On Japanese Devils
The way that Japanese understand the world of spirits, kami, is very different from our understanding. The world teems with spirits. They may be good, bad, or neutral with many shades in between. In my series, Fox Sorcery, I delve into this world to show just how varied these spirits can be. In the next few days, I will explain some of these entities. My first will be Onis, a kind of devil.
The kanji character for the word comes from the Chinese character for the spirits of the dead. The character can denote a spirit that is ancestral or an evil ghost. In common Japanese belief, an oni is a spirit that is terrifying, and looks rather like the Western idea of a devil. These creatures might be thought of as coming from a hellish abode to frighten humans who sometimes deserve to be haunted. Onis are sometimes illustrated in popular Japanese art as having horns on the forehead, and sometimes a third eye in the middle of the forehead. They have horrid faces with gaping maws sporting one or more rows of sharp teeth. The skin of an oni may be black, yellow, blue, or red, but quite often it is red. Red is the color of a common oni mask used in the performance of the Japanese Noh theater productions.
Onis can be shape-shifters. They can appear as normal humans until something forces them to reveal their real forms. An oni can be a male or female, but they are often depicted in art as male. There is one sort of female oni called the Yomotsu-shikome oni, who is the result of a woman who is shamed by her husband.
Next, I will talk about the nature and psychology of onis.