Wednesday, December 30, 2009
You Can't Hide from the Namahage
Allow me to introduce you to the Namahage. Three hundred and sixty-four days a year, these knife-wielding demons with a penchant for straw coats wander the wilderness on the peninsula of Oga in Japan. But every New Year's Eve, they leave their mountain lairs and go looking for a little human company.
The Namahage visit nearby villages, bursting into homes in search of lazy children. The head of each household must then negotiate with the demons (the negotiations apparently involve lots of sake) and attempt to convince them that the children of the house have been both hard-working and obedient.
If the Namahage remain unconvinced, the little boys and girls are dragged back to the mountains and forced to lead a life of drudgery.
Okay, now to my main point. The twenty-first century is a good time to be young. A kid today might squeal a bit at the sight of a Namahage or Krampus, but few would ever take them seriously. But go back a hundred years or so, and I'd bet that these demons were pretty good at scaring the snot out of children.
Imagine it. It's 1909. You're a kid in Oga, and your parents warn you that there are terrifying creatures called Namahage living deep in the woods. (And you can't go online to see if it's true.) Then on New Year's Eve, a hideous demon bursts through your door . . .