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Oni -Part 1- Japanese demon in children’s books

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/14 Traditional Culture , ,

Oni – Japanese demon

Typical “Oni” image

In Japanese tales, “Oni” is usually a villain.
Its standard appearance is quite distinctive;


Kawaii (cute) version.
Illustration from Illust AC

  • [Skin colour] Mostly red or blue.
  • [Head] Afro like a Belgian footballer Marouane Fellaini who turned into red from blue, with two straight short horns.
  • [Face] Pointed ears like Mr. Spock, thick eyebrows, sharp eyes, big nose, (big) canine teeth.
  • [Dress] A tiger print fur short-pants or kilt.
  • [Weapon] A spiked club.
  • [Body] Hairy, hugely-muscled, big and strong.

As you can see from the description above, the “standard” means a male “Oni”.
When I think of a female “Oni”, its image is either a skinny woman (often old) with long hair and scary look, or a sexy woman wearing a tiger print bikini like the old manga “Urusei Yatsura”.
Both have horn(s) and canine teeth.

Why tiger print?

I wrote about “Kimon” (the gate of “Oni”) in the post Momotarou.
North-east, where “Oni” is going in and out, is between the direction of “Ushi” (cow) and “Tora” (tiger), thus called as “Ushi-Tora” in the Oriental Zodiac.
Some people think this is why “Oni” has horn(s) like cows and wears a tiger print pants.

-Tiger print pants-

-Tiger print pants-
Illustration from Illust-ya

Although “Oni” is often referred to “demon / ogre” in English, it doesn’t represent absolute evil, even in children’s books.
Here are 2 examples;


Kobu-tori Jii-san (Literal translation:Lump-taking old man)

In this very famous old tale, “Oni” is described as a scary being, but has no evil intentions.


Once upon a time, there were two old men, an honest and a greedy, who lived next to each other.
One had a huge lump on his left cheek and the other one on his right cheek.

-Adenoma Jii-san-

-Adenoma Jii-san-

One night, an honest man came across a group of “Oni” holding a banquet.
He was horrified at first, but they seemed to have so much fun, he couldn’t help jumping out of the dark and started to dance in front of them.
They were surprised but soon quite pleased because he danced really well.
The old man and “Oni” enjoyed the party together until the dawn when “Oni” had to go home.
Before they leave, “Oni” took his lump off as a pawn, and said they would give it back to him if he returned there for a banquet next evening.
Now his lump was gone without pain and any scars left!

The greedy man heard the story, went to the place late at night.
Again, the banquet was held, so he tried to dance.
“Oni” didn’t notice he was a totally different person from the last night, so they were happy to see him in the beginning.
However, the man was too scared to dance properly.
His performance was very clumsy with a trembling body and “Oni” didn’t like it at all.
Eventually, “Oni” got angry.

-Angry "Oni"- You ruined my "sake"!!!

-Angry "Oni"-
You ruined my "sake"!!!
Illustration from Illust-ya

“Enough is enough! We give this back to you, so go home!”
They put the lump to the cheek of the man.
Now the greedy old man had to live with two lumps, one on each cheek.


Naita Aka-Oni (Literal translation:A red “Oni” who cried)


Illustration from Illust-ya

This was written by Kousuke Hamada who was born in 1893, first published in 1933.
There are two “Oni” in this story, red and blue, and their portraits are very unusual.
Both are very gentle, completely different from the general images of an “Oni”.
They just have appearances of an “Oni”.

It’s a story of friendship between an “Aka-Oni” (Red Oni) and an “Ao-Oni” (Blue Oni).
Red lived on his own in a mountain and was very eager to have human friends.
He put up a notice in front of the house, saying “A gentle Oni lives here. Please visit me. Tea and refreshments are ready for you.”
However, nobody believed his good intention and they stayed away from him.
When Blue visited him, he was so depressed.
After Red explained what happened, Blue suggested an idea to be trusted by people…

I cannot explain in detail due to the copyright issue.
The story has a sad, but beautiful ending.

I heard this story appeared in school textbooks, but not the ones I used in my childhood as far as I can remember.

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A Japanese living in Okayama. A proud "Otaku"! Loves animals, snacks, manga, games (PC, iPad, Nintendo DS, PSP), foreign TV dramas, traveling and football (soccer).

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