As a kid of the 80s, entertainment was limited to television, radio, outdoors, the movies and books. Now being in a large family with one TV in the household and not many other children in the neighbourhood to play with, I spent some of my time reading like the Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales which were not the water down versions of today. Stories such as Godfather Death, The Wolf and The Fox and Hut in the Forest introduced me to concepts of fantasy, morals along with the struggle between good and evil. Often, I was fascinated by the types of villains the hero was up against. Now as an adult, I learned similar stories exist across the globe where heroes battling monsters to protect others. A common villain portrayed in Japanese folklore is the oni.
The word “oni” carries a bit of history as it was once used to refer to spirits, monsters and other supernatural entities. The origins of the name meant to describe hidden or concealed forces within nature which not only powerful, but also dangerous. Over the centuries, oni became a name to a certain class of demon which is now the most recognized villain in Japanese legends.
Oni are the trolls, ogres or demons that live in remote forests, mountains, caves or abandoned castles across the countryside in Japan. Legends vary in description, yet share many common details in appearance. These yokai have blue or red skin and are larger than human in size with long wild hair. Often characterized with large tusk-like fangs, claws, horns, wearing clothing made from animal hides while carrying a great iron club. Myths tell oni also possessed inhuman strength, great endurance and some able to wield magic.
In stories, oni are constantly terrorize the populace kidnapping children, elderly and princes to feed upon, make into slaves or became wives. Other tales express these creatures seek to destroy all humanity by war, plagues or some natural disaster. According to legend, many samurai in the past fought and defeated these monsters to saving many lives. Oni maybe the villain in Japanese myth, they are also painted as the bringer of punishment in hell.
In the traditions of Buddhist religion, there are references of certain realms of hell where only the most wicked reside deemed not worthy for rebirth. Any souls that are beyond redemption transform into oni forever condemned as a servant to hell. Their duty is to inflict torment upon those who lived wicked lives. These oni exist as large armies in the underworld awaiting to delivery punishment on the damned.
Today, oni is a central icon in the Japanese entertainment industry. References of the yokai can be found in games, manga, videos, music and plays. During festival, people would wear masked shaped like oni faces which started as a tradition of warding off against evil spirits and bad luck.