Why do people get tattoos?
The reasons are as diverse as the people wearing them!
There’s no universal motivation for going under the needle.
Some choose to express something private about themselves in symbolic form, others choose to pay homage to something classic and recognizable.
Tattoos can be seen as a calling card- known to some but curious to others.
If you’re looking for a unique design with an interesting story behind it- look no further!
The Namahage is a demon not many people know about, but those who do know will never forget.
There are many demonic or ghoulish creatures in the world, but Namahage is in a class of its own.
Let’s dive further into the backstory behind this women stealing, child punishing, New Year’s Eve celebrating, blister removing monster.
Where Does Namahage Come From?
Namahage is a Japanese character with roots in the Shinto religion.
But, unlike other mystical beings from Shintoism, this character is celebrated in one small peninsula.
The Oga peninsula is west in the Akita prefecture in Japan, and sticks out into the Sea of Japan.
The peninsula is shaped like an ax, and many tourists go there to visit the “Godzilla Boulder,” so named for its resemblance to the classic monster.
Though Namahage may not be as well known as other Japanese creatures like Godzilla, in this little corner of the world you will find Namahage everywhere.
On key-chains, as statues, and there are even Namahage rice crackers!
Naturally, the Oga peninsula is also the place to be to take in the Namahage festival, or visit the Namahage museum.
Who is Namahage?
Are you sufficiently intrigued?
Namahage is a beastly character played by young men from the village.
Usually in a red, blue or black mask, he charges into family homes on New Years Eve.
He will be holding a butcher knife and yelling out into the house.
He may say something like: “Where are the lazy children? Where are the crybabies? Are there any naughty children in the house?”
This is, understandably, terrifying for the children. Namahage works sort of like a Santa Clause in reverse.
Instead of coming by on Christmas to reward good children with presents, he comes by on New Years to threaten bad children.
If the kids in the house have been bad, they’re told that Namahage may carry them into the mountains.
Once all the youngsters are nice and scared, the parents ease their worries by assuring Namahage that there are no bad children in the house.
They then soothe the monster’s temperament by offering him rice cakes and sake.
Not such a bad gig for the man behind the mask!
Though the most common Namahage masks are red, blue or black- there are apparently 60 different varieties of Namahage masks in full!
Where Did The Namahage Tradition Come From?
There are two different origin stories associated with Namahage, and they are both rather bizarre!
The official origin of this tradition is relatively unknown, but these are the two stories you’ll commonly hear when chatting about Namahage.
One thing is for sure- Namahage came before Santa Clause, possibly even before Christianity itself.
The legend says that Han Emperor Wu, who ruled over China in the first century BC, brought Namahage to Japan.
When he traveled to the Tohoku region of Japan where the Akita prefecture is located, he brought 5 demons along for the ride.
These ghoulish sidekicks decided to stay, and set up camp in the mountains.
Occasionally they would sneak down to steal crops, or even the village women!
Finally, when the townspeople had enough of this behavior, they proposed an offer to the Namahage: if they could build 1000 steps from the shoreline to a mountain in one night, they could have their pick of the local women each year.
If not, they’d have to leave everyone and their crops alone.
The Namahage took them up on this and were surprisingly great builders!
One hour before sunrise, the townspeople got anxious until one person decided to go mock the sound of a rooster.
The Namahage may be great builders, but they can’t tell a person from a rooster.
They assumed they failed in their task, and relented to the villagers.
But there was one caveat: The Namahage would come down to the village every so often to make sure the humans were on their best behavior.
If they stepped out of line, there may be consequences!
This is where the tradition of the annual visitations came from.
But why are the Namahage carrying knives?
We owe that menacing little detail to another story.
Another Namahage story is of people who warmed their hands by the fire for so long that they developed blisters on their hands and feet.
These blisters are known as “Namomi” in the Akita dialect.
To peel off the blisters is “Namomihagi.”
One thing the Namahage yell upon entering a household is “blisters peeled yet?” and the knife they carry is symbolic of the peeling of the blisters.
Namahage is always trying to find and punish lazy children, so a blister from sitting by the fire too long would be a tell-tale sign!
What do Namahage Tattoos Symbolize?
Namahage tattoos may mean you want to avoid laziness yourself.
Interestingly, tattoos do scab over and there is a healing process through which the scab falls off.
This adds to the overall symbolism of the piece.
A feeling of transformation and shedding your old skin- or peeling the blisters off.
You may also want to protect yourself.
It is said that a Namahage tattoo will protect you from other kinds of evil spirits, so keeping one around isn’t such a bad idea!
Common Themes in Namahage Tattoos
Namahage tattoos are typically red in the face, accentuating their demonic nature.
These tattoos should be done in the traditional Japanese tattoo style, as it accentuates the shape of the mask.
Some opt for a traditional or old school style tattoo, which is less shapely but gives the Namahage a more cartoonish appearance.
Some go for something more menacing than others.
The namahage can be scary, but some consider it a pretty funny legend, so the choice is yours.
Namahage Tattoo Ideas
Not sure why you’d want to have a New Year’s Eve demon tattooed on you?
Let us dazzle you with our Namahage tattoo gallery!
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