BlogTV Japan: Okinawa Halloween Boogeyman

BlogTV is back on the air with a strange Halloween festival in Japan. Well actually, the festival in September, but I thought the creepy theme was appropriate for the Halloween season. This video is 5min 17sec and entirely in Japanese, but it will be fairly obvious what’s happening despite any language barrier.

FujiTV dispatches a reporter to investigate a strange festival on a remote island of Miyakojima, far down the Okinawan island chain. Miyakojima is closer to Taiwan than Tokyo, traveling there takes 17 hours on a ferry. Our intrepid reporter gets off the boat and walks toward the island village. A couple of kilometers from town, some guys are milling about. He asks what’s up and they tell him, it’s time for the Pantou Festival! They’re weaving straw and fibers, cutting thick mats from local vines, and making the Pantou costumes. But the primary ingredient of the Pantou costume is mud. So they’re digging a big hole, stirring up the dark black mud, and mixing it with sticky leaves and straw. Of course a scary wooden mask of an ancient design is required to complete the costume. The reporter leaves the Pantou people to prepare and walks towards town.
At the edge of town, a children are waiting, Pantou is coming this way! They spot the three dark figures walking down the road, they’re dressed in leaves, straw, and mud, with a crazy sprig of leaves and branches coming out of their head like a horn. And now we see what the festival’s about, Panto chases after the kids and smears them with mud. Everyone runs in terror, trying not to get smeared in the sticky mud. But Pantou catches them and gives them a big smear right in the face! Apparently this is some sort of harvest ritual, smearing the children with earth will ensure their health and prosperity, and that of the whole village.
But our reporter has traveled a long way to see this festival, so he gets the full treatment. All three Pantou men gang up on him and sit on him, so he’s covered in mud from head to toe. Well at least now he doesn’t have to worry about getting caught, once you’re muddy, Pantou will leave you alone, his job is done.
Some of the little children are too young to be chased, so their mothers offer them up to Pantou, some of them he gives a muddy embrace, some he just gently daubs on the cheek, some of them, pow! right in the kisser. Mom gets a little daub of mud too. The looks on some of the kids faces are just priceless. One little kid is crying, even though he’s barely muddy at all. Some of the kids are just terrified.
But Pantou is not just after the kids and their mothers. Panto makes a house call and rolls around in the entryway, gettting mud all over the floor. I don’t know how the old guy was chosen for a visit by Pantou, but he seems to be taking it in stride. At least there’s not too much of a mess to clean up. [Update: I found out that newly constructed houses are visited by Pantou, I guess it is a sort of initiation.]
But to pass on a Japanese tradition, it must be handed down in the family. One of the Panto actors has a new child, this is its first opportunity to meet the demonic mud man. He gently extends a muddy finger, and wipes it lightly on his child’s face. And then again, a little less gently, on his wife’s face.
The Pantou men chase after the villagers for two days, with endless replenishment of buckets of mud, seeking to leave noone unbesmirched. The festival winds down at sunset, as Pantou chases down the last stragglers. And then Pantou disappears into the night, until the next year’s festival.

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