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18th century netsuke shaped like a hannya mask
Wooden hannya mask at the Tokyo National Museum

The hannya (般若) mask is a mask used in Japanese Noh theater, representing a jealous female demon. It is characterized by two sharp bull-like horns, metallic eyes, and a leering mouth.[1]


Hannya (般若) is the Sino-Japanese pronunciation of bō rě (般若), which in turn is the Chinese pronunciation of prajñā (प्रज्ञा), the Sanskrit word for "wisdom". The word prajñā was commonly used in forming Buddhist Dharma names, such as Prajñātārā or Prajñāvikrama. This implies that hannya may be referring to the shortened name of a monk, and not wisdom as an abstract concept.

One tradition states the mask is named after an artist monk called Hannya-bō (般若坊), who is said to have perfected its creation.[2][3] An alternative 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 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, similar to the Buddhist concept of a hungry ghost. 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. The ability to change the expression of the mask through use of perspective is a feature commonly seen in Noh theatre. The oldest hannya mask is dated 1558.[citation needed]

Hannya masks appear in various skin tones: a white mask indicates a woman with a refined character (such as the aristocratic Lady Rokujō in Aoi no Ue), a red mask depicts a less refined character (like the spirit of peasant girl seen in Dōjōji), and the darkest red depicts true demons (revealed after appearing as women, as in Momijigari and Kurozuka).[6][7]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1964 Japanese horror film Onibaba, an older woman wears a hannya mask after stealing it from a samurai.

The 1975 Japanese experimental short film Ātman depicts a figure in an outdoor environment, wearing a robe and a hannya mask.[8][9]

The Demon (), a stop-motion short film by Kihachirō Kawamoto, features an onibaba with the face of a hannya.[10]

In the mobile game Onmyoji, the character Hannya is a shikigami who has a hannya mask on his forehead and another on his back.

In the Yakuza video game series, the character Goro Majima has a large tattoo of a hannya on his back. He also has an alter-ego, Hannya-Man, in Yakuza Kiwami, that wears a hannya mask.

In a Detective Conan anime-only case, a woman who killed the people who drove her sister to suicide used the hannya as a murder motif. The hannya legend also influences a local tradition that follows the story of two envious girls who set up another named Ohana to be executed so they can steal her various kimono, but end up murdered by Ohana's vengeful soul, reborn as an immortal demon.[11]

In the 1995 platform game Mega Man 7, the boss of the third Wily Fortress stage is HannyaNED², a hannya-shaped flying robot Dr. Wily had found frozen in a glacier and that swore loyalty to him after being rescued.

In the 1998 survival horror video game Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within, a character named George Maxwell wears a hannya mask while wielding a large hatchet, implying when he was infected with a parasitic bacteria and became insane, he concealed his face with the mask.

In the 2019 action adventure video game Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, one of the bosses named the Corrupted Monk wears a hannya mask to conceal her true face. She is based on the story of Yao Bikuni and the Ningyo and bears a likeness to her story, being an immortal monk who gained immortality due to eating a type of meat.[12]

In the 2022 action-adventure video game Ghostwire: Tokyo, the main antagonists conceals their identities with hannya masks.

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.

See also[edit]


  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 (1970). "'O-Kagura'. Field Notes on the Festival Drama in Modern Tokyo". Asian Folklore Studies. 29: 294. doi:10.2307/1177614. 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): 227–248. doi:10.1353/atj.2005.0021. JSTOR 4137132. S2CID 161312412.
  7. ^ Bethe, Monica; Emmert, Richard (1997). Aoi no Ue, Noh Performance Guide 7. Tokyo: National Noh Theatre.
  8. ^ Belina, Mirna; Kožul, Marina (2005). 25 FPS Internatnacionalni festival eskperimentalnog filma i videa, Zagreb, 21-25/09/05 (in Croatian). 25 FPS udruga za audio-vizualna istraživanja. p. 149. ISBN 9789539518804. Retrieved 16 June 2021. Maska s dva kratka roga ic zvana Hannya predstavlja ženskoga demona ljubomore i gnjeva, kojeg c se često koristilo u nô drami.
  9. ^ "Millennium Film Journal". Millennium Film Journal. No. 2. 1978. p. 88. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  10. ^ "- YouTube". YouTube.
  11. ^ The Case of the Furisode at the Hidden Hot Spring on a Snowy Night
  12. ^ "Corrupted Monk - Sekiro Shadows die Twice".

External links[edit]