Pantu Festival - The Unique Mud Festival for Good Fortune
The Pantu Festival, known as パーントゥ, is an annual event held on Miyako-jima Island in Okinawa, Japan. This extraordinary festival features men from the village who transform into Pantu, believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits.
Officially named "Pantu Punaha," in the local Miyako dialect, "Pantu" translates to "demons and spirits," while "Punaha" signifies "a festival to pray for the souls of demons and spirits." Over time, the Pantu deity has evolved into a protective god, ensuring the well-being of people by smearing mud from a sacred source called "Nmariga" on their bodies.
The Pantu Festival takes place in two districts, Hirarashimajiri and Uenonobaru of Miyakojima, each with its unique arrangements. However, the common element is the wooden masks with large foreheads, small eyes, and thin lips, adorned with Derris trifoliata leaves and the entire body smeared with sacred mud.
Despite being a "spirit exorciser," the fearsome appearance of Pantu is enough to make anyone flee. In a way, it's a playful cat-and-mouse game between Pantu and the islanders.
When Pantu spots someone, it vigorously attacks, leaving their clothes and face smeared with mud. Pantu shows no mercy even to women and children, causing them to cry or chasing those who try to escape, leaving their faces tainted with sacred mud.
Pantu's mud target isn't just limited to people and houses; even cars, including rental cars, are not spared, getting coated with mud and an unpleasant odor. Tourists are not exempt from the experience. However, this is the true essence and enjoyment of the "exorcism festival." If you plan to attend the Pantu Festival, be prepared to get muddy and take precautions to protect your clothing and camera.
For those with travel plans to Hirarashimajiri and Uenonobaru in Miyakojima, it's crucial to check if it coincides with the festival dates. The Pantu Festival is an unapologetic, messy affair for both locals and tourists. Understanding that it's not just a mere event but a traditional Shinto ritual is essential.
On October 5th this year, the Pantu Festival was held in Miyakojima, where men donned Pantu costumes and scared children. Conversely, locals and tourists embraced the event. It had been canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the spread of COVID-19 but made a comeback this year as infection rates decreased.
Mika Shimosato, a 25-year-old Shimajiri native now living in the city center, found herself covered in mud alongside her husband and three children. She shared, "I hope my children will grow healthy in the coming year."
Pantu is a significant intangible folk cultural asset of the nation and was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2018 as part of "Raiho-shin, ritual visits of deities in costumes and masks," along with Akita Prefecture's "Namahage" from northern Japan.