2018 NO.24

ニッポンみやげSouvenirs of Japan


Leave Your Usual Self Behind
O-men Masks

Photos courtesy of PIXTA, amanaimages

Made of paper, wood or some other material, an o-men mask lets you take on the character of another person or an animal or any number of other possibilities. About 1,400 years ago, performing arts like traditional dance came to Japan from the Asian continent, and before long Noh dramas and Kyogen farces were performed with masks at the royal court and elsewhere. Over time, the theater spread to the common folk, and masks came to be worn at popular festivals and cultural events as well.

Put on a mask and you change your appearance into something other than who you are—maybe even a god. This helps to explain why o-men became a key part of religious festivals, to welcome local deities. Since o-men let festival participants “mask” their true identity, they became a small but common means to experience feelings beyond the ordinary.

Typical o-men have long included demons and foxes, although today you will see other colorful masks, even plastic faces of animé characters. The fun is for adults and children alike—put on a mask and some traditional garb and you’ll have the perfect outfit for a fun and festive time.