Evacuee children living in temporary housing in the Yoshihama district of tsunami-hit Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, had the wits scared out of them by a man dressed in a monster costume on Jan. 15.
Although some of the youngsters seemed not to appreciate the boogeyman’s door-to-door visits, it was all in a good cause: a traditional ritual called “Yoshihama-no-suneka” to pray for large harvests and good health in the coming year.
During the Yoshihama-no-suneka visits, made on New Year’s Day according to the old lunar calendar, the disguised man, or “Suneka,” shouted “Naguwarasu wa inega? (Isn’t there any crying kid?)” as he visited temporary and other homes in the area.
The custom, which has been designated as a nationally important intangible cultural asset, is believed to have its roots in a horrific folk tale in which the skin of a lazy person who sits next to a fire too long is peeled off.
“Are you going to study hard?” the Suneka asked a 7-year-old boy in one home. When the little boy answered “Yes, I am,” with tears welling up in his eyes, the Suneka, satisfied with the answer, left.
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