Welcome back to Hotsui Matsuri! I hope you all enjoyed day one where we talked about summer festival games, and day two where Star told you about some songs learned as a kid. Today, for day 3, I get to write a super fun Nihongo Legends post. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with our Nihongo Legends series, it’s essentially posts that revolve around Japanese folklore and myth. And today? We’re going to talk about a creature as legendary as the kitsune or the kappa. Today, we’re talking about oni.
If you have watched any anime focused on folklore, taking place in a fantasy world, or taking place in a past period of Japan, you’ve probably heard the term oni before. But what exactly is an oni? Well, according to Japanese folklore, Oni are mythical creatures that can range from tiny little people to giant monsters and are often synonymous with ogres, trolls, orcs, and demons. They are generally red creatures–sometimes white, blue, or green–and occasionally have three eyes. They typically have one or more horns and are known to be rather stupid. Or at least, they are stupid in most anime. Why this is, I have no idea. Perhaps it’s the relation to ogres who are depicted in western stories as slow in the brain and primitive creatures. After all, oni, even in appearance–appear primitive. They are depicted in artwork as carrying around a club, wearing loincloths, and usually a tiger skin of some kind wrapped around their waist. They essentially look like monstrous cavemen. This could explain why people like to show them as dumb creatures. But that’s not how they always were.
In actual Japanese folklore, Oni are actually quite terrifying. While yes, they aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, they don’t have to be. Not cunning like the kitsune, oni are filled with brute strength and known as creatures of calamity. They have been known to cause earthquakes and fire, some can literally cause plagues, and most menacing of all–they have a particular afffinity to human flesh. That’s right, oni are man eaters. They are said to drink the souls of humans and feast upon their flesh. Much like other creatures, legends of oni sometimes show the oni as being able to shift into human form to trick their victims. In human form, they are handsome or beautiful–opposed to their generically ugly and distateful true selves. But even though they are known to trick their victims, there’s still plenty of stories of oni just going in all hands thrown without thinking things through. It’s even said that people can become oni while they are still alive if they are terrible people who have sinned, so being an oni is almost like a punishment. If you are cruel and evil while alive, you turn into a horrible monster in death.
I personally am not a huge fan of the original depictions of oni. Admittedly, I like the more current anime oni where they are often cute and stupid. But that’s just me, not wanting to see a monster eating human flesh (even though that could be epic). And it does seem like as time passes, the canon in anime is to make oni appear as humans–cute and dumb like in Onipan, or just plain adorable like in How to Keep a Mummy. Part of me wonders if that’s due to wanting to no longer fear creatures of folklore but rather embrace them into the culture as a way of not forgetting. Or maybe it’s because oni were once upon a time just a way of othering people who appeared monstrous, and as our society evolves we are more accepting of those not like us. After all, we as people have a weird affinity to monsters–because of the humanity we see past them. Maybe people these day think of oni and just see misguided souls. I honestly don’t know, I just appreciate how cute they can be in some anime.
Well, this post was short. And it should be! If I’m being honest, I had written a much longer and more in-depth post about oni before wordpress decided it hated me and deleted all my work. R.I.P. original draft. So while this was brief, I do hope that you learned something about oni, and I hope you look forward to joining us tomorrow on day 4 of Hotsui Matsuri!