Unfortunately, kids in northern Japan don’t get a pass this year from the UNESCO-recognized, fearsome namahage.

Japan is host to a variety of traditions and rituals, some which are hundreds of years old or which have made a recent comeback. However, with the impact of COVID-19 this year, several traditional Japanese festivals and customs have been adjusted for safety concerns, and the same goes for the northern Japanese tradition of namahage in Akira prefecture’s Oga city.

▼ An assortment of namahage costumes from local areas in Akita’s Namahage Museum.

Added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list two years ago, namahage are part of an annual New Year’s Eve tradition where male volunteers dress up as straw cloak-wearing, paper mache knife-bearing oni, or ogres, who find and eat disobedient children. The typical namahage routine in Japanese villages involves visiting local homes while threateningly saying “Any naughty children around?” Another important part of the tradition as well also includes preparing a tribute of sake and mochi, or sticky rice cake, for the namahage to drink and eat.

But with COVID-19-related fears abound, things will be different for the nearly 200-year-old tradition.

▼ Other activities involving nahamage include taiko, or traditional Japanese drum performances.

For this year, as part of COVID-19 preventative measures, namahage will not be entering homes and community organizers ask that local households refrain from providing the usual spread of alcohol as well as food. Volunteers helping with the tradition will also be expected to wear face masks. However, the experience won’t be entirely lost as it’s been decided that the namahage will instead stick to roaming the streets, no doubt shouting their signature catchphrase, “Any naughty children around?” and waving a paper mache knife.

▼ No more crowds either for the time being.

Ritual-bound traditions play an important role in local communities and serve as a homage to the distinctive cultures that every region of Japan has. And while these are simply temporary measures for the namahage, hopefully in the future things will wind down enough that guests of the region can experience the special tradition of namahage while enjoying some fresh seafood.

Source: NHK
Top image: Wikipedia/掬茶
Insert image: Wikipedia/Douglas P Perkins, Wikipedia/掬茶 (1, 2)
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