Come winter in Akita, there is one famous festival that draws crowds from all over, and that is Namahage Sedo Festival. Located at the Namahage Museum in Oga, it is a tad bit off the beaten path, but relatively easy to get to if you put in the museum in Google Maps.
I went to it last year, but this year was significantly less crowded, so I got a chance to have a better view of performances.
You are able to tour the museum for free during the festival time, before you trek up to where the shrine and actual ceremony happens.
It is a sen (1,000 yen) to get in, but you get a cute little wooden cleaver as a token, just like the ones the Namahage carry with them. This year (and general visit) I picked up the goshuincho for the shrine seal that I have wanted for a long time
Namahage are deities from the mountain that come down to bless the people at the festival. If you are able to pick up a piece of straw that falls from their costume, you are supposed to have good luck for the rest of the year.
The festival has the men who are chosen to be Namahage getting blessed by the priest of the Shinzan Shrine, before climbing up the mountain to dawn on their Namahage garb. As they do so, a performance of a Namahage visit to a house is done a stage off to the left of the shrine. There are children there who are asked about the behaviors during the last year. They are asked if they are crybabies or if they have been listening to their parents.
After the Namahage visit performance, there are dances and a taiko performance of the Namahage. It is colorful, loud, and energizing despite the cold that the night brings in Akita.
The whole festival is from 6 PM to about 9 PM. To get good parking, you should aim to be there absolutely no later than 6 or your walk will be a lot longer. They open up more parking lots, and there are staff to direct you, so it's not too confusing, but can be a haul. If you arrive a little earlier you can check out the museum with lots of leisure time.
There are few food stalls there, but it was on the outside of the actual festival area this year. You can buy a wooden sake cup, and get unlimited refills of all sorts of sake if that's something up your alley. Since I'm allergic to alcohol, I didn't get one, although my friend did. I did buy a hat for my father, but didn't indulge in the super cute Namahage gloves, although they did tempt me.
If you ever find yourself the position of being able to go to the Namahage Sedo Festival, I would if I were you. It is certainly a once in lifetime experience and something uniquely Akita that will leave one heck of an impression on you!
Do you have any winter festivals that are a must-see for you? Or what is your favorite thing to do in the winter?
Love Always, Laura Ann