New Year’s celebrations are not always full of laughter. In Japan, the moment of the turn of the year haunted by ‘The Wandering Devil.’
What happens if the happy New Year celebration suddenly becomes tense when a group of demons comes knocking on your door? They not only want to visit but also look for bad boys to be recruited as part of their group!
This ritual happens every New Year in Oga City, Akita Prefecture, Japan. Don’t be afraid; these demons are not real demons but people who wear grass costumes and the mask of Lord Namahage. Namahage itself can be said to be a kind of entity from heaven whose figure is very sinister. Or in Japanese commonly referred to as oni alias devil.
In the ritual, masked Namahage people will go around and scream for children. If they find a naughty child, that child will be taken and made their member. At that time, ‘oni wandering’ will ask the children to study hard, work hard, and be obedient to parents.
Other family members are assigned to convince them that the children in the family are good. After considering all the bad qualities that children or families have, Namahage will be given food and drink like sake as a form of forgiveness and for Namahage to leave.
Various theories state the meaning of this ritual. One of the most common said this ritual performed to welcome the powerful god who will bring good luck in the new year. This ritual, called Oga no Namahage, had also been named an intangible world heritage by UNESCO in 2018.
The Origins of the Namahage Ritual
Reported the Namahage Museum, the Namahage ritual based on a legend about Namahage that had existed since two thousand years ago when the Han emperor brought five giant demons to Japan. These demons are said to steal plants and girls from Oga villages often.
To overcome this, the villagers decided to deceive the demons. They promised to give the whole village girl if the demons managed to build a thousand stone stairs in one night. If the demons fail to make stairs to the local temple, they must leave Oga and may not return.