Oni (Japanese folklore) Demon, Devil, Ogre or Troll?

Oni pelted by beans
Image via Wikipedia

You hear a creaking sound coming from the upstairs bedroom, though you are the only one at home. Armed with your katana blade, you creep silent as a ninja up the stairs.

Standing beside the open window of the upstairs bedroom, you see what appears to be a giant human with wild hair, and two long horns growing from the top of its head. On closer inspection, you see claws instead of fingers and since it is barefooted, you count six toes on each foot.

In the moonlight, its skin appears to be reddish-blue, almost purple. It wears only a loincloth made of tiger’s skin and carries an iron club, kanabo 金棒. Is it just a trick of the light, or did the creature disappear and then reappear?

As you make your way forward, the floor creaks beneath your feet. The Oni turns in your direction.  Its hideous face has three bloodshot eyes. The creature shape shifts into what can only be described as a giant purple tiger. It turns to face unlucky northeast and growls, as if to summon other minions from Jigoku, the Oni hell.

You reach for the pouch at your waist filled with crushed green peas. You dip your fingers in while raising your kanata in the other hand. You rush toward the demon.

More Information:

The Chinese character meaning “ghost” is sometimes used to describe the Oni’s formless nature. They also go by the name of  rakshasa and yaksha, meaning “the hungry ghost” called gaki. They are the demon minions of EnmaŌ who punishes sinners in Jigoku or Hell.

They Oni are used in conjunction with the northeast direction or kimon 鬼門, which means “demon gate”. Thus the northeast is considered an unlucky direction through which evil spirits may cross over into this world. Temples often face the northeast and Japanese buildings are frequently built with an L-shaped indention at the northeast to help ward off Oni. For this same reason, the Japanese capital was moved northeast from Nagaoka to Kyoto in the 8th century.

During the spring festival of Setsubun festival, people throw soybeans or green peas outside their homes while shouting, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” “鬼は外!福は内!”, which is translated to mean, ” Oni go out! Blessings come in!”.

Monkey statues are used to guard against Oni. because the Japanese word for monkey, saru, is a homophone for the word, “leaving” in the Japanese language. The holly plant is also used to guard against Oni.

In more recent times, the Oni have taken on a more protective guise. Men dress in Oni costumes and lead Japanese parades to ward off bad luck. Japanese buildings are sometimes built with onigawara 鬼瓦, which are Oni-faced roof tiles used in the same sense as gargoyles are in the western tradition.


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