Raiho-shin, ritual visits of deities in masks and costumes

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Inscribed in 2018 (13.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Agency for Cultural Affairs (Japan), 2017

Raiho-shin rituals take place annually in various regions of Japan – especially in the Tohoku, Hokuriku, Kyushu and Okinawa regions – on days that mark the beginning of the year or when the seasons change. Such rituals stem from folk beliefs that deities from the outer world – the Raiho-shin – visit communities and usher in the new year or new season with happiness and good luck. During the rituals, local people dressed as deities in outlandish costumes and frightening masks visit houses, admonishing laziness and teaching children good behaviour. The head of the household treats the deities to a special meal to conclude the visit, and in some communities the rituals take place in the streets. In some communities, men of a certain age become the Raiho-shin, while in others women play such roles. Because the rituals have developed in regions with different social and historical contexts, they take diverse forms, reflecting different regional characteristics. By performing the rituals, local people – notably children – have their identities moulded, develop a sense of affiliation to their community, and strengthen ties among themselves. In accordance with their ancestors’ teachings, community members share responsibilities and cooperate in preparing and performing the rituals, acting as the practitioners responsible for transmitting the related knowledge.

A Raiho-shin known as Toshidon places mochi, a rice cake, on the back of a young boy to grant him good luck. (Koshikijima no Toshidon)
Raiho-shin known as Namahage engage in dialogue with members of a family that welcomed the deities into the house. (Oga no Namahage)
Raiho-shin known as Amamehagi with the family that welcomed them into the house. (Noto no Amamehagi)
Raiho-shin known as Paantou appear and walk through the community with local people. (Miyakojima no Paantou)
Raiho-shin known as Amahage admonish a young boy. (Yuza no Koshogatsu Gyoji)
Raiho-shin throw buckets of water on houses in the community as part of a ritual to prevent disasters. (Yonekawa no Mizukaburi)
Raiho-shin known as Kasedori bang a bamboo pole on the floor of a house to ward off misfortune. (Mishima no Kasedori)
A Raiho-shin known as Suneka asks a young boy whether he has behaved well over the past year. (Yoshihama no Suneka)
Members of a safeguarding association explain to visitors the appropriate way to behave in front of Raiho-shin known as Toshidon. (Koshikijima no Toshidon)
A safeguarding association member teaches children how to twine straw ropes that will be used in costumes worn by Raiho-shin known as Namahage. (Oga no Namahage)