Japan Museums: Namahage Museum, Oga Peninsula, Akita Prefecture
Namahage Museum & Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum なまはげ館 男鹿真山伝承館
The Namahage Museum on the Oga Peninsula in Akita Prefecture is a big, modern, nicely landscaped facility which, together with the adjacent Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum, showcases the district's colorful (and raucous!) namahage New Year ogre ritual..
The Namahage Tradition
Namahage is a new-year tradition on the Oga Peninsula for the purpose of scaring children and young wives into good behavior. A pair or trio of masked and wooden knife- or stick-wielding ogres clad in shaggy wigs and straw costumes bursts into the family house, slamming doors, roaring, banging things, and seeking out any children who are "naughty, crybabies, or lazy" or a "recalcitrant wife."
Each small rural community on the Oga peninsula puts its own stamp on the ogre costume in the form of a distinctive mask or weapon.
Other parts of Japan have a similar tradition, albeit with a different name.
The Namahage Museum
The Namahage Museum was built in 1999, and is a spacious, well-designed, subtly lit facility most notable for its large numbers of life-sized, straw-clad namahage figurines depicting the local variations of the namahage look. The papier-mache masks worn are (at least to adults) only playfully horrific, although wooden masks with more traditionally devil-like features are also only display.
The history of the namahage tradition is also covered, albeit in Japanese (although an English-language pamphlet is available when entering). There are displays of namahage realia, a mini-theater corner (Japanese only), and even a spot where visitors can don a namahage costume and pose for commemorative photos.
A shop on the premises sells namahage souvenirs, as well as highly priced wooden namahage masks made by a crafts person.
The museum project was the initiative of local enterprises, with the local authority involved only in its operation.
Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum
The Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum adjoins the Namahage Museum, and is an old, preserved, and authentically dingy, wooden dwelling that serves as the namahage theater. Reenactments of a namahage home visit take place here throughout the day at set times.
A somewhat lengthy introductory explanation is given in Japanese, but an English translation is available of a typical dialog that then takes place between the householder and the ogres as he attempts to attenuate their rampage by convincing them that all in the house are hardworking and well-behaved.
The staged visit is memorable in its rowdiness and (faux) violence, and truly conveys the disciplinary power of this all-too-real piece of age-old theater.
Photography and video-taking are permitted throughout.
Shinzan Shrine and the Namahage Sedo Festival
Shinzan Shrine is just to your right and about 300 meters along when leaving the Namahage Museum and is the site of the Namahage Sedo Festival that takes place in early February.
Shinzan Shrine occupies the mountain of the same name. From the shrine's imposing two-story nioumon gate up the several steps to the main haiden hall, there are numerous sights to see, including a wooden dug-out boat, on its serene, green and spacious, multi-level grounds. The main features of Shinzan Shrine can be seen in about 10-15 minutes.
The Namahage Museum and Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum are open 8.30am to 5.00pm every day of the year.
Namahage Museum only: 540 yen for adults, 270 yen for school age.
Namahage Museum and Shinzan Folklore Museum combined ticket (price changes by season)
April-November: 864 yen for adults, 540 yen for school age.
December-March: 1,080 yen for adults, 756 yen for school age.
About 1 hour from Akita Station in Akita city to Hadachi Station on the JR Oga Line, then about 20 minutes by taxi. Or, if driving, about an hour by car from Akita Station, or about 90 minutes from Akita Airport.
Namahage Museum and Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum
Aza-Mizukuisawa, Shinzan, Kitaura, Oga, Akita.
Tel. 0185 22 5050