Photo: A concave and convex monster mask – Malcome Larcens

Kitakami Oni House

A museum dedicated to the numerous monsters around Japan and beyond

Malcome Larcens   - 3 min read

Oni, monsters or ogres play an important part on folk culture in Japan and other countries. The Kitakami Oni House (鬼の館) is a museum dedicated to all the monsters around Japan and a few others from India and Indonesia. At the Kitakami monster house, you can learn about some of the monster festivals around Japan and their meaning. It's a good place to spend a day with the family.

The first step as you enter the display area is a mini theater where you can watch a quick video of some folk tales and how the oni are all around us. The video room is nicely done to resemble a small forest making the experience more authentic. After watching the short video, you enter the main hall where all the monsters are.

A few years ago, I had the chance to visit Akita in February during the Namahage festival. I was really impressed by the atmosphere and seeing the monsters come down from the snowy mountain to keep the children in check. Until then, I had considered monsters to be of a rather bad nature but they play an important role to keep children and adults from doing undesirable things. They also are believed to protect local people from disasters happening to them. At the Kitakami Oni house, you can learn and see all the monsters from Japan and the important part that they play in Japanese society. Most of the monsters in Japan have long teeth and horns and often wear only loincloths. Several of them have been recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage.

Kitakami has their own monsters called Oni kenbai. They are sword wielding monsters, they play an important part of the summer festival. Their dance is quite elaborate and a pleasure to watch. There is usually a drum player and a few flute players accompanying the onikenbai in their performances.

To keep the museum experience suspenseful, there are three animated monster masks. I have to admit I was a little surprised at first. I can see how it will have the desired effect on children. Be sure to stay alert as you go through the displays.

Towards the end of the exhibit, you will see some masks from India and Indonesia. Their design is quite different but they probably have some similarities in their meaning and purpose.

Just after the ticket booth is a little archeological museum displaying some of the items found in Kitakami. There are a couple of swords dating over 1000 years and some pottery items from over 4000 years ago. There is an exhibit of early glass making items arranged in a necklace like design.

I would say, you should allow at least 2 hours to browse through the museum and the oni house. Enjoy.

Getting there

The museum is about 5 kilometers from downtown Kitakami on R-122. If you're coming from the highway E-4, Ezuriko is the closest exit.

Go west on R-107, you'll see a sign for R-122 after about 2 kilometers, turn left, go over the Waga River. Turn right at R-225, go about 500 meters and turn left at R-122.

The Oni house is about 500 meters away, just after you go under the highway


Malcome Larcens

Malcome Larcens @malcome.larcens

I grew up in Quebec, Canada and studied electronics in college, never worked in that field. Moved to Vancouver in the early 80's where I found my real passion, cooking. I ran my own restaurant for 14 years after that worked as a financial advisor for 4 years, I really enjoyed that too but we had ...