From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
18th century Netsuke mask of Hannya
The moth genus Hannya is now considered a junior synonym of Habrosyne.

The Hannya (般若) mask is a mask used in Noh theater, representing a jealous female demon or serpent. It possesses two sharp bull-like horns, metallic eyes, and a leering mouth split from ear to ear.[1]

Origin of the name[edit]

The name hannya (般若) is a Sino-Japanese word for prajna or wisdom. One tradition states that this name was given to this mask because it was the name of an artist monk Hannya-bō (般若坊) who is said to have perfected its creation.[2][3] Another explanation is that Perfection of Wisdom sutras and their variations were considered to be particularly effective against female demons.[citation needed] An alternate explanation is that the artist would need a great deal of wisdom in order to create this mask.[4]


The Hannya mask is used in many noh and kyōgen Japanese plays, as well as in Shinto ritual kagura dances.[5] The Hannya mask portrays the souls of women who have become demons due to obsession or jealousy. Plays in which a person may wear the hannya mask include Aoi no Ue and Dōjōji; its use in these two plays, two of the most famous of the Noh repertoire, and its distinctive and frightening appearance make it one of the most recognizable Noh masks.

The Hannya mask is said to be demonic and dangerous but also sorrowful and tormented, displaying the complexity of human emotions. When the actor looks straight ahead, the mask appears frightening and angry; when tilted slightly down, the face of the demon appears to be sorrowful, as though crying.[citation needed] The oldest hannya mask is dated 1558.[citation needed]

Hannya masks appear in various skin tones: a white mask indicates a woman of aristocratic status (such as Rokujō in Aoi no Ue), a red mask depicts a low-class woman (seen in Dōjōji), and the darkest red depicts true demons (revealed after appearing as women, as in Momijigari and Kurozuka.)[6][7]

Plays associated with Hannya[edit]

  • Aoi no Ue - worn by the Lady Rokujō in her second-half appearance as a demon.
  • Dōjōji - can be worn by the dancing woman in her second-half appearance as a snake, though the Shinja (真蛇) mask is also used.
  • Kurozuka (known in the Kanze school as Adachigahara) - worn by the spinning woman of Adachigahara after she is revealed to be a demon.
  • Momijigari - can be worn by the noblewoman after she is revealed to be a demon.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Hannya is a fictional character in the popular manga Rurouni Kenshin, where he is part of the Oniwabanshu
  • In the manga Sekirei, Sekirei No.1 Miya Asama is often referred to as "Hannya of the North"", and the spectral image of one often appears behind her when she is intimidating other characters.
  • The Nosferatu album from 1979, by Hugh Cornwell, then of the Stranglers, features a lifesize Hannya Mask (from K.Kaneko) on the inner sleeve.
  • Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi of the manga The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls wears a hannya mask while helping the Hori clan women exact their revenge.
  • In the Blue Exorcist anime, in the second opening "In My World" by Japanese rock band ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D, there is a Hannya mask at the very beginning of the intro.
  • In the manga One Piece, a character named Hannyabal seems to be based on this mask, both on name and his facial features.
  • Sepultura's 1998 album Against features a Hannya figure on the album cover.
  • In the manga Toriko, the main character can intimidate others by creating the image of a Hannya over himself.
  • The video game Team Fortress 2 features a similar mask as an accessory for the Spy class, called the Noh Mercy.
  • In the book God Emperor of Dune of Frank Herbert's Dune series, Hannya is the "female demon" name Leto II gives to Siona.
  • In the video game Tomb Raider (2013 video game), a Hannya mask is one of the artifacts that the main protagonist Lara Croft can find.
  • In the Tekken series of fighting games, one of the main characters named Yoshimitsu wears an Hannya mask. It is also worn by the Kunoichi Kunimitsu, both in Tekken & Tekken Tag Tournament 2, as a customization item.
  • In the multiplayer online battle arena game League of Legends, one of the playable characters, Shen, wears a Hannya mask in his Blood Moon alternative skin. This presumably references the derivation of the name from the word for 'wisdom', as Shen's lore states that he is charged with making decisions unbiased by prejudice.
  • In the game "Army of Two: The Devils Cartel" the Hannya mask can be worn by the player.
  • In the manga Homunculus, one of the three Homunculi Nanako sees in Nakoshi is a Hannya face.
  • In the video game series, Soul Calibur, the Yoshimitsu wears a mask similar to the Hannya Mask in both his 1P & 2P costume, but the 2P one is wooden, like most of his skin, & it is also worn by Yoshimitsu "the second" in Soul Calibur V, although this one opens up & closes to reveal a golden skull mask. This mask is also available in Soul Calibur IV & Soul Calibur V's character creation.


  1. ^ "hannya". Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System JAANUS. 
  2. ^ "Onryô - Hannya". the-noh.com. 
  3. ^ "hannya". Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System JAANUS. 
  4. ^ "Onryô - Hannya". the-noh.com. 
  5. ^ Sadler, A.W. "'O-Kagura'. Field Notes on the Festival Drama in Modern Tokyo". Asian Folklore Studies (Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture) 29: 294. JSTOR 1177614. 
  6. ^ Coldiron, Margaret (2005). "Lions, Witches, and Happy Old Men: Some Parallels between Balinese and Japanese Ritual Masks". Asian Theatre Journal 22 (2). JSTOR 4137132. 
  7. ^ Bethe, Monica; Emmert, Richard (1997). Aoi no Ue, Noh Performance Guide 7. Tokyo: National Noh Theatre. 

External links[edit]