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For the game, see Oni (video game). For other uses, see Oni (disambiguation).
Oni in pilgrim's clothing. Tokugawa period. Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper. 59.2 cm x 22.1 cm

Oni (?) are a kind of yōkai from Japanese folklore, variously translated as demons, devils, ogres or trolls. They are popular characters in Japanese art, literature and theatre.[1]

Depictions of oni vary widely but usually portray them as hideous, gigantic ogre-like creatures with sharp claws, wild hair, and two long horns growing from their heads.[2] They are humanoid for the most part, but occasionally, they are shown with unnatural features such as odd numbers of eyes or extra fingers and toes.[3] Their skin may be any number of colors, but red and blue are particularly common.[4][5]

They are often depicted wearing tiger-skin loincloths and carrying iron clubs called kanabō (金棒?). This image leads to the expression "oni with an iron club" (鬼に金棒 oni-ni-kanabō?), that is, to be invincible or undefeatable. It can also be used in the sense of "strong beyond strong", or having one's natural quality enhanced or supplemented by the use of some tool.[6][7]


The word "oni" is sometimes speculated to be derived from on, the on'yomi reading of a character () meaning to hide or conceal, as oni were originally invisible spirits or gods which caused disasters, disease, and other unpleasant things. These nebulous beings could also take on a variety of forms to deceive (and often devour) humans. Thus the Chinese character 鬼 (pinyin: guǐ; Jyutping: gwai2) meaning "ghost" came to be used for these formless creatures.

The invisible oni eventually became anthropomorphized and took on its modern, ogre-like form, partly via syncretism with creatures imported by Buddhism, such as the Indian rakshasa and yaksha, the hungry ghosts called gaki, and the devilish underlings of Enma-Ō who punish sinners in Jigoku (Hell).They share many similarities with the Arabian Jinn.

Demon Gate[edit]

A statue of a red oni wielding a kanabō.

Another source for the oni's image is a concept from China and Onmyōdō. The northeast direction was once termed the kimon (鬼門, "demon gate"), and was considered an unlucky direction through which evil spirits passed. Based on the assignment of the twelve zodiac animals to the cardinal directions, the kimon was also known as the ushitora (丑寅), or "Ox Tiger" direction, and the oni's bovine horns and cat-like fangs, claws, and tiger-skin loincloth developed as a visual depiction of this term.[8]

Temples are often built facing that direction, and Japanese buildings sometimes have L-shaped indentions at the northeast to ward oni away. Enryakuji, on Mount Hiei northeast of the center of Kyoto, and Kaneiji, in that direction from Edo Castle, are examples. The Japanese capital itself moved northeast from Nagaoka to Kyoto in the 8th century.[9][clarification needed]

Traditional culture[edit]

Some villages hold yearly ceremonies to drive away oni, particularly at the beginning of Spring. During the Setsubun festival, people throw soybeans outside their homes and shout "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" ("鬼は外!福は内!"?, " Oni go out! Blessings come in!").[10] Monkey statues are also thought to guard against oni, since the Japanese word for monkey, saru, is a homophone for the word for "leaving". Folklore has it that holly can be used to guard against Oni.[11] In Japanese versions of the game tag, the player who is "it" is instead called the "oni".[12]

In more recent times, oni have lost some of their original wickedness[citation needed] and sometimes take on a more protective function. Men in oni costumes often lead Japanese parades to ward off any bad luck, for example. Japanese buildings sometimes include oni-faced roof tiles called onigawara (鬼瓦?), which are thought to ward away bad luck, much like gargoyles in Western tradition.[13]

Oni are prominently featured in the Japanese children's story Momotaro (Peach Boy), and the book The Funny Little Woman.

Many Japanese idioms and proverbs also make reference to oni. For example, the expression oya ni ninu ko wa oni no ko (親に似ぬ子は鬼の子?) means literally "a child that does not resemble its parents is the child of an oni," but it is used idiomatically to refer to the fact that all children naturally take after their parents, and in the odd case that a child appears not to do so, it might be because the child's true biological parents are not the ones who are raising the child. Depending on the context in which it is used, it can have connotations of "children who do not act like their parents are not true human beings," and may be used by a parent to chastise a misbehaving child. Variants of this expression include oya ni ninu ko wa onigo (親に似ぬ子は鬼子?) and oya ni ninu ko wa onikko (親に似ぬ子は鬼っ子?).[14] There is also a well known game in Japan called kakure oni (隠れ鬼?), which means "hidden oni", or more commonly kakurenbo, which is the same as the hide-and-seek game that children in western countries play.

Popular culture[edit]

  • In Capcom's video game saga Onimusha where the protagonist wields the power of the Oni, and retell the History of Japan with supernatural elements.
  • In Rumiko Takahashi's Urusei Yatsura, the female lead, Lum Invader, is an oni alien depicted wearing a tiger-skin bikini and the entire alien race to which she belongs is fashioned after the classical concept of oni.
  • Chie Shinohara's manga Ao no Fuuin uses oni as a main theme when the female protagonist is a descendant of a beautiful oni queen who wants to resurrect her kind.
  • Takahashi's Ranma 1/2 features a story in which one of the characters, Kasumi Tendo, is possessed by an oni, causing her to behave in uncharacteristically "evil" (yet humorous) ways.
  • The Touhou Project series of shoot-'em-up games has a character named Suika Ibuki, an oni with a massive gourd on her back capable of producing an endless amount of sake; legend has it that no one has seen her sober in her 700-year life. A later game in the series marked the appearance of Yuugi Hoshiguma, Suika's oni associate from a group of four incredibly powerful oni that they both belong to, called the "Four Devas of the Mountains." Yuugi, despite being as great a drinker as Suika while being just as cheerful, is even less of a lightweight than Suika, being able to enter into a fight without seeming intoxicated or even spilling any of the sake in her sake dish.
  • The Bleach character Love Aikawa has an Oni-themed mask. Also, his Zanpakuto's released form is a large spiked kanabō.
  • In the Japanese release of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the Fierce Deity incarnation of Link is referred to as Oni Link.
  • In the Mortal Kombat universe, the denizens of the Netherrealm (the series' equivalent of hell) are called Oni (though they represent a drastic deviation from the Japanese concept, being primitive ape-like demons), and the oni character Drahmin's right arm is replaced by a metal club. Another Oni fighter of the series is Moloch.
  • In Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, an Oni called King Yemma runs the Check-In Station in Other World, where he decides which souls go to Heaven and which to Hell. The Check-In Station and Hell are also staffed by many other oni, many of which hold iron clubs.
  • In the Digimon series, there is a level Champion digimon called Ogremon, which is a classical interpretation of the Japanese Oni. Hyogamon and Fugamon (two variations of Ogremon, representing ice and fire respectively) are also Oni.
  • The Onis are featured in Season 4 of Jackie Chan Adventures. Tarakudo (voiced by Miguel Ferrer) is the King of the Onis. There are 9 other Oni masks that when worn, the demon trapped in the masks can take over the users well-being and able to control their own tribe of the Shadowkhan.
  • In Hellboy: Sword of Storms, Hellboy fought a giant Oni. Before the final blow can be struck with the Sword of Storms, the Oni fades away so that Hellboy can break the Sword of Storms on the statue releasing the brothers Thunder and Lightning.
  • Kamen Rider Hibiki, a Japanese tokusatsu series, uses Oni (which is what the Kamen Riders here are referred as) as a main theme of the series. It tells the story about ancient battle between the Oni and the Makamou. In another popular tokusatsu, the Ultra series, it is not uncommon for Oni to appear and do battle with an Ultraman.
  • Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger, Ogre Tribe Org is the main antagonist to fight the Gaorangers and Power Animals.
  • In The Venture Brothers season two episode "I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills", Dr. Venture is haunted by a floating Oni which has followed him from Japan. Venture and Doctor Byron Orpheus, a necromancer, attempt to banish the spirit using "tempest tongs" but the effort fails. Venture then attempts to trap the oni in the trunk of his car, at which point the demon possesses the automobile. The Oni attempts to lead Venture to Myra Brandish, Venture's former bodyguard and love who has kidnapped his sons. At the conclusion of the episode, the Oni leaves with Dr. Henry Killinger, for whom the spirit has been working throughout the episode.
  • In the video game Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Oni are one of the various enemies the main characters battle.
  • Meisuke "Nube" Nueno of the manga/anime Jigoku Sensei Nube has an Oni residing in his left hand, which he uses to exorcise and defeat demons.
  • In Pokemon, Electabuzz, Sawk, and Throh have characteristics of Oni.
  • In Rumiko Takahashi's manga InuYasha, Oni are common Yokai in the series.
  • The Smile PreCure! character Red-oni is a villain based on the onis that appear in mythology.
  • In Wizard101, the Onis are depicted as Indian Elephant-headed humanoids.
  • In Sonic Lost World, the Deadly Six can be reference to Oni.
  • In the video game "Little King's Story", the "Onii" is based on the Japanese Oni.
  • In the Indie RPG-horror computer game "Ao Oni", the antagonist of the game is a blue Oni, which inhabits a haunted mansion and will randomly pursue anyone who comes there.
  • In the Japanese time-travel Hetalia/Ao Oni Crossover PC game, "HetaOni", the antatagonist(s) is a mixture of Oni, Alien, and Ghost-like creature(s), which also pursues the many characters, just like in Ao Oni.
  • In Season 3 of Teen Wolf, the Oni are depicted as shadow warriors.
  • In the video game "Hungry Oni", the player-controlled protagonist is a mischievous red Oni.
  • In the video game "Shounen Kininden Tsumuji", in the final area of the game there are 3 different colored Oni.
  • In the Newest installment of the Tomb Raider series the Sun Queen's Himiko storm guard, the "Oni", protect her.
  • In the Nintendo DS game Ninja Reflex, the player is instructed to defend themselves against multiple Oni, seen dressed in typical Samurai lamellar armor.
  • In Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition a more powerful "unleashed" form of Akuma is named Oni and features claws, fangs, and horns similar to classical depictions of oni.
  • In the manga and anime Inu X Boku SS, Kagerō Shokiin and Ririchiyō Shirakiin are both half Oni.
  • Oni feature in many Shin Megami Tensei games. They are often represented in minor roles, such as bodyguards to higher deities. Four special Oni; Kin-Ki, Sui-Ki, Fuu-Ki and Ongyo-Ki also make repeated appearances, controlled by the Japanese noble family Fujiwara no Chikata.
  • In the Supernatural series tie-in novel "Rite of Passage" the monster the Winchesters and Bobby are hunting turns out to be an Oni.
  • In Haikyuu!!, Kageyama Tobio and Hinata Shōyō are referred to by the Nekoma volleyball coach as "an oni and his kanabō."
  • In Fire Emblem Fates, the Hoshido route character Rinka is an oni and uses kanabō as her primary weapon type.
  • In Higurashi When They Cry, oni/kami Oyashiro-sama is blamed for mysterious deaths and disappearances on the night of Watanagashi Matsuri. Legend also says Oyashiro-sama used to mediate between oni and humans, to allow them to live in peace in Onigafuchi village.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lim, Shirley; Ling, Amy (1992). Reading the literatures of Asian America. Temole University Press. p. 242. ISBN 0-87722-935-X. 
  2. ^ Mack, Carol; Mack, Dinah (1998). A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits. Arcade Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 1-55970-447-0. 
  3. ^ Bush, Laurence C. (2001). Asian horror encyclopedia: Asian horror culture in literature, manga and folklore. Writers Club Press. p. 141. ISBN 0-595-20181-4. 
  4. ^ Hackin, J.; Couchoud, Paul Louis (2005). Asiatic Mythology 1932. Kessinger Publishing. p. 443. ISBN 1-4179-7695-0. 
  5. ^ Turne, Patricia; Coulter, Charles Russell (2000). Dictionary of ancient deities. Oxford University Press. p. 363. ISBN 0-19-514504-6. 
  6. ^ Jones, David E. (2002). Evil in Our Midst: A Chilling Glimpse of Our Most Feared and Frightening Demons. Square One Publishers. p. 168. ISBN 0-7570-0009-6. 
  7. ^ Buchanan, Daniel Crump (1965). Japanese Proverbs and Sayings. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 136. ISBN 0-8061-1082-1. 
  8. ^ Hastings, James (2003). Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. Part 8. Kessinger Publishing. p. 611. ISBN 0-7661-3678-7. 
  9. ^ Turnbull, Stephen R. (2006). The samurai and the sacred. Osprey Publishing. p. 35. ISBN 1-84603-021-8. 
  10. ^ Sosnoski, Daniel (1966). Introduction to Japanese culture. Charles E. Tuttle Publishing. p. 9. ISBN 0-8048-2056-2. 
  11. ^ How to Escape a Japanese Oni on YouTube
  12. ^ Chong, Ilyoung (2002). Information Networking: Wired communications and management. Springer-Verlag. p. 41. ISBN 3-540-44256-1. 
  13. ^ toyozaki, yōko (2007). 「日本の衣食住」まるごと事典. IBC PUBLISHING. p. 21. ISBN 4-89684-640-0. 
  14. ^ Buchanan, Daniel Crump (1965). Japanese Proverbs and Sayings. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 136. ISBN 0-8061-1082-1. 
  15. ^ Reider, Noriko T. Japanese Demon Lore: Oni from Ancient Times to the Present Utah State University Press, 2010. 113. (ISBN 0874217938)


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