Namahage Menchoshi (Namahage Mask Engraver) Mr. Senshu Ishikawa in Akita Prefecture

Putting Fear and Beauty into the Namahage Mask.Putting Fear and Beauty into the Namahage Mask.

Namahage is a traditional event held annually on December 31 New Year's Eve in Oga City, Akita Prefecture. Even those not living in Akita Prefecture must have seen the Namahage on tv shouting “Naku ko wa ine ga (Any crying kids!?)” “Warui ko wa ine ga!? (Any bad boys or girls!?)”. The Namahage makes an unforgettable impression and this impact is mainly created by its appearance. The face looks like a demon, and there’s a knife in one hand. And that fearful roar. It is easily understandable that children cry when the Namahage comes into their home. Even adults will freeze if the Namahage appears in the dark. This time we visit Oga City and the Namahage mask engraver Mr. Senshu Ishikawa.

Namahage Mask Engraver Mr. Sehnshu Ishikawa, Akita Prefecture | 2019.4.8

visit to Mr. Senshu Ishikawa, Namahage mask maker in Oga City, Akita Prefecture.

This time, we visited the Namahage Museum in Oga City, Akita Prefecture. At this museum, Namahage mask engraver Mr. Senshu Ishikawa occasionally demonstrates his hand-carving process. Before we talk to Mr. Ishikawa, we were very surprised at certain area. There are more than 100 Namahages on display. And none of them have the same face, all are different. While we wonder“Isn’t there only one Namahage?”, we should first ask the guide what is a Namahage. “Most people, locals excepted, misunderstand that the Namahage is a demon. But they are not actually. They are a 'Visiting God'. They come around to each house on the night of New Year's Eve. They cast out the evil spirits of the passing year and bless you for the coming new year.” he said. They are gods, not demons. After, we are surprised again at totally misunderstanding the Namahage. One question still remained. Although they are the gods, why do they make a terrifying roar? "The name Namahage is derived from the word 'Namomi'. Namomi is like a scab that you might get from a low temperature burn if you sit too lazily in front of a fireplace for too long a time. The namomi scabs would be ripped off (hagitoru in Japanese) to admonish these lazybones. From 'namomi hagi’, the name ‘Namahage' emerged. So their roar has a meaning of admonishing lazy people.” When a Namahage enters a house, they say “Waruiko wa ine ga? Namakete iruno wa ine ga? (Any bad kids? Any lazybones?)” to admonish. The house owner calms the Namahage down and treats them to sake and a meal. The Namahage act a role that makes children realize their appreciation for their parents. This helps strengthen the family bond as well.

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