Mt.Chokai Waterfalls and Namahage Demons 鳥海山、男鹿ナマハゲ
Mototaki Fukuryusui 元滝伏流水
A wet night at Kisakata michi no eki but by morning the weather is clearing. Mt. Chokai is still a mass of towering, grey cloud but there are patches of blue out over the Nihonkai (Japan sea).
We set off for Mototaki Fukuryusui. This is about 15 minutes’ drive from the michi no eki. This is a natural spring, that forms many small waterfalls. It is fed by the numerous rivulets emerging from the subterranean springs of Mt. Chokai. The whole area is covered in a luxuriant moss due to the damp and shade. There is a pleasant ten minute or so walk through the woods from the car park to reach the falls. The area is almost deserted at around 9am. A good spot.
Naso no Shirataki 奈曽の白滝
From Mototaki we drive back the way we have come for a few minutes to visit Naso no Shirataki. This waterfall is 26m high with a large volume of water stemming from snow melt on Mt.Chokai.
From the free car park, just off prefecture road 131, you walk up the road and through Kinpo shrine. Following the steps down, there is a rather interesting shrine building and, from that point, a view of the waterfall. I was perhaps more taken with the shrine than the waterfall.
From Kinpo shrine we head back to Kisakata thinking the inland sea rice paddies would be full of water. This would provide some idea of how the area looked when it really was a shallow sea. That was before a massive earthquake raised the area above sea level. Unfortunately, although some paddies are flooded and planted with young rice most were overgrown and abandoned so the illusion of the sea’s return was lost.
Abandoned fields are, sadly, a common sight all over rural Japan as the aging, agricultural workforce dwindles.
Oga Peninsula and Namahage 男鹿半島ナマハゲ
From Kisakata we move north, we are on the way to Hokkaido after all, to the Oga peninsula. Skirting Akita city and following the coast, we make for Namahage-kan. This is a folklore museum concerned, unsurprisingly with Namahage. These are the demons or mountain spirits of the area.
On December 31st., these demon-like creatures visit the houses in the villages to drink sake and terrorize the children. Their mission is to check that everyone, but particularly the children, is behaving properly, living orderly, industrious lives and, in the case of children, studying hard.
We watched a short performance of a typical home visit put on for tourist for a modest 864 yen. For this you can visit the display of artefacts, mainly masks and costumes of the various Namahage from the surrounding districts at ‘Namahagekan‘. You also are invited to watch the performance at ‘Oga Mayama Denshokan’. As you are unlikely to be invited into the house of a villager on December 31st. this is as good as it gets.
The Namahage make a great deal of noise, stamping, roaring and banging on the doors and walls. They accuse the hapless homeowner and family members of staying out late, not doing chores, being rude to teachers and so on. It appears they can be mollified by copious amounts of sake.
Each district has its own take on the traditional designs for the Namahage masks, but I couldn’t quite dismiss the feeling that they were the product of the local primary school.
＊Namahagekan + Oga Mayama Denshokan ; 880 yen / adult (Apr.~Nov.), 1100 yen (Dec.~Mar.) price changed from Oct.2019
Akagami Jinjya(shrine) Goshado 赤神神社五社堂
From the Namahage, we loop back to visit Akagami shrine Goshado. This is another of those shrines where an oni, or demon, constructed the steep path up to the shrine in one night. If you climb this 999 step stairway, it takes about 10 minutes, you gain some understanding of where this idea might have sprung from.
At the top, the shrine is of plain weathered wood and consists of 8 or 10, I didn’t count, individual small shrine buildings. A little unusual but worth the climb? You decide.
Wind Turbine Coast
This peninsular has some great scenery and a wonderful rocky coast. Some areas are flat and sandy and others steep and rocky. We did not have time to reach the end of the peninsular but, instead, cross from the south to the north coast towards Noshiro. This is the wind turbine coast. From the hills as you descend wind turbines great and small stretch out to the hazy distance. Some people, mainly from the fossil fuel industry, find these things a blot on the landscape but I find them magnificent.
Futatsui michi no eki
It is getting late in the day and we arrive at Futatsui michi no eki well after dark. We dropped in here on a previous trip when it was newly open, but this is our first time to stay. The toilet is magnificent and still smells of new timber.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.