Okame (plain-looking woman) (おかめ)

Okame is the face or mask of a woman who has a short nose and swollen round cheeks.
It is said that the name was chosen because the shape of her swollen cheeks looked like a vase (kame in Japanese.)
It is also called Otafuku (literally, many fortunes.)

The mask of okame is sometimes used as to play a comical woman in Satokagura (kagura performance held somewhere other than at the imperial palace) and is often played with 'hyottoko' (droll fellow or clownish mask) as a pair.

As okame is also called otafuku and means many fortunes, it is regarded as good omen, and they began to use it as an ornament attached to rakes sold on Tori no Ichi (open-air market on the day of the bird) at Asakusa and so on.

Originally in ancient times, it was believed that a plain-looking woman with fat and well-looking body could be an amulet warding off evils, and was thought of as some kind of "beauty." However, with the implication of "remaining unmarried on the shelf" and the changes in aesthetic feelings, the amulet became a derogatory term that meant a plain-looking woman.

The origin of the comical mask is said to be from Amenouzume (goddess of entertainment) in Japanese Mythology, however, there is an opinion that the name okame came from the name of a 'miko' (a shrine maiden) during the Muromachi period. As for the name Otafuku, there is an opinion that it is derived from the meaning of many fortunes mentioned above, and there is also another opinion that it came from the name of a fish 'Fugu' (blow fish) because her swollen cheeks are similar to the puffed up fish.

There is a folktale at Senbon Shaka-do temple (formal name is Daihoon-ji Temple) that Okame, a wife of a master carpenter who built the main hall of the temple, helped her husband but after that she killed herself to save her husband's honor. Thus, there is a custom that they attach the mask of Okame to gohei (wooden wands, decorated with two Shide or zigzag paper streamers) when the Muneageshiki (the roof-laying ceremony) takes place in Kyoto.

[Original Japanese]