Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Japanese Devils Beat You For Good Luck on Setsubun

Setsubun is a Japanese Spring Ritual where on the 3rd of February Japanese drive bad luck in the form of devils from their homes. At many temples and shrines throughout Japan, Setsubun activities take place. At Ishite-ji Temple in Matsuyama city on the island of Shikoku they have an interesting twist on the typical Setsubun activity of driving away devils.
 
Usually on Setsubun devils known as Oni are driven away by beans thrown at them. Japanese say at the same time “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which means “devils out, good luck in!” At Ishite-ji Temple, the devils actually bring the good luck to people in the shape of bamboo staffs that they use to beat people lightly in a rhythmic cadence.
 
The staff they use is a variation of a keisaku stick which is used in meditation sessions of Zen Buddhism. Keisaku is a “warning stick” wielded by a Zen priest known as a Jikijitsu who is in charge of the zazen meditation sessions at Zen Temples. If a student is falling asleep the Jikijisu will administer a beating on the student’s back. The keisaku’s bark is actually worse than its bite as it sounds much lounder than it actually feels. In fact, students will often request a “beating” to keep themselves awake and to relieve muscle cramps. Another name for the keisaku stick is called kyosaku which means “encouragement stick.”
 
The “beatings” administered by the Setsubun devils at Ishite-ji Temple are anything but painful and are for the purpose of giving the “beaten” good luck. So instead of driving the devils away like they do at many other Setsubun events, people actually run to the devils and let them beat them for the good luck aspect of Setsubun.
For Photos:
http://therovingroninreport.blogspot.jp/2013/02/japanese-devils-beat-people-for-good.html

 

DSC_0209 copy DSC_0211 copy DSC_0216 copy OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Advertisements

February 21, 2013 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, Setsubun | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Ghost Stories – The Demon’s Arm (Ogre of Rashomon)

Summertime is ghost-time in Japan. It’s time to tell scary stories in order combat the summer’s heat with the cold chill that only ghost stories can bring.

This story is a version of the Ogre of Rashomon as the story is named in Yei Theodora Ozaki’s Japanese Fairy Tales. I however refer to the titular creature as a demon based on the Japanese word “oni” which is demon/devil.

Hirosaki Neputa Festival shows Watanabe fighting the Demon of Rashomon Gate

Rashomon is a gate that once stood in Kyoto that lapsed into disrepair and became a place of ill repute. According to legend a demon took up residence there and snatched up passer-bys. Eventually it bit off more than it could chew when it tried to grab a samurai.

The photos were taken by me of the temple gate of Zojo-ji Temple in Tokyo, a shot of a float from the Nebuta festival of Aomori showing a samurai fighting a demon (Raiko and Shuten-doji), and a depiction of the story on a float at the Neputa Festival in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture. The other images are 19th Century woodblock (ukiyoe) prints.

Check out my other ghost stories:

Japanese Ghost Stories

July 29, 2011 Posted by | demons, devils, folklore, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, japan, japanese culture, japanese folklore, japanese ghost stories, Japanese Ghosts, Japanese Horror, Storytelling, supernatural, weird | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Setsubun in Kyoto and Nara Video

Setsubun (Feb 3rd) is a Japanese Spring ritual where Japanese drive bad luck in the form of Oni (devils) out of their homes with a handful of tossed beans. At temples and shrines, they do mame maki which is throwing beans and other things to gathered crowds.

Setsubun is one of my favorite Japanese holidays and I’ve been celebrating it for the past 6 years or more. In the past I always celebrated it at temples and shrines in or around Tokyo. This year I headed for Kyoto taking in Nara in the evening as well.

I started Setsubun on the 2nd with some Geisha mame maki (geisha were throwing beans that is not that they were throwing geisha). On the 3rd, I went to 6 places starting with Yasaka Shrine for a brief mame maki by people in old court costumes then I went to Heian Shrine where they were doing Kyogen, traditional comedy plays set inbetween Noh dramas. After Heian I went to the small temple Shogo-In where they pelted 3 devils then later the devils threw beans at us! At a tiny temple near the old Imperial Palace, they had three devils arrive with weapons only to be driven away by beans and chants.

After that I took a train to Nara and got there in time to see yet another Oni demonstration. Here the devils were defeated by Bishamonten or Bishamon, Buddhist deity and Guardian of the North. It was like spiritual pro-wrestling with weapons. After that I went to Kasuga Taisha Shrine for a cool down. They had their hanging lanterns lit up for Setsubun. It was very beautiful.

Whew! After all that I was Setsubuned Out!

February 6, 2010 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, Kyoto, oni, Only in Japan, Setsubun | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Japanese Ghost Stories – The Demon-Haunted Bridge

In Old Japan, ghost stories were a form of old fashion all natural air conditioning designed to induce cold shivers on hot summer nights.

Here I re-tell an old story about a samurai who risks his life for a wager to prove his courage by crossing a bridge haunted by a demon.

The story can be found in “Japanese Tales” an anthology of old stories compiled by Royall Tyler.

August 19, 2009 Posted by | culture, demons, devils, folklore, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, japan, japanese culture, Storytelling, tradition, video, vlog, weird | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Devils Scare the Laziness out of Kids

Japanese Devils Scare the Laziness out of Kids
Namahage – Japanese Devils with a Strong Work Ethic

user posted image
Namahage – the bane of lazy children

“Twas the night before my skinning…”
Imagine you were a young child living in the Northwestern part of Japan on the small peninsula of Oga. It’s the holiday season and instead of waiting eagerly for fat jolly old elf with a sack full of toys to bring you presents, you’re dreading the arrival of a bunch of hairy scary devils with a handful of butcher knives who threaten to peel off your skin if you’ve have been lazy all year. It makes the lump of coal Santa Claus leaves with naughty children pale in comparison. If you can get your head around that, perhaps you can understand this bizarre bit of psychological child abuse known as the Namahage.

user posted image
Part of the Oga Welcoming Committee

user posted image
Namahage come in a variety of shapes and colors throughout Oga

user posted image

The Namahage are Japanese devils who visit villages on the Oga peninsula every New Year’s Eve. They wear straw coats, carry large kitchen knives, and wooden buckets. They come in the night down from their mountain homes howling and waving torches. The Namahage burst into homes stomping about looking for lazy children. If the children are hiding, the Namahage will flush them out threatening to take them into the mountains.

user posted image
Namahage are your childhood nightmares in the flesh

user posted image

user posted image
Namahage stomps around the house looking for hiding children

The head of the household will try to appease the devils with a specially prepared meal accompanied with sake. He assures them that no one has been lazy in his household. Then the Namahage seeing all from their mountaintop look into their secret book which records the doings of every household and challenge that statement. The head of the household again promises that all have been obedient and hard-working and pleads with the devils not to take his wife and children into the mountains. It takes considerable effort to control these devils with their strong work-ethic.

user posted image

user posted image
Hard Negotiations with Namahage

As the negotiations drag on, the head of the household offers more sake and along with mochi – rice cake – while begging that his wife and child not be taken away. Eventually the Namahage relent placated by the offerings and the sincerity of the head of the household. They bless the next year’s harvest and wish good health to all the members of the household. As the Namahage leave, they promise (or rather threaten) to return next year.

user posted image
Devils Coming Thru!

user posted image
Namahage – Oga’s unofficial ambassador

user posted image

For children the whole experience can be rather nerve-wracking. When the Namahage arrive they immediately seek out any hiding children and make as though they will take off with them right then and there. The parents or grandparents make a show of trying to save their child without much luck and only through careful negotiation amply accompanied with sake are they successful. Thus children learn gratitude for being saved from drudgery of working in the mountains for the harsh Namahage.

user posted image
In the old days, Namahage terrorized both lazy children and wives

In olden times, communities in areas such as Oga could not afford the luxury of laziness especially with the winters as long and harsh as they are. It’s not difficult to understand why community leaders would have gone to such efforts to instill a strong work ethic in their youth. Today the ritual is traditional. In the past it was a more serious matter – teaching the youth to work hard for their community’s survival and their own.

user posted image
Namahage have a strong work ethic

The original legend runs that the Namahage Devils arrived from China and caused the people of Oga much trouble. A deal was struck between the people and the Namahage that if the Namahage could build a thousand-step staircase for the main shrine in a single night, the people would supply them with a young woman every year; but if they failed, they would leave the people alone. The Namahage readily agreed and set to work.

user posted image
Namahage working hard to win their wager

The lusty devils were so efficient that by the end of the night they had only one stone left to lay before dawn even hinted in the sky. One fast-thinking person however came to the rescue and mimicked the cry of a rooster thus signaling that dawn had arrived. The Namahage, believing they had lost, left and went into the mountains but they return every year for their pound of flesh.

user posted image
A Namahage hears a mimicked rooster and thinks they have lost

user posted image
The Namahage go into the mountains but promise to return once a year

There are several theories as to the origins of the Namahage. One theory is that Namahage are derived from an ancient mountain deity. There are many native traditions of gods coming for a visit – though not quite with the fanfare of the Namahage. Another theory is that they are based on Yamabushi – shinto priest who leaved hermit-like existence in the mountain.

user posted image
Yamabushi – Shinto Hermit Priest – one suspect for the Namahage origin

Yet another theory hints that the Namahage might be based on shipwrecked sailors from Europe most likely Russia. Given the age of festival, it could be that they were those hardy explorers, the Vikings. It would explain the trouble they caused probably in foraging raids and the bet with the supply of woman.

user posted image
Shipwreck Foriegners might be another possible origin of the Namahage

The name “namahage” comes from the local dialect. “Nama” refers to the patch of skin that forms on the skin if someone sits too long at the fire ie being lazy. “Hage” means to scrap away the mark. This is why the Namahage carry their large knives to scrape away the laziness of their victims.

user posted image
Namahage carry large knives to scrape the laziness from victims

user posted image

user posted image

For travelers, New Years is not a good time to see Namahage as it’s primarily a private affair. Participating households don’t want a bunch of camera-flashing tourists to ruin the effect of scaring their kids straight. Some of the local hotels arrange Namahage visitations but given it’s the New Years the whole thing can be rather pricey. Fortunately for the Namahage-seeker, there is the Namahage Museum in Oga where year-round, they can see a performance of the New Years’ event sans the crying children.

user posted image
Making a Namahage Mask at the Namahage Museum

user posted image

user posted image
Visitors can become a Namahage at the Namahage Museum

In February, there is the Sedo Matsuri or simply the Namahage Festival which takes place next to the Namahage Museum in Oga. In the evening several men come down a hillside wearing straw coats. Near the shrine, two Shinto priests bless Namahage masks then precede to mask the men. Once they are all masked, they begin stomping and howling. Thus the Namahage are born.

user posted image
Dancing Devil

user posted image

A little while later they come down again with blazing torches. While young children cry and hide, others chase after the Namahage seeking to grasp a straw from their coats for good luck. Some of the Namahage dance, some of them play Taiko drums, and some of those of softer disposition play Rock, Paper, Scissors with children brave enough to match wit and hand with the Namahage.

user posted image
Namahage playing Rock, Paper, Scissors

user posted image
Drumming Devils

At the end of the festival, a priest presents an offering of mochi – rice cake – burnt black on a fire. The Namahage grudgingly accept the offering then return to their mountain lair. But everyone knows the Namahage keep watch on them and will be back without fail next year.

user posted image
Priest offering mochi to Namahage

user posted image

user posted image
The Namahage promise/threaten to return next year

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Akita, culture, devils, drums, event, festival, folklore, japan, japanese culture, music, Namahage, New Years, Oga, Only in Japan, Roving Ronin Report, taiko, tohoku, tradition, travel, video, vlog, winter, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments