When, in 1808, plague was sweeping through the porttown of Onomichi, the lord in control at the time ordered local shrines to perform purification rights in an attempt to ward of the disease. The rights were to be performed over 3 days and two nights and, in addition, an omokoshi portable shrine was carried through the streets with young men dressed a lion and three demons named beta, shouki and soba at the head of the procession.
Today, a festival based upon this unhappy event is held every year over 3 days, culminating on November 3 which is always a National Holiday. Young men dressed as the lion and demons run through the city streets to the sound of drums and bells, chasing children and hitting them on the head or body with bamboo whisks.
The children thus “beaten” are then said to be safe from illness or disaster for the coming year. The very young children subjected to this treatment by their well-meaning parents are in general quiteterrified and you’ll see plenty of screaming babies and toddlers. According to the Onomichi Tourism Office website, those poked by sticks carried by beta and soba will be blessed with children and those that get the whisk treatment (from shouki) will become more intelligent. The betcha festival been designated an Intangible Folklore Cultural Property by Hiroshima prefecture.
Read a great summary in English of one person’s day at the Betcha Festival here.
Day 1 (November 1)
Day 2 (November 2)
Day 3 (November 3)
Procession through the city between 08:00 and 18:00
The numbers in () correspond to the numbers on this easy to understand map in Japanese.