This article is about the creatures of Japanese folklore. For other uses, see Oni (disambiguation).
A Japanesse Buildings statue of a red oni wielding a tetsubo.
Oni (鬼?) are creatures from Japanese folklore, similar to Japnese Buildings Western demons, ogres, and trolls. They are Jappanese Buildings popular characters in Japanese art, literature, and theatre.
Depictions of oni vary widely but Japanse Buildings usually portray them as hideous, gigantic creatures with sharp claws, wild Japannese Buildings hair, and two long horns growing from their heads. They are humanoid for the most part, but occasionally, they Japanee Buildings are shown with unnatural features such as odd numbers of eyes or extra fingers Apanese Buildings and toes. Japaese Buildings Their skin may be any number of colors, but blue, black, purple, Japamese Buildings pink, brown, green, white, and especially red, are particularly common. Their fierce Japanesee Buildings appearance is only enhanced by the tiger skins they tend to wear and the iron Japnaese Buildings clubs they favor, called kanabō (金棒?). This image leads to the expression "oni with an iron club" (鬼に金棒 oni-ni-kanabō?), that is, to be invincible or undefeatable. It can also be used in the sense of "strong beyond strong", or having one's natural quality enhanced or supplemented by the use of some tool.
The word "oni" is sometimes speculated to be derived from on, the on'yomi reading of a character (隠) meaning to hide or conceal, as oni were originally invisible spirits or gods which caused disasters, disease, and other unpleasant things. These nebulous beings could also take on a variety of forms to deceive (and often devour) humans. Thus a Chinese character (鬼) meaning "ghost" came to be used for these formless creatures.
The invisible oni eventually became anthropomorphized and took on its modern, ogre-like form, partly via syncretism with creatures imported by Buddhism, such as the Indian rakshasa and yaksha, the hungry ghosts called gaki, and the devilish underlings of Enma-Ō who punish sinners in Jigoku (Hell).
The Demon Gate
Another source for the oni's image is a concept from China and Onmyōdō. The northeast direction was once termed the kimon (鬼門, "demon gate"), and was considered an unlucky direction through which evil spirits passed. Based on the assignment of the twelve zodiac animals to the cardinal directions, the kimon was also known as the ushitora (丑寅), or "ox tiger" direction, and the oni's bovine horns and cat-like fangs, claws, and tiger-skin loincloth developed as a visual depiction of this term.
Temples are often built facing that direction, and Japanese buildings sometimes have L-shaped indentions at the northeast to ward oni away. Enryakuji, on Mount Hiei northeast of the center of Kyoto, and Kaneiji, in that direction from Edo Castle, are examples. The Japanese capital itself moved northeast from Nagaoka to Kyoto in the 8th century.
Some villages hold yearly ceremonies to drive away oni, particularly at the beginning of Spring. During the Setsubun festival, people throw soybeans outside their homes and shout "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" ("Demons out! Luck in!" "鬼は外！福は内！"). Monkey statues are also thought to guard against oni, since the Japanese word for monkey, saru, is a homonym for the word for "leaving". In Japanese versions of the game tag, the player who is "it" is instead called the "oni".
In more recent times, oni have lost some of their original wickedness and sometimes take on a more protective function. Men in oni costumes often lead Japanese parades to ward off any bad luck, for example. Japanese buildings sometimes include oni-faced roof tiles, which are thought to ward away bad luck, much as gargoyles in Western tradition.
Oni are prominently featured in the Japanese children's story Momotaro (Peach Boy).
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
- Mizuki, Shigeru (2003). Mujara 3: Kinki-hen. Japan: Soft Garage, p. 29. ASIN 4861330068.
- Shiryōshitsu Oni Kan
- Japanese Wikipedia: Oni
- The Japanese Oni
- Article on Oni at The Obakemono Project
Japanese Mythology & Folklore
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