By Ethan Kate
Some fifteen years ago, when watching Jurassic Park, (anyone else suddenly feel old after that statement?) a standard was set to which all other children’s terrified faces could be compared. As the T-Rex approached the overturned car of children Lex and Tim, no look could more appropriately convey “this is the end of it all” than young Lex’s. That is, of course, until I went to the Betcha Matsuri in Onomichi on November 3.
At this festival, commemorating the end of a period of infectious disease after the Edo era, three demons and one monster, dubbed by my Japanese tutor: “the envoy of god,” stroll the city hitting and pushing everyone in their way, thus ensuring health, cleverness and a bevy of other good tidings for the coming year. What really makes this festival special, however, is the dichotomy between parents and children, especially the young ones. Parents, as you might expect, bring their children to be hit or maimed by these monsters and demons, causing all different sorts of reactions.
While parents eagerly brought their children close to the beasts, there were more or less four possible reactions. First, most of the older children were quite brave, even joking around with the monsters. These bold children, however, were divided into two groups—those who actually were brave, and those who only pretended to be, quickly scampering away once they got too close. Then, there were the infants, who had no cognizance as to their surroundings, but certainly cried as soon as they were hit on the head. For those children in the toddler and slightly older range, there were two main reactions, either pure shock and awe or pure terror (my personal favorite and the most frequent sighting). Those in awe were too dumbfounded to react, and just let the beating happen—and, yes, they were hit quite hard—while those who were terrified either screamed and held tightly clutched their parents, or otherwise kicked, squirmed, and did anything else possible to flee. Through all of this commotion, parents, grandparents, and spectators alike were laughing at the misfortunes of these small children.
Clearly, this festival falls into one of those “Only in Japan” moments that have certainly become frequent occurrences for all of us, and is something that shouldn’t be missed.