The Akita News

Posted by on Sep 19, 2011 in Akita, Travel Volunteer Journey | 4 Comments
The Akita News

The Demon Drunk

There’s a case to argue that parents in the west are getting too soft. Katy and I grew up well after corporal punishment was outlawed in schools the UK, and people said life was getting too easy for kids then. I’ve heard horror stories about schools being told not to use red pen to correct children’s work, for fear it will depress them. Elsewhere, I’ve read that soccer teams in America give trophies too all of the kids in the team, even if the team is losing and the child doesn’t make it off the substitutes’ bench. It strikes me as absolute madness that parents should be so afraid about upsetting their kids: kids are supposed to be upset sometimes, especially if they’re behaving badly or under-performing in school.

Thankfully, whoever came up with the idea of the Namahage decided that life should be very different for children in the Oga area of the Akita prefecture. Here every New Year’s Eve, willing homes are invaded by two or more growling, menacing, red-faced demons (the Namahage), who arrive to get an annual report on the behaviour of the children from the head of the household. The children quake. Regardless of what the parents say, the bellowing monsters saddle the fear sensors in the children’s minds and proceed to try and abduct them from the house.

Now the kids’ trembling turns to wailing.

They try to grab onto anything that’s nailed down to save themselves, while their loved ones look on helplessly, perhaps reminding themselves of the time the brat refused to do their chores. Scrabbling, screeching, believing themselves to be leaving this world, they quickly find a way to repent to their parents. Meanwhile, the demons are appeased with plenty of saké.

Thus the Namahage, the anti-Santa who brings only one present: terror.

Will it make the children love their parents more? Probably not. Will it traumatise them? Possibly. But will it make them behave in the future? Absolutely.


I See Sealife On The Seashore

In Life of Pi, Yann Martel makes a memorable case in favour of zoos. A far more eloquent writer than I could ever be, he essentially says that keeping an animal in captivity is clearly in its best interests; by doing so, you protect it from the raw terror of the wild. In an enclosure, the beast doesn’t have to scratch in the dirt for food, nor does it have to fight to the death for a sexual partner. It is inoculated against disease and it has a safe bed every night.

Yes, it may lack a “territory” and it might have to endure gormless tourists banging glass to get its attention, but the beast isn’t an interior decorator, and an 8-year old with an ice cream is nothing compared to being hunted by a predator.

And yet, despite Martel’s case, we can’t help but feel slightly melancholy watching Gota the polar bear pace in his enclosure at Oga Aquarium. The bear, for its part, doesn’t seem particularly content, either.

Around the corner, at least the gentoo penguins seem as stupidly happy as ever. We were fortunate enough to see them in the wild last year and can definitely say that they don’t seem at all concerned by life in a tank. The lighting was pretty gloomy and not much use for pictures, but we don’t think it’s cheating to recycle one of our shots of the little guys happy in their natural environment.


For Goodness: Saké

Today’s world rarely seems to allow for the intergenerational hand-me-down of life skills. I can think of only one person I know who learned their trade from their father. That made this afternoon’s visit to the Fukurokuju sake brewery all the more special because today’s patron’s family has been running the joint for over 300 years – it was set up by Watanabe-san’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather. The process of making saké isn’t perhaps as refined as that of wine, nor does it take as long to as good whiskey (saké only takes a year) but that doesn’t mean the final product isn’t tasty.

How do we know? Because Watanabe-san, very kindly gave us two bottles, one of which we took to our traditional dinner at the ryokan Yuzankaku.


Breaking News

We’re just back in from seeing a drumming performance. Most of the inter-beat chat passed us by, but the message was clear: these Namahage dudes rock!







ヤン・マーテルの著書、“Life of Pi”で動物園の素晴らしさに触れるくだりがある。彼の表現力には叶わないが、基本的に彼はこう述べている。動物を保護し飼育するために飼う事は、彼らを自然の厳しさから守る事になるのだと。そうすることで彼らは餌の心配をすることなくなり、また争う必要もない。動物園では予防接種を受けて病気からも守られ、毎日安全な寝床が確保されているのだ。







  1. Robert
    September 19, 2011

    It looks like it that these kind of figures like the Namahage are well rooted in all our societies, in middle of Europe there are the Krampus and Perchta wich look much like these oni (demons).

    In France they have Le Père Fouettard (the whipping father who dispenses lumps of coal and/or floggings to the naughty children). In similair manner we in the Netherlands have Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) wich has sadly lost most of his bad assery because of political correctness in the last decade or so.

  2. Eric
    September 20, 2011

    @ Robert:
    Yes, true we also have the “Pere Fouettard” in France, but it seems he completely lost his battle against the “Pere Noel” (Santa Claus)! Many kids nowadays have no idea who he is and what he represents…

    I actually live in Japan (not in the rural Akita, but in the city of Kanazawa) and it is true that Kids are really scared of the “Namahage” or also called “Gau-san”. Whenever my own child is too rowdy or capricious, the sentence “Go on and the Gau-san will come to get you” works wonders! He calms down in seconds…

    On another hand, I participated with my kid in a summer festival where huge dragons parade in the streets and one marcher came and took my son into the Dragon’s head… for Good Luck! I can tell you he was terrified, although it was supposed to be a good omen! ;-)

    Anyway, thanks to Katie & Jamie for the great pictures (loved the last one!) and the insightful texts. Very informative and definitely with humour & personality!

    Keep on the great work!

    • Robert
      September 20, 2011

      So it is true that even in France PC behaviour is ruining (old) traditions, in my own country people are questioning the fact that Black Pete is black and that it is therefore racist and refers to our past when we still participated in Slave trading.

      Rainbow Pete’s would be better according to them, yep, pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows, that will do it.

      The good omen of a (festival) dragon trying to take a bite out of your head, i know, it happend to me on the island of Okinawa, it became the best holiday ever.

  3. Kat
    September 21, 2011

    In my country, it’s common to make a kid behave by scaring them first. Like “If you don’t behave the *insert ghost’s name* will come after you. Hehe. I got my fair share of that growing up.

    On passing down trade: It’s the sad sign of times. A lot of kids these days prefer to work in the city or big companies rather than continue with the family tradition.