Oga no Namahage Festival

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Japanese

Age: 19

Occupation: Student

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Japanese

(Notes-The informant will be referred to as NN, the interviewer as K, and the mother as M)

Background info: NN is a 17-year-old student at a High school in Los Angeles, California. They moved here from Japan when they were 13 and remembered participating in this festival. I was told this story at their home over tea, with their mother occasionally interjecting to add detail. She will be referred to as M.

K: Ok, so uh, what’s the name of the festival, how do you know about it, and what’s the context of the performance? Like under what circumstances is it uh performed?

NN: The festival is titled Oga No Namahage, and it is a new years festival. I know about it because I grew up in the region where it was performed.

K: And what region is that?

NN: Oga city, in Akita prefecture. But it’s performed nearly uhm everywhere in Akita Prefecture.

K: Cool! So you said you just wanted to talk about one aspect, correct?

NN: Yes, the namahage visit.

K: Ok, whenever you’re ready

NN: Thank you! Its very simple. Young men, normally around your age (20) dress up as namahage, which are like…

M: Ogres or demons

NN: Yes! Those. They have…big red faces and dress up in these straw uhm…costumes that are cool because if you move slowly, then you are silent, but once they want to scare someone, they make so much noise! *Raises arm and makes whooshing sounds to emphasize how loud they are*

K: So its a scary thing?

NN: Oh yes. They dress up as namahage and sneak up on lazy children, ones who are sleeping or not paying attention at the fire and scare them so bad *laughter*. They will get you every year, they are that good at sneaking

I really loved hearing about this festival! It’s a relatively small festival and doesn’t have a whole lot of tourism surrounding it, so it stayed pretty faithful to how it’s always been done, down to stories around large fire pits. NN has also mentioned to me later on that at least at her town’s festival, technology wasn’t allowed because it spoiled the fun. I think it’s interesting how deeply ingrained Japanese folklore is with their culture, like with the namahage. This is a scary event, but also fun, so it reinforces the idea that namahage, which can seem almost comical looking from an older point of view, is scary and is meant to be feared. It allows Japanese folklore to exist in a more pure form.