What's a Namahagé?
In Akita, the Namahagé are a New Year’s tradition akin to the St. Nick of old Europe, back in the days before he got his red-suited jolly makeover. On Akita’s Oga Peninsula, come New Year’s Eve, bands of men wearing giant masks and traditional winter gear walk the streets emitting a thundering moan. When they knock at the door, parents invite them to sit down for a drink while the deep-voiced Namahagé demand to know whether there are any ill-behaved children in the house.
The Namahagé Museum (‘Namahagé-kan’) is in the middle of the Oga Peninsula, a few kilometers from the rocky coast of the Sea of Japan. Here you can experience the ubiquitous Namahagé moan, watch a video featuring terrorized children clawing at the walls as tipsy men impersonating demons threaten to carry them off, and even experience a Namahagé re-enactment in an old-fashioned Japanese home—guaranteed to set at least one child in the audience wailing. Several Namahagé make an appearance in Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning animated film Spirited Away.
The Namahagé Museum is open from 8:30-5:30 daily, with admission ¥500. It’s a 20-minute drive from Hadachi Station on the Oga Line, which is an hour out of Akita Station.
Published November 2008. Photo (c) 2003 Michael Kanert.