The Oni, also known as Namahage, originated from Japanese folklore. These creatures are best described as massive ogre-like, red demon, trolls with devilish horns protruding from the forehead surrounded by a mane of wild jet-black hair. These sharp clawed, imaginary humanoids are the root to any child or adult’s nightmare, and that’s exactly what the purpose of this crazy folklore monster was intended to do.
Legend has it, these hideous beings would roam the villages of Japan, stealing crops from the farmers and abducting woman from the town, dragging them high into the mountains never to be seen again. Not only would they seize the woman, they would come after the ‘naughty’ children as a source of protein. One day after really brainstorming up an idea, the people of a village decided to muster up the courage to make a ‘deal’ with these demons.
The Oni being a ravenous but not so bright of a creature, was made a deal that would be impossible to accomplish. Since these ogres agreed to the terms, the bet was on. The village people bet the Oni that if the Oni could build a flight of stone stairs leading up to the mountains and the five shrine halls of the village located by the sea shore, one thousand steps in all, the villagers would freely give the Oni woman and children every year. If the Oni were not able to accomplish this by the next morning, the Oni were to vanish from the area and never return.
The village people believing these sluggish oafs would not be able to complete this project were in a surprise of a lifetime when they saw before their very eyes the Oni were almost complete with the flight of stairs with time to spare. Thinking quickly, a villager started to squawk and imitate the noises of a rooster waking up the village for the morning. The Oni heard the fake rooster call and believed they lost the bet. Being in dismay and embarrassment, the Oni held up to their end of the bet and took off from the village, never to return.
This story was originally passed down generation to generation as a way of scaring children into behaving. As Japan has a strict society concerning these values of behaving and staying in line, this folklore myth was a success as to what its main goal was. This folklore is so popular that even to this day there are festivals all over Japan celebrating the Oni. On New Years Eve, the people of Japan dress up in these Oni outfits that were depicted in children’s books and the legendary troll like garb. These costumes consist of straw poncho like robes that wrap around the body, straw boots, and a red horned mask with jagged teeth, angry eyes, with a cynical expression.
The men and woman parading the streets of Japan on this New Years Eve festival celebration often carry papier-mâché weapons such as clubs, and wooden knives, taunting others as they walk by. A lot of Oni actors and actresses even go as far as creeping up to little children trying to scare them, yelling out things such as ‘Where are the naughty ones?’ Or ‘Point me to the crybabies!’, the red Oni mask is even an emoji symbol on just about every phone and social media platform. (For further information, look into this New Years Eve festival, there are several videos online you can look up to get an idea of what goes on at these celebrations).
The red Oni mask has even found its way through the tattoo world! Lovers of superstitions and the spirit world have dedicated a part of their body to this demonic creature. Often wise, the red Oni mask is done in a cartoonish, flash art style. Brightly colored black and red Oni faces can illustrate an array of emotional expressions. Since the Oni is such an old myth, some people seem to actually believe in this entity. Those who are more into the superstitious beliefs, get this scary mask tattooed as a form of protection to ward off evil spirits that may try to harm said individual. Much like a dream catcher, this face of a beast filters which spirits may or may not approach this person’s soul.
The Oni were not always creatures however. They too were evil spirits that were invisible to the eye. It is said that the word Oni itself is derived from the On’Yomi reading, logographic Chinese characters that are also used in the Japanese writing system, meaning to conceal or hide. This being the case, Oni ultimately means an invisible spirit, or being. These invisible beings would freely roam the spirit world looking for a host to feed off. Latching onto ogres and troll like creatures, the Oni terrorized and took over the lands.
You’re not so superstitious but you enjoy the legendary story and just want the Oni mask tattoo anyway! The Oni mask is a great conversation starter with a cool story to go along with it. This tattoo is almost guaranteed to arise questions and draw attention so if you get this piece as a tattoo, expect to answer questions about it! The Oni’s face is typically drawn and painted either red or blue. A tattoo artist that is known for or has a good background of doing flash art tattoos then this would be the perfect project for them to take on. This tattoo is most commonly placed as a chest piece, or on the leg.
The Oni goes by various names and because of this, the Oni also has many different forms. A tip that could go a long way is to not jump the gun and choose the first design of this creature you see. Not only is the face/mask a popular tattoo idea, some even accompany the body to go along with it. Take your time instead to look through the different variations of this ogre that haunts so many people’s dreams.