Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The legend of the Namahage and Goshado

This is a direct cut and paste from the Akita prefecture page on Cultural Assets.

http://www.namahage-oga.akita.jp/english/
Some explain the Namahage as Demons from the“999 stone steps”folktale enshrined in Goshado Shrine.
Emperor Wu of the Han
Picture: Dedication of a peach to the emperor Wu of the Han/Akagami Shrine collection
In the ancient Han dynasty of China, the emperor Wu came to Oga with five bats to find a medicinal plant for an elixir of immortality. The five bats transformed into demons and worked hard for the emperor, but one day, the fives bats asked the emperor “Could you please give us just one day to rest?” Eventually they had a break on the 15th of the New Year. They went down to the villages and stole crops, animals, and even young girls. People in the village were distraught and offered the emperor a deal .If the demons could make a thousand stone steps from the beach to Goshado shrine, located on the summit of the mountain, in a single night before the roosters crowed, they would offer a girl to them every year. If they could not, the demons were never to return. Although people in the village expected that it would be impossible to build a thousand stone steps in a night, the demons made the steps easily. When the demons finished making the 999th stone step, people panicked. But the villagers tricked the demons by having village fool imitate the “cock-a-doodle-doo” of the morning rooster’s crow. The demons were so surprised and mad that they pulled over a thousand-year-old cedar, stuck it into the ground, and stormed back to the mountain. They never came down to the village again.

6 comments:

Andrew Wright said...

Right, that makes perfect sense...

Ponkan Chan said...

well... yes..
I suppose it's said never let truth get in the way of a good story, but it sounds like someone's wires were crossed... perhaps over multiple generations.

Sometimes I think the stories are just made up for the benefit of the local tourism industry...

Andrew Wright said...

I'm pretty sure I've read about some made up stories in Japan for tourism purposes. Might try writing some myself, just for the fun of it.

I recently saw a Attenborough documentary on the Great Barrier Reef where the local Aboriginal stories related to rapid sea level rise at the end of the Ice Age around 10,000 years ago. Amazing how the knowledge has been preserved in one form or another.

Ponkan Chan said...

Interesting. A bit unrelated, but did you see the New Yorker article about forecasts for an earthquake in the Pacific N.W. Not nearly as old as 10,000 year stories - it's amazing that knowledge can be passed down without writing for so many years.
This is
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one

Let me know when you're going to be around.

Jane said...

Doesn't that mean demons have trouble with hearing if they can't tell the difference between a cock's crow and a human's? Aren't humans foolish to deal with demons. I don't see that this story flatters anyone!

It was an entertaining story, so thank you.

Cecilia said...

Nothing like being well balanced!

I can't think where I read it, but I read it recently that in northern Tohoku (it could have been a wider or smaller area, but the area that includes Akita) chooks used to be considered gods because they heralded the morning. There's a scene in Isabella Bird's book on Japan written in the 1870s or so about people in the area near Hiro's hometown getting apoplectic about Isabella Bird wanting to eat a chook that she'd purchased from local people. She was perplexed about what the issue was, but if it is seen as a god, I guess it makes sense.

There's a lot of blending of animals and humans in Japanese traditional stories - trees that are people, foxes that become people and then return to being foxes etc. I don't know much about folk culture, and much of it is now so embellished for tourism purposes, I'm not sure I'd know what to believe anyway.