Do you know about Japanese oni? An oni is a kind of demon in Japanese folklore, and it has a unique appearance. At 4T-AMKY, Teachers and Students write about Japanese culture, food, history, many spots to visit, and other stuff. Enjoy reading and knowing about deeper Japanese culture!
Why do oni (demons) wear tiger skin pants?
An illustrated postcard on Setsubun.
On the day of Setsubun*, February 3, 2023, I received an illustrated postcard painted by my Kampo medicine teacher, Mr. Yukio Nemoto. It depicted a red oni(demon) and a blue oni(demon). Even though it was a picture of demons, somehow it was charming and brought a smile to my face. The picture is accompanied by the following words.
Beans (called Mame in Japanese) are Ma(Demons)Me(eyes). So they must be roasted (shot). (Roast and shot are both called “iru” in Japanese.) Red demons represent greed, blue demons represent hatred. Strike the demons from your own heart.”
It’s a play on words, and I think it is very meaningful. I heard that it is a saying that has been passed down from generation to generation.
The origin of the demon’s appearance.
By the way, do you know why demons have horns and wear tiger skin pants? Here is the origin of the demon’s appearance which I heard from Mr. Nemoto.
It dates back to the Tang Dynasty in China. An emperor ordered a painter to draw a picture of hell. The painter was troubled because he didn’t know what the demons looked like, although it is said that there are demons in hell. Then he heard the following story. There is a mountain called Dosakusan, where lives the Queen Mother of the West (a mother goddess in Chinese religion and mythology) in the eastern sea. There are sacred peaches there, and demons guard the northeastern gate as its guardians.
According to the Chinese zodiac, northeast is the direction of the Ox and Tiger signs. Therefore, the painter combined an ox and a tiger to depict a demon. The demon has horns and tail of an ox, and the eyes and fangs of a tiger. This is the origin of the demon’s figure. So, the demon’s pants must be tiger skin, not silk.
- According to the lunar calendar that was once used in Japan, Setsubun is the day which divides the two seasons winter and spring. Setsubun refers to the end of winter, which also celebrates the arrival of spring.
- Please read our blog “Setsubun (Bean-Throwing event）” posted by Takuya. F. on Feb.2, 2021. You will know why oni are throwing beans in this illustrated postcard.
Editor: Stuart Cauley