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Mud gods in Okinawa festival scare children to bring them good luck

MIYAKOJIMA, Okinawa -- A traditional festival where men dress up as muddy supernatural creatures in a bid to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck to residents was held here on Oct. 5 for the first time in three years.

    A child cries as a Pantu closes in in Miyakojima, Okinawa Prefecture, on Oct. 5, 2022. (Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan)

    In the "Pantu" festival held in the Shimajiri district on the island of Miyakojima, masked "gods" wrapped in plants and covered with leaves visit the community to dab mud onto people and houses to ward off evil.

    When the district's young men disguised as Pantu showed up during the Oct. 5 festival, children ran away to escape as they cried in fear. On the contrary, adult residents and tourists seemed to enjoy the muddy event as the creatures smeared smelly mud taken from the bottom of a well onto their faces and clothes.

    The ritual was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the spread of COVID-19, but made a comeback this year as infections have decreased.

    Shimajiri native Mika Shimosato, 25, who now lives in the central part of the city, was smeared with mud along with her husband and their three children. She commented, "My heart was pounding. I hope my children will grow up healthy over the next year."

    Pantu is a national important intangible folk cultural property, and was registered on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list in 2018 as part of "Raiho-shin, ritual visits of deities in masks and costumes," along with the more famous "Namahage of Oga," of north Japan's Akita Prefecture.

    (Japanese original by Shinnosuke Kyan, Kyushu Photo Department)

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