Anthropology: The Mythology of the Japanese Oni and Its Significance in Pop Culture (2023)

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Oni overview

When I hear about mythology, my first thought goes to Greek mythology. People are at least somewhat familiar with the Greek gods and goddesses. But after that my knowledge of other myths is minimal. The oni is a figure insideJapanese mythologywhom I first met on MTV's show “Teen Wolf”. Obviously, MTV isn't the greatest source of folklore. So I'll take this time to give an overview of what the Japanese Oni are and what they represent in Japan. In general, the Oni are figures that resemble ogres or demons with yellow eyes with horns coming out of their heads. In folklore, they are hungry for the blood of misbehaving children.

Many cultures have a demonic figure to give the people something or someone to fear. In Japan, the Oni is their demonic, mythological figure. The idea of ​​the Oni is no longer just local to Japanese culture, it is also present in American culture. So let's take a look at the various myths and games in which the Oni make their presence known.


To begin with, Japanese folklore goes hand in hand withyokai. Yokai encompasses all supernatural beings present in Japanese folklore, at least to some extent. Usually Yokai includes demons, oni, shinigami, kitsune and many others. Also, most of the creatures that make up Yokai have the common trait of being able to shape-shift. From the earliest form of the myths in the eighth century, creatures described as Yokai were invisible to humans. Yokai is now the face of many mangas and animes along with art and shown in selected TV shows.


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While reading Japanese Oni there, I found a character named Akuma. Prior to this research I was only familiar with the Akumavideo-games, such as Tekken. I will discuss this further later. If you were to translate the Japanese character for Akuma, it would translate to "demon". Akuma and Oni are two different ideas in Japanese mythology.

In Christianity, Akuma would be likened to the devil.In art, he is depicted with horns coming out of his head and surrounded by fire. It can be seen that he is tall and stands above others and wields his power.

Akuma myth in Tekken

Tekken is a Japanese fighting game in which this myth is present. A boss character emerges, and this character is Akuma. I've included a picture of the characters to show how they look alike and yet are different. If you see these two photos side by side, the red color is present in both. This is to symbolize the fire in hell. Both are still powerful, terrifying figures.

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Mortal Kombat

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In the fashion of theMortal Kombatmovie that came out on April 23, Tekken wasn't the only game with traces of the Oni. Mortal Kombat is also a fighting game/movie franchise and they have characters rooted in the Japanese Oni. Although I'm a novice to Mortal Kombat gameplay, it's the same premise of fighting in an arena and having to be the victor. In one aspect of the franchise, there is a hierarchy of Oni acting as bosses. This is similarr that Akuma is treated like the boss in Tekken.

In the video game, the oni have glowing yellow eyes with horns coming out of their heads. This image remains true to others. The reason for the missing horns in the picture is that there are many kinds of Oni in this game. There is also a storyline within this franchise where a character named Quan Chi is a former Oni.

Quan Chi

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Quan Chi-personage in Mortal Kombat 11.

The characterQuan Chiin Mortal Kombat is a specific antagonist. Since he is called an antagonist, he is the villain. Unlike the other Oni figures, his eyes seem to have a red glow instead of a yellow glow. People in the fandom (strong fans of the game) describe him as the most powerful wizard ever (with in the world of Mortal Kombat, of course, the most powerful wizard in my opinion should be Micky Mouse in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice").

Quan Chin powers include shapeshifting, stealing souls, reanimating the dead, and he can even observe other realms. There are other powers he possesses, but this was just to name a few. Quan Chin was an Oni until he became so powerful in his sorcery, he was not an Oni character and is now a demon.

The Meaning of the Oni Mask

The Oni mask is quite famous in culture.This is actually what made me realize I wanted to do research.

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the Oni. There is no typical "oni mask" or "correct mask". They come in many different colors and shapes. What all masks have in common is that they show ugly faces. Being ugly, the facial expressions are usually angry with crinkled noses and typically horns symbolizing demonic figures.Playing an Oni in the theater makes it easier to portray an evil creature by acting with a mask on. There are even theories that the use of the mask is because reading the character means "to hide".

Decorative Oni Masks

There are also different types of masks. The masks are very popular as decor nowadays. This can be seen by simply examining "Oni Mask". Many pages appear with different styles of masks, some with the horns, some without. In Japanese culture, these masks are used to frighten children. Nowadays people use them as decoration in their houses and they are even more and more populartattoos.


Anytime between February 2nd and 4th is when the festival is called Setsubun or the "Bean Throwing Festival".

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The festival is meant to keep bad spirits away and welcome good luck into the home. To celebrate this festival, families have someone in the family dress up in an Oni mask and sing "Demons Out! Good Luck Inside!" while listening toitanthem. To further reinforce the belief that the spring season will bring good luck, the people who celebrate believe that if they say the same number of soybeans as their age, it will give them a better chance of a good season.

Oni in pop culture

In pop culture, Anime is becoming more and more popular among people in the US. Just ask my roommates, it's our favorite pastime. There are many different types of manga (Japanese comics or cartoons) or several anime, including figures related to yokai. For example, my favorite would be:
"Death Note", with a figure namedShinigamior otherwise known as the death ghost.

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Momota, the peach boy

"The Peach Boy"is a fairy tale that shows the Oni himself. The story follows Momotarō, which roughly translates to "Peach Boy". While I have to resist any urge to think of James and the Giant Peach, the stories are not the least bit related. Aside from the part where James sort of lived in the peach, Momotarō is delivered to his parents in a peach.

When he gets older, around the age of 15, he travels. The journey is toto travelto Orge Island, where the Oni live. To keep his country safe, he decided to fight the Orges and bring back treasures. During the journey, Momotarō befriends talking animals who help him along the way. This includes a dog,moneyand a pheasant.

Through teamwork, the four of them were able to defeat the Orges (or oni) and vowed to stop being evil. After returning home, the Peach Boy brought wealth to his family and they lived happily ever after.

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Oh nee Fuuin

Another magna that the Oni exhibits is "Oh nee Fuuinwhich translates to Blue Seal. The comic follows Kiryuu Souko, who is new to town and extremely beautiful. When, actually, Souko is actually the reincarnation of Ragou.Ragou is a beautiful immortal who rules over the demons and ogres of Earth.The person Souko falls in love with, Akira, is destined for an eternal war with Souko and her family.

The difference between families is that while Souko is immortal, Akira is not their family, but simply possesses superhuman abilities. It follows the two trying to find ways to humanize Souko to prevent her from becoming the new leader of the demon clan. This magna depicts many genres from love to fantasy as they follow the demon queen and, as we've established, the oni is just a form of yokai that includes demons and ogres. Ao no Fuuin has many layers and can hold the reader's attention. I think this will be my next goal to read!

Dungeons and Dragons

If you are a devoted fan of a popular gameDungeons and Dragons(or D&D), I hope you have a

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am familiar with the fact that the Oni are present in the game. References have been made to D&D (or modified for copyright reasons) in Wizards of Waveryly Place and Riverdale. While these shows don't directly reference the Oni, they are still part of the interactive mythical game.

While I'm a novice at all things D&D, I'll let those who can analyze the Oni's stats do so. I'll just give an overview. The Oni character in the game has the same appearance I've seen. Looks a lot like an ogre with yellow glowing eyes. They are also able to shape, which helps with their hunger for blood.

The Oni are magical creatures, so they can cast invisibility spells, they can also charm others. This is beneficial to the Oni as it allows them to manipulate others to get what they want. Oni are selfish by nature and seek to satisfy their own needs.

MTV's Teen Wolf & Kitsune

Since I started by mentioning Teen Wolf, it seemed fitting that this would come full circle. Teen Wolf follows many mythical creatures, such as werewolves, banshees, hellhounds and more. Not to be biased, but the season

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in which the Oni stood was by far the best.The trend of Oni as beings with glowing yellow eyes continues in the show. Although the horns are not present on the masks they wear, the figures emit a black smoke that shows the horns.

The difference between the myth and the show was that the Oni were protecting a so-called "Nogitsune" here. This is a wild fox spirit that has taken possession of people. The Oni wanted to contain it by any means necessary.

Anthropology and culture today

In Japan, the Oni myth is everywhere. We saw this at the Soybean Festival (which I'm now putting on my bucket list to see in person),video gamesand television. It's so fascinating to see the different ways ideas are presented in a culture, paranormal things for example.

I never thought about how other cultures viewed the devil or other creatures of that nature. After all the research I've done on the Oni, the myths people grow up with in Japan seem very compelling (and scary, as they are meant to be).



What is the cultural significance of oni? ›

🔥 The Oni demon and its meanings

The Japanese oni represents bad luck and violence in Japanese culture. In art and literature, he attracts destruction, plagues and disease around him. It is also associated with the northeast direction (kimon) which is the source of all misfortune in Japan.

What is the oni Japanese mythology? ›

oni, in Japanese folklore, a type of demonic creature often of giant size, great strength, and fearful appearance. They are generally considered to be foreign in origin, perhaps introduced into Japan from China along with Buddhism.

What is the Japanese oni symbol? ›

The actual kanji of oni 鬼 is a Chinese pictogram, showing a man or figure with an ugly face and tail, and is typically used to mean “ghost”. The word, oni¸ however, derives from a different Japanese word, on 隠, meaning “to hide” or “hidden from sight”.

Who is the strongest demon in Japanese mythology? ›

It has been said that Shuten-dōji was the strongest oni of Japan. Academic folklorist Kazuhiko Komatsu has counted Shuten-dōji among the three most feared yōkai in medieval Kyoto, alongside the vixen Tamamo-no-Mae and the demon Ōtakemaru.

What are some facts about Japanese oni? ›

Oni are said to be bigger than a grown man, towering over humans, and scary, coming in red, blue, or green colors. It is unknown why the oni are these colors, but it is rare to see another color of oni. They often have big, scraggy beards; wild, staring eyes; sharp claws; and long, sharp teeth.

What is the purpose of the oni demon? ›

In folklore, oni are often characterized as malicious troublemakers, capable of terrible deeds like spreading disease and attacking humans. They're also known to emerge from the abyss of hell itself — or Jigoku in Japanese Buddhism — to frighten mortals, or torment evildoers who are sent there.

What does a oni mask symbolize? ›

Once considered as symbols of evil, they are now a symbol for good luck and ward off bad ones. The Oni Mask is a powerful symbol of Japan's rich culture and history. It is said to give the wearer immense power and protect them from harm.

What are the two types of oni? ›

Based on the salient characteristics of beliefs about oni, the concept of oni can be classified into three main types: (1) wicked spirits or evil kami, (2) oni as foreigners or strangers, and (3) oni as good kami.

What is the story of the Red oni and the Blue oni? ›

Red Oni wasn't sure, but Blue Oni went to the village and started to cause trouble. Red Oni followed him, and hit him on the head. “C'mon, hit me harder.” As so Red Oni became known as a kind demon who saved the village, and the villagers befriended him.

What does the oni mask mean in Japanese culture? ›

Oni are said to be fierce and powerful creatures that can cause destruction and chaos. The oni mask is meant to scare away these evil spirits and protect people from their harmful influence. Another popular theory is that the Oni mask represents the dark and dangerous aspects of human nature.

What is the oni symbol for self? ›

Oni's mark - Teen Wolf Wiki. The mark the Oni leave on the people who have passed their test is the onore. It is an archaic kanji pronoun for "oneself." This indicates that the person is still themselves and has not been possessed by a dark spirit.

What does the oni tattoo mean in Japanese? ›

In modern times, the Oni tattoo represents the ability of the devil to punish any evil act. Although the Oni its commonly associated with evil, they are also believed to be symbols of protection and may have a positive significance for protection and bringing goodwill and help to people.

Who is the female oni in Japanese? ›

Young female oni are called kijo, which means female oni, while elderly female oni are called onibaba, which means old lady oni.

Who is the king of oni? ›

Who is the ruler of oni? Traits. Shuten dōji (Japanese: 酒呑童子 or しゅてんどうじ, meaning "little drunkard") was the king of Oni, and a local tyrant from Mt Oeyama before he was slain by Minamoto no Yorimitsu in Japanese mythology.

Who is the weakest in demon? ›

Shinobu Kocho is a capable Demon Slayer whose worthy of being the Insect Hashira. That being said, she's arguably the weakest Hashira when it comes to pure strength.

Why are yokai important to Japanese culture? ›

In Japanese folklore, yōkai (妖怪) refers to legendary ghosts, monsters, and spirits. Rooted in Japanese animism, ancient Japanese religion, and the providence of nature, these mythical creatures are attributed with strange behaviors to explain the otherwise mysterious phenomena encountered in ancient life.

What is the cultural significance of the Kitsune mask? ›

Traditionally, natives wear the kitsune mask or fox mask during festivals to pay tribute to the gods, especially during rice harvest season. This is because kitsune, in Japanese folk stories, serve as messengers and familiars to the Inari, the Shinto god of rice and prosperity.

Do Japanese worship oni? ›

The oni of Kunisaki use their mystical power to prevent hardship and disaster, and are thus fervently worshipped by the people. Offerings to the oni are generally decorative mochi (rice cakes) and large mochi.


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