Namahage fans rejoice as panel adds tradition to next UNESCO heritage bid


A government panel on cultural assets has decided to pitch seven indigenous regional events for inclusion on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Among them is the Oga Namahage in Akita Prefecture, in which residents dressed as monstrous messengers from the gods visit homes to expel evil and wish them good health.

Residents wearing scary Namahage costumes shouted with glee when they learned of the decision.

Noboru Sugawara, 72, hailed the move as a chance to preserve the tradition.

“I’ll be happy if more people will be interested” in Namahage, he said. Sugawara heads a group dedicated to handing down the Oga Namahage tradition to younger generations.

Japan sought the listing of Namahage by itself in 2011, but UNESCO rejected it due to its close resemblance to the already-listed Koshikijima no Toshidon in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The government has now decided to seek the listing of those two events, along with six others around Japan that center on visiting deities or demons, as a single group.

An official said Wednesday the government will file the request by the end of March for a preliminary screening by a UNESCO panel and a formal review at the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee around November 2017 at the earliest.

However, as UNESCO will limit the number of reviews in both 2017 and 2018 to 50, the Japanese events may have to wait even longer.

The six other events are held in Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, Ishikawa, Saga and Okinawa prefectures.