As the summer heat gives way to slightly cooler breezes, the island of Miyakojima in Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa celebrates an ancient form of exorcism involving supernatural creatures, masks and a whole lot of mud.
The festival of Paantu (also written as Pantu) takes its name from the supernatural gods—beings covered in branches, leaves and thick layers of mud—that descend upon the village to chase out evil and bring luck to the residents. It’s a long-standing belief that new homes and newborn children who were splashed with mud by these visiting deities would be blessed with good luck.
That fortune seems to extend to all those who get “dirtied” by the Paantu spirits as they make their way through the small communities where this festival is still celebrated. (Hirara City in Shimajiri and the Nobaru district of Ueno village are two locations that continue to hold Paantu events.)
The Paantu will enthusiastically attempt to spread their mud to both residents and visitors alike, so those who attend are asked to be open to the spirit of the festival.
In recent years, due to overwhelming visitor numbers and complaints from tourists about the messy nature of the festival, the dates for Paantu are usually not announced until a few days before the ritual is due to take place. While the traditional celebration follows the Japanese lunar calendar, in the past, Paantu festivals have usually taken place between the end of September and mid-October (see past Paantu dates (in Japanese)).