit, while the second devil beats upon a wooden bucket with a large cutting knife.
The elders of the house receive them and bring the devils into the house and the living room. As the devils walk slowly down the hall way the devil of Namahage will shout in a loud voice. “Where are the crybabies in this house?” Suddenly the devil slides open a door and there will be the children. Namahage will shout. “Are you good children?” “Are you working hard at school?” Of course, the children all nod their heads that they are doing their best.
Messengers of god
bring up Oga children
New Year’s Eve
The real purpose of the arrival of the devils is to punish the lazy fellow who does not do his work or help the parents with the house chores.
The head of the family will serve the devils in a formal manner with sake and fish while the children and the housewife watch from a respectful distance. Suddenly the devil will shout to the wife “Is the cooking knife sharp?” “Are the New Year’s beans boiled?”
The festival consists of drama between human beings and the guardian deities. It is carried out as tradition and custom in the richness and fantasy afforded people of this part of the world. The figures suddenly rush out of the house to pound on the next door in their frantic scratch for a lazy fellow.
Here is a legend about Namahage.
The legend of the Namahage varies according to an area. An Akita legend has developed regarding the origins of namahage, that Emperor Wu of Han (d. 87 BC) from China came to Japan bringing five demonic ogres to the Oga area, and the ogres established quarters in the two local high peaks, Honzan (本山) and Shinzan (真山). These oni （鬼）, as they are most commonly called in Japan, stole crops and young women from Oga’s villages.
The citizens of Oga wagered the demons that if they could build a flight of stone steps, one thousand steps in all, from the village to the five shrine halls (variant: from the sea shore to the top of Mt. Shinzan) all in one night, then the villagers will supply them with a young woman every year. But if they failed the task they would have to leave. But just as the ogres were about to complete the work, a villager mimicked the cry of a rooster, and the ogres departed, believing they had failed.
Here are interpretations about the festival.
An obvious purpose of the festival is to encourage young children to obey their parents and to behave, important qualities in Japan’s heavily structured society. Parents know who the Namahage actors are each year and might request them to teach specific lessons to their children during their visit. The Namahage repeat the lessons to the children before leaving the house.
Some ethnologists and folklorists suggest it relates to a belief in deities (or spirits) coming from abroad to take away misfortune and bring blessings for the new year, while others believe it is an agricultural custom where the kami （神, or god） from the sacred mountains visit.
Lastly, let me refer to the Namahage Sedo Festival.
The Namahage Sedo Festival is held on the grounds of the Shinzan Shrine at the foot of Mount Shinzan on the second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of February every year, when the “Devil Festival” on December 31 is re-enacted for the public there.
Namahage join the festival as messengers of god in the following way.
First of all, there is a ceremony in which young men are exorcized and changed into messengers of god with devil masks handed by Shinto priest（神官）, entering Mount Shinzan as Namahage.
Then, those Namahage come down to the grounds of the Shinzan Shrine to take part in the festival.
From Mount Shinzan
descend messengers of god
into a festival
Namahge give performances through sacred music and dance in the festival.
Namahage absorbed in
sacred music and dance
The Oga people have coexisted with nature, inventing drama between human beings and the guardian deities. Giving birth to a feeling of mystery, the festival presents children something exciting and fantastic. The children gradually develop a sense of affiliation with their community and its culture, while the men who act as Namahage reinforce their identity and the continuity of their longstanding traditions.
Namahage is expected in the near future to be added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO as Koshikijima no Toshidon in Kagoshima Prefecture was in 2009.
We sincerely hope that UNESCO will pay more attention to the campaign “Let haiku be on the UNSCO list!” through haiku about Namahage.
Haiku will be loved more because of its brevity and its coexistence with nature, by which the earth will be a haiku planet.
By Hidenori Hiruta
Namahage-Sedo Festival （なまはげ柴灯まつり）takes place in Shinzan shrine （真山神社）in Oga city , Akita prefecture（秋田県）, Northern Honshu, Japan, the second Friday through the second Sunday of February every year.
This festival is carried out as a tourist event that combines the Shinto shrine Sedo festival and the Namahage folk festival.
Here is a photo of the Namahage-Sedo Festival.
Photo courtesy: as per original copyright at:
Shinzan ya Namahage oriru sedo matsuri
descend from Mount Shinzan ―
the Namahage-Sedo festival Hidenori
Namahage no hatsukoi no chi ya Oga hanto
falls in first love ―
the Oga Peninsula Hidenori
Here is another photo of the Namahage-Sedo Festival.
Photo courtesy: as per original copyright at:
Namahage no honoo no gotoki omoi kana
falls in love ―
like a flame Hidenori
Manisha Kundu-Nagata in Akita prefecture tells us about Namahage Festival in her blog.
Dr. Gabi Greve in Okayama prefecture also tells us about this festival in her blog.
Please check them out, and you will know about Namahage Festival better.
On February 15, Patricia Lidia in Romania contributed Haibun: Love to us.
It’s blizzard, but that does not spoil the joy of the young lovers. Her dress matches the snow freshly sprawled and on her shoulders she is wearing his coat. It’s cold, but the joy of the moment warms his soul and he makes him forget that they are walking on a bridge of ice. They look at each other like in the first day they have met, long and meaningful. Back then it was cold and it was snowing just as now, but that did not count, the alleys parks were their only witnesses.
walk in two-
the frozen snowdrop
in her warm hand
The snow does not change their plans. It is their special day, only they matter. Only them and the future.
stealthily glances –
in the priest’s crown
past and future
Today the entire nature celebrates with them. It snows with large flakes that become small ice crystals between her eyelids. With his fingers, he wipes the flakes from her face. “I am happy as I haven’t been in a long time”, he says, smiling, “and if it is a dream, well, I do not ever want to wake up to our common reality… “She put down in the snow the bouquet of camellias, and approached him, kissing him in silence.
frozen lake –
on the bridal bouquet
Lastly, let me post haiku and photos by Kyra Roybal and Scott Ruddell, who studied about haiku and learned to write haiku at the class by Alexander Dolin, PhD, Professor of Japanese Literature and Civilization Studies at Akita International University（国際教養大学）.
Kyra Roybal contributed the works of haiku and photos to us in November, 2011.
Scott Ruddell also contributed the works of haiku and photos to us in November, 2011.
Underneath the tree, the pure autumn colors paint the ground.
On a cloudy day, the leaves fall with the rain.
Past the open lake
The mountains cannot be seen
Hidden by thick fog
Last days of autumn
Waiting for the snow to come
To turn the trees white
As the days get cool
Cicadas no longer sing
Surely fall has come
The next posting ‘For New Year 2012 (8)’ appears on February 25.
― Hidenori Hiruta