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August 8, 2019


Oni - Japanese Folklore - Caroli Dilli - oni no nembutsu kawanabe kyosai

What is a oni?

The Oni are powerful supernatural creatures from Japanese mythology. They are said to eat human flesh and are expert torturers. They have a violent character and an appearance similar to that of demons or ogres. Even so, they are not always evil, some even help people.

Oni - Bashing a Monster into the Ground

The origin of the word oni

The oni It's one of the yōkai older and more famous, although everything points to the fact that he does not want to be seen.

probably the word oni (demon) save relation to the Japanese term on, which means hidden, or one who is not seen. The first use of this word referred to those who did not obey the imperial court. It was also used to refer to foreigners, unknown people. Later, the same term began to be applied generically to disease-bearing gods and other beasts.

Cabeza de Shuten Doji atacando a la pandilla de guerrreros de Raiko, de Utagawa Yoshitsuya (1822-1866)
Head of Shuten Doji attacking Raiko's warrior gang, from Utagawa Yoshitsuya (1822-1866)

The physical appearance of the oni

The image most associated with the oni is that of a muscular humanoid creature with horns, claws and fangs, resembling western ogres or demons.

Their skin can have a wide range of colors, the most common being green, red, blue and black. Also common are representations where they wear tiger skins and carry an iron club as a weapon (kanabo).

It seems that this well-known description of the oni became popular in the Edo period (1603-1868), although any supernatural creature that cannot be classified as a certain yōkai and that appears malicious will be taken for one of them.

It is important to note that these beings they have the power to change their appearanceThere are stories where they adopt human form or that of an object.

Oni - Folklore Japones - Caroli Dilli
Oni - Japanese folklore - Caroli Dilli - oni no nembutsu kawanabe kyosai

The character of the oni

These beings have been present in the history of Japan since primitive times. It is said that they eat human flesh and they are expert torturers.

During the Heian period (794-1185), they were regarded as causing all kinds of misfortunes, from natural disasters to epidemics.

in buddhism they are in charge of supervising hell and make use of their well-known skills. They are strong, intelligent and aggressive. But as you might expect, no matter how powerful they are, they can never defeat a buddha.

Common in Buddhist imagery are scenes in which a oni appears subjugated under the feet of some god.

Despite all the bad reputation they have, not all are bad. In many stories they help people or scare away evil spirits.

My references to draw oni

Dibujos de Oni - Ogro - Demonio Japones

You can access here to the board "Oni - Yokai - Japanese Mythology" from my Pinterest account.

The pins you will find are a selection of illustrations and tattoos from different artists, all of them quite representative when it comes to defining a oni

I have created it to be able to easily access these images and use them as a reference when drawing or tattooing.

They are also useful to show my clients and other interested parties who want to see a small selection of interesting references from oni.

Knowing the classic representations of a character can help when it is time to specify the idea of a possible tattoo or drawing.

Dibujo de Oni Yogui - Demonio Japonés - Ogro Japonés

my drawings of oni

Here you will find designs from oni made by me. In them I try, in my own way, to capture the traditional aesthetics of the oni with all the features described above.

They are representations designed for tattooing, some already tattooed and others available. You can see more, access to the session of Drawings of the web, where I also present other characters of Japanese iconography.

my tattoos of oni

You can see here some pictures of tattoos that I have made with oni.

You may find more detailed material in the Tattoo Gallery of the web. There I dedicate a post for each tattoo and I usually upload several photos to better show the details and also tell something more about the work in question.  

About this article

There is much more to tell about the oni. This post is open to updates. I will be adding useful information and if you want, you can also participate by leaving your comment!  

I am the author of this article. I will be delighted if you disclose this text as long as you cite the source and authorship.

The sources of information used for the creation of this text correspond to the following books and pages cited.

Written by Caroli Dilli
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