OGA, Japan — While not in full force, the masked ogres came out on New Year’s Eve to dispel evil and bring good auspices — after spritzing their hands with germ-killing sanitizer and donning surgical masks beneath their disguises.
The Namahage, maintaining a tradition listed as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage, were seen making the rounds of Oga, Akita Prefecture, while taking countermeasures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In the custom held on Dec. 31, the Namahage admonish the lazy and guard against plague, and are said to bring good harvests and good health.
According to the Oga government, of the 93 districts that normally perform the ritual, at least 48 canceled it this year because they felt they could not fully negate the risk of infection.
In the Masugawa district, a three Namahage were seen sanitizing their hands as they entered a house. In place of the usual sharing of complimentary sake, they drank out of paper cups they brought with them. Their calls of “Are there any crying children here?” were done in low voices.
“Even amid the pandemic, we managed to do this by taking some measures,” said a 29-year-old man who filled the role of a Namahage. “I want to keep this going next year so that the tradition is not disrupted.”
In the Okura district, the role-players put on surgical masks before putting on the Namahage masks. While they would usually be invited into houses, this time they remained in the entrance, where they performed their evil-dispelling ritual to bring a good harvest and safety to the home.