Futatsui – Oga Peninsula
I awoke to heavy rain. Not having the patience to linger in my tent I packed up camp and headed to a nearby 7-Eleven for breakfast. With coffee and gyōza in hand I took a seat under the eaves of a nearby school gymnasium and waited for the rain to die down somewhat. Being a Sunday, the grounds were empty, so I entertained myself with a game of keepy-uppy with an abandoned basketball.
The on/off rain would be a constant now for some time as I got to grips with the Japanese rainy season, essentially the equivalent of the UK’s April showers… but on crack. Getting wet at numerous intervals was, more or less integral to my journey south. If I was lucky enough, I found a hasty retreat out of the random showers, if not I just got a soaking and learned to live with it.
My goal this day would be to traverse the Oga Peninsula, home of the demonic Namahage. Breaching south-westerly through the storm of relentless rain and customary atrocious drivers, I was greeted by two huge, surly looking statues. Each was dressed in a straw garb and displayed distinctly threatening mannerisms; one red-faced martinet wielded a deba knife, and the other blue-faced interloper suggestively brandished a mop! Over two millennia ago it was said that a Chinese emperor bought with him five ogres to Oga; a curiously situated peninsula branching out of western Akita into the Sea of Japan. The ogres, or Namahage – as they became known – used to pillage the local villages for their crops and women. This naturally left the local inhabitants somewhat disgruntled; complaints piling into the village elders as the peninsula rapidly turned into the sausage party capital of Japan. Yet one elder had a cunning plan, a challenge if you may, to the thieving Namahage. If the ogres could build 1000 steps up a mountain to a local temple in one night then the villagers would give the demons all of the crops and women that they desired, but if they failed… they would have to fuck right off and know their place in society.
The Namahage, fuelled by greed and lust, set to the challenge in no time, powering through to some 999 steps. It was directly after which however that a wise-arse villager took it upon himself to trick the Namahage. He feigned the sound of the cockerel, leading the Namahage to believe it was the dawn of a new day and that they had failed in their challenge, and thus shamefully they retreated back into the isolated mountains from whence they came.
What the morale is to this story I’m not quite sure; the Namahage’s reputation becoming somewhat distorted over time. Their image is now more commonly used in New Year’s celebrations whereby men dressed as Namahage will enter the homes of local villagers and scare the shit out of children by chasing them around with sharp blades, incessantly screaming whilst reciting an array of deranged quotations such as ‘Any lazy cry babies?’ or ‘Show me the naughty children’ … before threatening to take any idle layabouts back to the mountains with them. Harsh, to say the least.
To begin with the southern fringes of the peninsula made for some easy cycling, as I headed in a clockwise fashion around the coast. The terrain however did soon elevate as some challenging climbs looped around the lush green peninsula, like a complicated knot. A provoking enough task, but when your clothing and the bulk of the possessions that you are carrying contain the extra weight of a hundred or so downpours – it’s a merciless task. However, quaint little fishing villages dotted amongst craggy coves allowed for some short breaks from the rain before the exertion continued. Occasionally, I’d stumble across a statue of a Namahage, seemingly goading me on whilst I sweated it out upon another steep climb.
With the sun sitting dimly on the horizon through a thick smudge of gloomy clouds, I passed a row of deserted restaurants and souvenir shacks to make it to Cape Nyudozaki. A lonesome lighthouse sat upon a crest looking out across the Sea of Japan.
I sat for a while, ransacking my emergency rations of food: fish sausage, pea crisps, canned mystery fish and karintō – a sickly deep fried snack caked in brown sugar. I’d not eaten since early morning and with the absorption of Oga Peninsula’s copious amount of hills, I’d managed to burn up a heap of calories that I wouldn’t efficiently be able to replace before day’s end. Shops on the peninsula were thin on the ground, and any that did exist were now either closed or abandoned.
From a signboard I saw an Auto Campground advertised just off of a road named the ‘Namahage Line.’ The road cut into Oga’s ropey interior with the same integral rising and falling as the tricky peninsula’s coast.
Finding my way to the campground I discovered that it was in fact closed. Which made me wonder – being at the back-end of June and on a weekend – when exactly did they plan on opening for the season? If at all. A signboard indicated the layout of the campground with various plots mapped out. The skies then began to rumble as a mass of black cloud lurched towards me, and at that moment – to my mind – the campground was suddenly open for business.
I cautiously entered the grounds on high alert for humans. The grass had been recently cut and the outbuildings invariably were still being maintained… but, as night shimmied closer and the weather gradually worsened, the only signs of life came from the surrounding forest. Frogs, crickets, bush warblers and the lowly grunting of a wild boar, or was it…no…surely not. I picked an outbuilding with toilets and wash basins at the furthest reaches of the campground, setting up my tent under shelter upon a hard concrete floor. It was to be an uncomfortable night’s sleep, but I would be dry at least. And as I lay down upon my concrete bed, the thunderstorm passing raucously above me, I wondered overall if I’d been a good boy, for my fate was clearly now in the hands of the Namahage.
‘Tokyo to Tokyo – A Cycling Adventure around Japan.’
Enjoy the ride.