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Even virus can’t keep namahage ogres at bay

JAPAN NEWS-YOMIURI
                                In Oga, namahage ogres appear every New Year’s Eve to chase away evil. This year, they did so carefully, using masks and hand sanitizer.
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JAPAN NEWS-YOMIURI

In Oga, namahage ogres appear every New Year’s Eve to chase away evil. This year, they did so carefully, using masks and hand sanitizer.

OGA, AKITA PREFECTURE >> While not in full force, would-be ogres came out on New Year’s Eve to dispel evil and bring good auspices — after spritzing their hands with sanitizer and donning masks beneath their disguises, of course.

Maintaining a cultural tradition recognized by UNESCO, a number of namahage made the rounds of Oga while taking countermeasures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

According to tradition, on Dec. 31 namahage admonish the lazy and guard against plagues, and are said to bring good harvests and good health.

Of 93 districts that normally perform the ritual, at least 48 canceled this year because they did not feel confident they could perform the ritual safely, according to the Oga government.

But in the Masugawa district, a trio of namahage were seen sanitizing their hands as they entered a house, and their scripted calls were done in low voices. And in place of the usual sharing of complimentary sake, they drank out of paper cups.

“We managed to do this by taking some measures,” said a 29-year-old man behind a namahage mask. “I want to keep this going … so that the tradition is not disrupted.”

In the Okura district, namahage weren’t invited into houses. This year, they remained at entrances to perform their ritual to dispel evil, and encourage a good harvest and safety in the home.

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