Oni, Japanese Demons

. Onipedia - 鬼ペディア - Oni Demons - ABC-List - .

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. Oni, the Japanese Demons

A lot of scholarly material is already out on this topic, so I give you a short overview later on about useful links. Here I will introduce mostly some of my favorite Oni 鬼.

Setsubun on February 3 is the time to think about Demons.

Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi !
Demons, out you go! Good Luck, please come in!

On February 3rd of 2005, Setsubun will be celebrated throughout Japan. Falling at the end of the period defined by the solar principal term Daikan (Severe Cold), Setsubun occurs one day before the sectional term Risshun (Spring Begins). The setsu of Setsubun (literally "sectional separation") originally referred to the eve of any of the 24 divisions of the solar year (see The Lunar Calendar in Japan for an explanation of these divisions). However, the Setsubun associated with "Spring Begins" gained significance as a symbol of Toshi Koshi (year passing) or Jyo Jitsu (accepting the old year) by marking the completion of the cycle of the 24 divisions of the solar year. Only this Setsubun is still marked on the official calendar.

Setsubun achieved the status of an imperial event and further took on symbolic and ritual significance relative to its association with prospects for a "returning sun", associated climatic change, renewal of body and mind, expulsion of evil, symbolic rebirth, and preparation for the coming planting season. Customs surrounding this day apparently date as early as the Ming Dynasty in China, and in Japanese form, began to take shape in the Muromachi Era (1392-1573).

Setsubun has been celebrated in many ways, but perhaps the most common custom found throughout Japan is the traditional Mame Maki or the scattering/throwing of beans (mame) to chase away the evil oni (ogres, evil spirits). In some ritual forms, the Toshi Otoko [literally "year man" but referring either to the "man of the house" or to men who are born in the animal sign of the coming year (bird for the year 2005)] will throw mame within the house or at someone perhaps dressed as oni and repeat the saying
Oni wa Soto; Fuku wa Uchi (Get out Ogre! Come in Happiness!).

After the ritual throwing of the beans, family members may then pick up the number of beans corresponding to their age; eating these brings assurance of good fortune in the coming year. These days, of course, it is not uncommon to see children dressed in masks of oni, others madly throwing beans, and all gleefully shouting for evil to hit the road. Prominent temples in Japan may also find monks or celebrities showering large crowds of people with mame to ward off spirits and welcome the renewal of the coming New Year.

Read more about this Spring festival.

Safekeep copy:

At a temple in Kyoto, there are Oni of three colors.
The red one symbolizes Greed, the blue (green) one Anger and the black one stupidity.

2月、京都市上京区の廬山寺では、三色の鬼が舞い踊り、大勢の人々が集まります。この三色の鬼たちは人間の三つの煩悩の象徴で、aka-oni red demon 赤鬼は「貪欲」、ao-oni blue-green demon 青鬼は「怒り」、黒鬼は「愚痴」を表します。
Take a look here:

Useful Collection of LINKS about the Setsubun Festival


Now I want to talk about some of my favorite Oni.

.. .. .. 役行者 En no Gyooja and his Demon Servants

CLICK for more information

En no Gyoja, as you can see on the picture above, is usually flanked by a couple of two demons,
. Zenki 前鬼 and his wife Goki 後鬼 .

These demons promised to En no Gyooja to protect the pilgrims of the area. They had five children, whose families in the x-th generation up to this day have five mountain huts where the pilgrims can rest during their walk from Oomine to Kumano. The business is going on for more than 1300 years now. Gokijo 後鬼助 san, in the 61 generation, lives in Osaka now and comes back every weekend and holidays to take care of the pilgrims.

I have written more about En no Gyooja and Yoshino here:


. Ryuutooki 龍燈鬼 Ryutoki .
Dragon-lantern-carrying demon
Lantern carrying Demon, Tentoo-Ki 天燈鬼 Tentoki
They are in the temple Koofuku-Ji in Nara. They teach us the dynamics of "Movement" and "Stillness".


Mark Schumacher has more about them:


Kidomaru learning magic from the tengu
Kidoomaru - Kidōmaru 鬼童丸

Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳『鬼童丸』

- quote -
Physical description:
Kidōmaru seated cross-legged on the head of a giant python, his hands clasped and two wrapped pine-sprigs in his mouth, a dirk has been driven into the head of the python, around which small snakes are writhing while four tengu watch.

"Kidōmaru is known as both a robber and a magician... The instruction that he receives here from the tengu can only be described as a sort of mystical experience involving self-purgation - he accesses a side of himself that he hitherto was not fully aware of. This Kidōmaru is not derived from the usual source, the Zen Taiheiki, rather he seems to be inspired by Takizawa Bakin's yomihon, Shitennō shōtō iroku (Strange Story of the Eradication of the Wicked Four Retainers,1806). In this yomihon, Kidōmaru competes in practicing magic with Hakamadare Yasuuke. Kidōmaru conjures up a poisonous serpent, whereas Yasuuke produces an eagle.

In this print the head of the giant python is almost as arresting as the countenance of Kidōmaru and provides a second strong focal point. The aomatsuba (wrapped pine sprigs) likewise command the viewer's attention, as do other elements such as the flames and the small writhing snakes. The colours in this print are riveting in their bold juxtaposition of blue and red.

There are two types of tengu, one is winged but has a human face with a very long nose (yamabushi or 'mountain priest' tenfu), the other has a bird's head and a strong, curved beak (karasu or 'crow' tengu). Four of the latter type inhabit the bottom section of this image."
Quoted from: Japanese Warrior Prints 1646-1905
by James King and Yuriko Iwakiri, p. 269.
- source : woodblockprints.org

. Tengu 天狗 - Introduction - .

. Kidomaru, son of酒呑童子 Shuten Doji "Sake Child" .

. sakaki oni 榊鬼 Sakaki demon .


Namahage なまはげ Akita - on December 31

The origin of Namahage and related festivals and practices in northeastern parts of Japan is unclear. Records of the observance date from 1811, but it probably goes much farther back. Some ethnologists and folklorists suggest it relates to a belief in deities (or spirits) coming from abroad to take away misfortune and bring blessings for the new year, while others believe it is an agricultural custom where the kami from the sacred mountains visit. These kami (spirits) have the power to assure rich harvests, so they are welcomed and feasted.

The word "namahage" comes from a local word for the blister a person gets from spending too many hours sitting at the kotatsu, plus the word for "peel." The suggestion is that the visiting kami would peel the blisters of the lazy people who spent the winter idling in front of the brazier.
The visits of the Namahage have traditionally been used to maintain a kind of social cohesiveness, with the objects of the Namahage roaring and teasing being children, new brides, and other newcomers to the community. They are encouraged to obey the community rules and be hardworking. The participation in the event both by the young men who act the part of the Namahage, and their "victims" seems to be a sort of initiation ritual. According to Yuji Ine, The Ethnology Association of Japan, the Namahage event is not a Shinto rite, but a folk tradition. In recent history, however, a Shinto connection has developed..

As observed principally in Oga Peninsula in Akita Prefecture, the festival is seen as an occasion for the messengers of the mountain gods to come down from the mountains and visit the village homes on new year’s eve. Traditionally celebrated in accordance with the lunar calendar, where the new year falls in February, the present-day event is observed on January 31, with separate festive observances involving Namahage and torch parades taking place in mid February.

In Oga Mayama (Mt. Shin), according to the Association for the Preservation of the Namahage Tradition, young men of the village, wearing costumes of straw raincoats, straw sandals, and frightening masks, and carrying a wooden replica of a kitchen knife, wrapped in aluminum foil, and a wooden pail, go in pairs from house to house. They are announced in advance to the head of the house, who indicates he is ready to receive them. They arrive with a terrifying roar, and challenge, "Are there any lazy people here?" After some ritual stomping around, they are served sake and snacks, and leave with the promise to return the following year. Their visit is supposed to insure the health and safety of the children for the coming year.

CLICK for more photos

. Nakayama ningyoo 中山人形 Dolls from Nakayama
Namahage clay bells and figures

- more of my photos from Namahage land -

. Folk Toys from Akita .

出羽鶴 本格焼酎 - なまはげ Namahage Shochu Liquor


Toshidon 年殿(としどん)
In Kagoshima, Kyushu, a similar custom like the Namahage is called Toshidon.
It is the local pronounciation of "Toshidono", God of this Year.

God of the Year (toshi toku jin)


Otsu-E 。大津絵  
Pictures from Otsu featuring ONI

Oni no Kan Nenbutsu .. The Demon praying in the Cold

For all the ONI form Otsu see this page.

A beautiful Netsuke of the same motive


... ... ... ... ... Oni playing Shamisen

My story about Otsu-E of Fudo Myo-O


Jaki, Amanojaku 天邪鬼 あまんじゃき

Here are two little demons supporting the beams of the pagoda in Hooryuu-Ji.

Mark Schumacher has some more, under the feet of the Four Heavenly Kings, Shi-Tennoo

Amanojaku Legend in Ohaga, Japan
Gabi Greve (in Japanese)

jaki ga fumu Yamato bonchi no atsusa kana

as if the demons
tread on the Yamado plains -
this heat

Kadokawa Haruki 角川春樹 (1942 - )


Some Antiques with Oni, for more see Trocadero.
search for ONI

Netsuke with a Demon

Curtesy to
Hans-Martin Schmitz, Alte Kunst aus China und Japan

Large Mask of an Oni



Ghosts, Demons and Spirits in Japanese Lore
Norman A. Rubin

Belief in ghosts, demons and spirits has been deep-rooted in Japanese folklore throughout history. It is entwined with mythology and superstition derived from Japanese Shinto, as well as Buddhism and Taoism brought to Japan from China and India. Stories and legends, combined with mythology, have been collected over the years by various cultures of the world, both past and present. Folklore has evolved in order to explain or rationalize various natural events. Inexplicable phenomena arouse a fear in humankind, because there is no way for us to anticipate them or to understand their origins.

Demons in Japanese lore wander between the living and the dead. Sometimes demons do good deeds in the world, and sometimes they wreck havoc. Demons have supernatural powers; but they also have the magical ability to affect natural phenomena. According to Japanese belief, some demons are the root of all disasters, both natural and man-made.

Japanese demons are not altogether evil but are also tricksters and enjoy playing practical jokes. In the Edo period they began to depict the demons with humour, especially in Netsuke figures3. This was a way in which the people equated the demons with the upper classes; also this was a way to mock the heavy-handed feudal rule.

Ceremonies, known as the ‘Oni-Yari’ or ‘Tsuina’, are performed to exorcise demons. These rites are usually conducted at the last night of the year in the Emperor’s Palace: The ritual is comprised of people throwing roasted soy beans in the four directions and calling out, “Enter, good fortune, demons depart!” The fear of pain causes the demons to run away. (Setsubun ceremonies)

Read this long scholarly article here:

Safekeep copy:


Yôkai: Yookai: Monsters, Giant Catfish, & Symbolic Representation in Popular Culture
My favorite picture in this essay is a Tanuki (badger) trying to hit a huge Namazu (catfish) with his enormous scrotum.


Although most definitions of oni correctly point out that these beings can be both destructive or beneficial, the earliest accounts of oni suggest that in Heian times, they were regarded only as destructive. They devoured people or caused them to become sick or injured, and Heian-vintage oni were almost always associated with the smell of blood, dark clouds, thunderstorms, and other destructive images or phenomena. There is strong evidence from literary sources, including diaries, that Heian aristocratic men and women believed in the existence of oni and feared them. Oni typically appeared to resemble humans, at least roughly, but usually featured one or more horns on their heads as well as such attributes as one large eye (or sometimes three or more eyes) and various animal features such as hooves, the head of a horse, et cetera.

...........................................Text here:

Safekeep copy:

Mark Schumacher


© PHOTO : Binkatje

............ ............. Daruma and the Color Red

Demonic Affliction or Contagious Disease?
Changing Perceptions of Smallpox in the Late Edo Period

Smallpox and Daruma and the Color RED

reddo debiru レッドデビル red devil Daruma

- source : krazy-dotty.blogspot.jp -


Safekeep copies of all pictures
My Fudo Photo Album &

Read more about the Setsubun Festival.


. Onioi matsuri, oni-oi matsuri 鬼追い祭り .
at Kumano shrine 熊野神社, Soo town 曽於市, Miyazaki

Ghosts (yookai, bakemono) Japan

. Oni 鬼 Demon Amulets .


. kotowaza 諺 / ことわざ idioms, sayings, proverbs - ABC-List .

oni ni kanabo 鬼に金棒 the oni gets a spiked iron club
to be invincible and unbeatable

More proverbs in the ONIPEDIA !


. Onipedia - 鬼ペディア - Oni Demons - ABC-List - .



Anonymous said...

Thats quite entertaining !
Thanks, Gabi.

Keep going,

Anonymous said...

Miyazu Kaido from Kyoto to the North, via Oeyama with the demons.
There is a "Oni ga chaya" where they found a lot of minerals. and the tatarashi might have lived there, looking like ONI.
宮津街道 paved with old stones.

Gabi Greve said...

The name of these NAMAHAGE monsters

nama kommt von namomi, kleine Brandwunden die man sich an der offenen Feuerstelle (irori) an den Händen und Beinen geholt hat. Das weist darauf hin, dass man im Winter faul am Herd gelegen hat. Daher kommen die Namahage-Monster mit den Messern um die faulen Kinder zu strafen, indem sie die Brandstellen abkratzen (namomi o hagu), das wird dann zu namahage.
Gabi Greve

anonymous said...

Namahage Haiku


Namahage wa Nyudouzaki no hikari kana

Namahage Ogre
keeps the lighthouse ―
Cape of Oga

o o o


Namahage mo Ogahantou de go shichi go

Namahage Ogre
writes haiku too ―
the Peninsula of Oga



Anonymous said...

there's human goblins
in the fields and mountains!
bird leaving the nest

hito oni ga noyama ni sumu zo su-dachi tori


by Issa, 1805

Issa offers a bit of friendly advice to the young bird. Shinji Ogawa explains that the phrase, hito oni means, in this context, "the goblins called men."
To a young bird, a human being is a dangerous monster.

Tr. David Lanoue

anonymous - Akita said...


Shinzan ya Namahage oriru sedo matsuri

Namahage ogres
descend from Mount Shinzan ―
the Namahage-Sedo festival

Hidenori 秀法

Look at some photos here
Akita International Haiku Network

Gabi Greve said...

hire furi te / mejika mo yoru ya / Oga no shima

Matsuo Basho

at Oga Hanto.
Oku no Hosomichi


Gabi Greve said...

The Ibakari Demon

The Ibakari Demon is the demon that haunted the famous Rashomon Gate.


Gabi Greve - WKD said...

Demon tales and Japanese art - Ink painting and calligraphy couplet

Demon motif in Japanese painting and calligraphy arts

By Ryuurui and Szmerdt | Published May 12, 2013


a friend said...

Japanese demon lore :
oni, from ancient times to the present (2010)

Author: Reider, Noriko T

Gabi Greve said...

Oni Jinja 鬼神社 "Demon Shrine" - Hirosaki, Aomori
弘前市鬼沢宇菖蒲沢 - Onigamisama(おにがみさま)旧郷社

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Shuten Dooji Shuten-dōji 酒呑童子
also sometimes called 酒顛童子, 酒天童子, or 朱点童子)
is a mythical oni leader who lived in Mt. Ooe (大江山) of Tamba Province or Mt. Ooe (大枝) on the boundary between Kyoto and Tamba in Japan. He was based in a palace somewhat like a Ryūgū-jō on Mt. Ooe, and he had many oni subordinates.
also related to the Rashomon story.
Kubizuka Daimyojin Shrine 首塚大明神
京都府京都市右京区 - Kyoto

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Kisshoo-In 吉祥院 Kissho-In

Nr. 10 赤神山 / 幸福山 - 吉祥院 - 波切不動尊 Namikiri Fudo
Kisshoo-In 吉祥院 Kissho-In

Fudo Pilgrims in Akita
. 東北三十六不動尊霊場 .

Gabi Greve said...

The Married Demons of Okazaki Shrine

by Jake Ojisan


Gabi Greve said...

A-Yokai-A-Day: Namahage

Matthew Meyer

Namahage is a really well-known yokai, famous across Japan—which is strange when you consider that it is only a local yokai from the small, northern prefecture of Akita. For a prefecture that has barely over 1 million people, it has managed to leave its mark on the national consciousness of Japan.

Part of the reason namahage are so well known is because of the namahage festival which is televised nationally. Although many prefectures have yokai that behave similarly to namahage, Akita’s own yokai manages to have the most exciting way of celebrating. I have never seen the namahage in person, but watching them on tv is always fun.

During the festival, cameramen follow the namahage, local villagers dressed up in costume. The namahage act fierce but are actually quite nice. The most entertaining part of this festival is the way it doesn’t quite work the way it is expected to. What is supposed to happen is that the namahage will come up to the young children and menace them, waving knives and screaming “Any bad kids here???” and the kids are of course supposed to say, “No! We’re all good kids!” It’s like the boogeyman, really: they are meant to scare children into behaving. In reality, though, you end up seeing a bunch of people getting really into their costumes and going way over the top with their scary acting. The kids are so terrified they are unable to answer, and just scream and screeeeeeeeeeeeeam, tears and snot running down their face. They are never even able to answer “no,” they just scream and break down instantly. So the namahage move on to the next bunch of kids and try again.

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Niigata 新潟県
村上市 Murakami

At the annual festival, children are choosen to be the アマメハギ Amamehagi. They wear masks of a Tengu or for a 獅子頭 lion dance and walk around from home to home, where they receive sweets. At night they have to stay awake in the local shrine.

Amamehagi あまめはぎ is a little male Yokai monster. He has mushrooms on his head which he uses to attack things.
(He is related to the Namahage from Ishikawa prefecture. Mizuki Shigeru has written about this Yokai.)
Tengu masks 天狗の面 mask of a Tengu

Gabi Greve said...

Akita 秋田
Sankichi Oni 三吉鬼 The Demon Sankichi, Sankichi the fiend

Sankichi Oni loves drinking. It appears at a local pub from a mountain it lives. Sankichi Oni always leaves without paying, but it'll come back in midnight and leave logs which are 10 times more valuable than the bill of its drink. However, that only happens when not asking for payment.
If asked for payment, Sankichi Oni would curse.

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

gaman no oni 我慢の鬼 demon who endures with self-control and perserverance
at the temple
Tokyo Daibutsu 東京大仏 Great Buddha of Tokyo
Joorenji 乗蓮寺 Joren-Ji
板橋区赤塚5-28 / 5 Chome-28 Akatsuka, Itabashi ward

Gabi Greve said...

Jaki 邪鬼の伝説 "Evil Spirit" Legends

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Amanojaku 天の邪鬼 / 天邪鬼 Legends - Amanjaku - "heavenly evil spirit "
- 天探女(あまのじゃく) - Amanosagume / 天探女(あめのさぐめ)/ 天佐具売 Amenosagume


Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

akaoni, aka-oni 赤鬼伝説 Red Oni Demon Legends

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Yamanokami and Namahage in Iwate

Gabi Greve said...

Oga Kaido 男鹿街道 Oga Highway
Leaving the Ushu Kaido at 追分 Oiwake to turn to 男鹿半島 the Oga peninsula harbour town 船川 Funakawa.