The Onomichi Betcha Festival is a very unusual festival even for Japan, and it has hence been designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Onomichi. Held each year over a three-day period from November 1st through 3rd, this festival features a procession with omikoshi (portable shrines) that are carried through the town to pray for the sound health of the townsfolk. Among them are three masked demons called "Soba," "Beta" and "Shouki," and it is no exaggeration to say that these demons are the true stars of this festival. As they lead the omikoshi (portable shrines) through the streets, these demons, when goaded on by the surrounding crowds of onlookers following the beat of the drums and whistles, will use their "Iwaibou" (ceremonial rods) and "Sasara" (bamboo whisks) to strike the heads and poke the bodies of those around them.
It is said that, by undergoing this "purification" ritual at the hands of the demons, one will receive many blessings, including children, greater intelligence and recovery from disease. Believed to have begun during the Edo Period, when Ikkyu Shrine performed a purification ritual lasting for three days to pray for the expulsion of disease, the Onomichi Betcha Festival is a traditional event that has become deeply rooted in the hearts of the people of Onomichi.
Incidentally, although there are several different theories about the origins of the demons' names, it is widely believed that "Beta" is so named because the mask is so thickly covered (beta in Japanese), "Soba" is so named because the first person to play the part back in the Edo Period was a the proprietor of a soba noodle shop and that "Shouki" is so named because the first person to wear the mask back in the Edo Period was a man named Shoukichi. The demon procession event takes place over all three days of the festival, so if you happen to visit Onomichi on one of these days, there is a good chance that you will run into them. By all means, take the chance to receive a slightly rough blessing from the demons while praying for sound health throughout the year.