Oni

Country: Japan Category: Culture By: fearfrog
Oni
Oni are creatures from Japanese folklore, similar to Western demons such as ogres and trolls. They are popular characters in Japanese art, literature and theater.

Depictions of oni vary widely but usually portray them as hideous, gigantic creatures with sharp claws, wild hair, and two long horns growing from their heads. They are humanoid for the most part, but occasionally they are shown with unnatural features such as odd numbers of eyes or extra fingers and toes. Their skin may be any number of colors, but red and blue are particularly common. Their fierce appearance is only enhanced by the tiger-skin loincloths they tend to wear and the iron clubs they favor called kanabo. This image leads to the expression "oni with an iron club", which means 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 speculated to be derived from "on", 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 meaning "ghost" came to be used for these formless creatures.

The invisible oni eventually became anthropomorphized and took on their 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-O who punish sinners in Jigoku (Hell).

Another source for the oni's image is a concept from China. The northeast direction was once termed the kimon or "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 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 indentations 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.

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!). Monkey statues are also thought to guard against oni, since the Japanese word for monkey, saru, is a homophone 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 called onigawara, which are thought to ward away bad luck, much as gargoyles in Western tradition.



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December 05, 2016
19:18:28

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December 05, 2016
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November 05, 2014
21:41:53

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November 05, 2014
10:17:54
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