Thursday, June 19, 2008

Blue Oni (demon or ogre) Mask

Portrait of the photographer as mask.

This is my largest kagura mask to date. It is a blue Oni. As usual I had to experiment a little, so I changed the eyes some. The most common translation of oni is "demon", but I am less and less satisfied with that due to the association of the word demon in english with pure evil. I think a better translation of oni would be ogre. Oni can do bad things, but they can help people too.

Oni are almost always depicted as being very hairy, and one theory of their origin is that they were the original inhabitants of Japan. As the rice-growing Yayoi people started moving in to Japan around 2,300 years ago from the Asian mainland, the indigenous people were pushed up into the mountains where the rice-growing invaders did not initially go. From the mountains the "oni" would probably have raided villages for food or women.


  1. Really enjoying your posts. I lived up in Yonago for 12 years, and visiting your site is like a quick trip back up to San-in. I really miss my rambles into Shimane, to remote shrines, villages, seascapes...

    Years ago I read an article about possible ley lines in the Kibi region of Okayama. A series of shrines, rock formations, and other seemingly random things strewn about all lay upon a single line which points toward Wakayama's Kumano area to the south and to Izumo Taisha in the north. The geographical names of this valley all relate to an old tale about a group of Oni iving amidst the bizarre rock formation in the low mountains who would terrorize the villages and steal their food and women. A local lad mustered his strength and fought off the Oni. Not unlike the Momotaro stories which come from the islands nearby.

    I wonder if these Oni weren't of Korean ancestry, travelling from the Izumo region where they'd settled, and moving south through the mountains, intimidating the local Yamato with their larger and somewhat hairier bodies.

    Makes some sense...


  2. Hi Ted

    Thanks for the story. A Japanese friend once showed me an old book that was filled with maps of Japan showing lines and mandalas connecting sacred sites.... kumano figured prominently.
    I still reckon the oni were the remnants of Jomon who hid in the high country...
    added a link to your blog...:)