Japanese folklore is packed to the brim with iconic creatures, demons, and spirits, many of which have become so iconic that aspects of them can be seen reflected in western culture and imagery.
Perhaps the most famous of all Japanese folklore creatures is the Oni. But what actually is an oni? What does it represent? What does it look like? And where did it originate from?
These questions, and more, will be answered for you now, so read on below, because we are going to find out exactly what an Oni is, and what it represents within Japanese culture and folklore.
What Is An Oni?
An Oni is a type of Yokai that is very well known within Japanese folklore. The term ‘Yokai’ refers to a type of supernatural apparition that can range massively in terms of appearance, temperament, and behavior.
Some Yokai are incredibly friendly, while others have malevolent or malicious intentions deep down. Oni are often quite difficult to pin down, as their behaviors are not necessarily truly “Good”, but they also cannot simply be described as “Evil”.
Oni are also often represented using harsh and sharp colors, such as red, blue, black, and even yellow. They also often have large-framed appearances, and often carry around large clubs.
Oni are often compared to the Western image of an ogre, which makes for a very apt description, thanks to their large sizes and inhuman skin colors.
What Does An Oni Look Like?
Oni are traditionally drawn in a way that exaggerates their towering and horrifying figures. Though they may often be either skinny or larger, they are always tall and much larger than human figures.
The face of the Oni is often depicted in a very frightening manner, with a large and menacing grin, and large tusks coming out of their mouths.
This is often paired with a wide-eyed expression, which gives the oni a rather unhinged and animalistic look that instills fear in many that see them.
Oni are also often depicted as carrying around large clubs called “Kanabo” and wearing loin-cloths across their crotch area. They also often have large horns protruding from their heads.
What Does An Oni Represent?
While Oni can occasionally be viewed as a negative image, and an omen of a powerful and undefeatable threat, Oni can also be viewed as a positive symbol.
Due to their strength, Oni can often be used to symbolize protection, as an oni will choose to defend a person or a community from threats posed by outsiders.
What Is The Behavior Of An Oni?
Oni are actually born out of the spirits of wicked humans who die and end up passing on to one of the Buddhist hells.
Due to being born from evil people, Oni tend to be very wild, chaotic, and destructive. In many stories, Oni have been depicted as destroying entire towns or murdering humans just for the thrill of it.
Oni are also known for inflicting intense punishments and tortures on victims, in order to scare them into submission.
Oni can also occasionally be created when a person is so evil that they become an oni before they pass away!
Where Did The Oni Originate From?
Oni was once used as a word to describe ghosts and monsters in general and not just a specific type. In the early days of Japan, many ghosts and monsters were simply referred to as Oni, because folklore had yet to be fully cataloged or documented.
With time, and as documents became written up concerning Japanese folklore and its many Yokai, the definition of Oni became a little more fine-tuned, and a little more specific. The term soon came to represent the Oni that we commonly recognize now.
How Has The Oni Impacted Popular Culture?
The famous depiction of the Oni has had a very large impact on popular culture, not only within Japan itself but also overseas.
Some of the most famous examples of the Oni impacting popular culture include the famous Japanese ogre emoji, which is based directly on the iconic image of the oni.
Other depictions include appearances in anime, such as Demon Slayer, Urusei Yatsura, and the animated franchise Lego Ninjago: Masters Of Spinjitzu.
To Wrap Up
So, there you have it. An Oni refers directly to a form of Japanese Yokai that is most commonly depicted as evil, but that has, through the years, gained a more positive image and reputation.
Oni are born from evil people’s spirits, and revel in destruction and chaos, though they have also been noted to engage in more positive behaviors as depicted in much of Japanese folklore.
They are also occasionally used as positive symbols of protection and strength, thanks to how famously powerful and unbeatable Oni tend to be.
And it goes without mentioning that the traditional depiction of the Oni has had an impact on popular culture in Japan and the West.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Powers Does A Oni Have?
Oni are noted to have a massive number of abilities that make them very formidable. Most famous is their physical strength.
Oni have often been depicted as throwing men around with ease, which has made them the nightmare of many warriors in Japan.
Oni also have other abilities, such as invisibility, telepathy, telekinesis, and spell casting. Oni are definitely not to be messed around!
Do Oni Eat Humans?
Oni have very often been depicted as eating humans, and they are known to have an appetite for human flesh, thanks to being born of truly evil human beings. They have also been depicted as eating entire human beings in one large gulp.
What Is A Oni Mask?
An Oni mask, most commonly referred to as a “Daikijin” is a mask that is commonly worn during official ceremonies in Japan. The mask is very often worn as a way of protecting the event from evil spirits.
The mask also tends to take on a scary appearance inspired by the sharp tusks, the large grimace, and the large nose of the Oni.