Myths and Folklore Wiki

Oni (鬼, Oni?) are evil spirits from Japanese mythology and folklore. Oni are typically large in size, possess superhuman strength, and are terrifying in appearance,[1] and are associated with disease, calamity and misfortune.[2] Oni are found in countless Japanese stories and myths, where they tend to be depicted as roguish villains. Two famous oni are Shuten-dōji and Ōtakemaru.


The kanji (Japanese writing utilizing Chinese characters) for oni is 鬼.[3] This character was originally an ancient Chinese hieroglyphic that represented the position that a deceased body would be placed in for burial during the Yin Dynasty (1500-770 BCE).[4] Eventually, the 鬼 symbol came to represent both ancestral and evil spirits of the dead.[5]

According to Wamyō ruijushō, a dictionary from the 930's CE, oni is a corruption of the Chinese character 隱 ("on"), meaning "hiding," where the concept of hiding is related to the concept of the spirits of the dead.[6]

Over time, as the term "oni" grew in popularity over similar terms, such as mononoke, the oni developed from being a primarily invisible spirit, to a monstrous creature with a definite form.[7]

Besides 鬼, oni can be alternatively spelt out phonetically using the hiragana おに ("o-ni").[8]


Oni usually possess one or two short horns, which are said to be that of an ox.[9][10][11] They are typically depicted wearing little-to-no clothing, but when clothed they are usually shown wearing a loincloth made of tiger skin.[10][12][13] This combination of ox horns and tiger skin is a play on "ushitora," the Japanese word for the direction north-northeast.[10][14] Translated literally, "ushi" means "ox," and "tora" means "tiger."[14] According to Japanese folklore, this direction was considered to be ominous, and was sometimes referred to as kimon, or "oni's gate" ( 鬼門 ( きもん ) ).[15]

Oni are depicted in Japanese artwork with a variety of skin colors, including: black, blue, green, red, and yellow skin;[13][16] and they often have large locks of unkempt hair.[11] Sometimes oni are depicted with a third eye on the center of the forehead.[16] In other cases, an oni may be cyclops-like, with only a single eye.[17] Oni typically have large mouths with long, almost tusk-like, canines.[18] At the end of their powerful limbs are clawed hands and feet, and they are often shown carrying their choice weapon: a large, heavy iron hexagonal club, called a tetsubō, which is used for torturing victims.[18][19]

Myths & Legends

The term oni is often translated to English as "ogre" or "demon,"[20] due to their similarity to demons from Christian traditions.[18] Unlike demons in Christianity, oni are not considered to be intrinsically evil.[18] Rather, they are considered to be wrathful and uncontrolled, but still able to be converted to Buddhism.[19]

According to Japanese Buddhism, oni constitute one of the six orders of life in the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth known as samsara.[19] When a particularly wicked person dies, it is believed that they will either be reborn as, or transformed into, an oni.[21] In some tales a person can become so wicked that they turn into an oni even before they die.[21] According to Shinto myths, a part of the soul of either a deity or a mortal, known as an aramitama, can become an oni if that person or deity has been insulted or wronged in some way.[19]

Oni are said to reside in Jigoku, or Buddhist hell, and are servants of Enma Daiō, the ruler Jigoku and Meido.[22][23] There in Jigoku, the Oni punish and torture others who had been wicked in their past life (but not wicked enough to transform into oni themselves) in accordance to Enma Daiō's judgment.[21][22] These horrible punishments include peeling off skin, crushing bones, and frying the damned in a giant frying pan.[23] They are also known to emerge from Buddhist hell in order to punish or terrify wicked mortals.[18]

Modern Depictions


A particularly famous Japanese story about Oni is in regard to two oni friends, and one which wants to befriend humans. The story is called Naita Akaoni (Red Oni who Cried), written by the renowned children's author, Hirosuke Hamada in 1933.[18][24][25]

In the story, a red Oni tries to become friends with humans, even writing friendly messages on his house and making sweets. However, Oni are known for being scary, and sometimes being man-eaters, so everyone stayed away. Eventually, he asks his friend the blue oni for help on what he should do to let the humans know he was their friend.[18]

The blue Oni comes up with a plan: he'd pretend to be an evil oni and attack the human village, and the red oni could heroically come in and save the humans by chasing off the blue oni. They enact this plan, and the red oni befriends the humans like he wanted.

However, he soon realizes that his friend the blue oni hasn't come around, so he goes to the blue oni's house to see if something happened. He finds a letter from the blue oni, who writes that he will stay away from the humans so that the red oni can still be friends with them (as the humans would recognize him as the "evil" oni that attacked). The story ends with the red oni crying for having lost his old friend.[18]

Anime and Manga

  • In the anime Hozuki's Coolheadedness, the story follows the job of the Oni in Hell.
  • in the anime My Love Story!!, the story of the blue and red Oni are referenced in a school play.
  • In Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World, the twin sisters Ram and Rem are born as the blue and red Oni with the abilities of absorbing magical energies by their horns.

Cartoons & TV shows

  • In LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, the Oni appears as the tenth season's villainous faction. They have also been mentioned and teased to appear in the prior season.

Video Games

  • Oni are one of the variety of monsters that can be fought in Okami.
  • Oni is a reoccurring demon in the Megami Tensei series.
  • The character Arataki Itto in Genshin Impact is an Oni in his human form.
  • The playable killer Kazan Yamaoka from Dead by Daylight is referred to as 'The Oni' due to his hulking, ghoulish appearance and Japanese ancestry.


Image Gallery of Oni


  1. "Oni, in Japanese folklore, a type of demonic creature often of giant size, great strength, and fearful appearance." -
  2. "In Shinto, the Oni are associated with disease, calamity, and misfortune." -
  3. "Ancient Japanese literature assigns a number of different written characters such as 鬼, 魑魅, and 鬼魅 to express oni (Tsuchihashi 95). Among them, the character used now is 鬼,..." -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 4) -
  4. "The letter 鬼 is a hieroglyph that presents the shape of a dead body at a burial during the Yin Dynasty (1500–770 BCE); the fundamental meaning of 鬼 is, therefore, a dead body itself." -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 4, 5) -
  5. "...which in Chinese means invisible soul/ spirit of the dead, both ancestral and evil." -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 4) -
  6. "According to Wamyō ruijushō (ca. 930s), the first Japanese language dictionary, oni is explained as a corruption of the reading of the character on 隠 (hiding), “hiding behind things, not wishing to appear... a soul/spirit of the dead.”" -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 5) -
  7. "As the use of the character 鬼 became popular, the invisible oni gradually became omnipresent in popular Japanese consciousness and began to be represented in more tangible form." -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 7) -
  8. "おに" -
  9. "Oni are customarily portrayed with one or more horns protruding from their scalps." -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 7) -
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "The image of oni with an ox horn(s) and tiger skin loincloth is said to have come about from a play on the word ushitora." -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 7) -
  11. 11.0 11.1 "They generally have two short horns (sometimes one) growing from between their unkempt locks of hair." -Handbook of Japanese Mythology, Michael Ashkenazi, 2003 (pg. 230)
  12. "More often than not, oni are scantly clad, wearing a loincloth of fresh tiger skin." -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 7) -
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Japanese oni are generally pictured as red, green, or blue humanoids, generally naked but for a loincloth." -Handbook of Japanese Mythology, Michael Ashkenazi, 2003 (pg. 230)
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Ushi (ox) represents the direction thirty degrees east from due north (north-north-east); tora (tiger) is the direction thirty degrees northward from due east." -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 7) -
  15. "Ushitora was considered an ominous direction called kimon 鬼門 —oni’s gate 門." -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 7) -
  16. 16.0 16.1 "They sometimes have a third eye in the center of the forehead, and varying skin color, most commonly black, red, blue, or yellow." -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 7) -
  17. "In Izumo fudoki, a one-eyed 鬼 appears in a reclaimed land in the community of Ayo of Izumo Province (present-day Shimane prefecture) and devours a man (Akimoto 238–39)." -Japanese Demon Lore, Noriko T Reider, 2010 (pg. 6) -
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 18.7
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3
  20. "Translation: ogre, demon" -
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2
  22. 22.0 22.1
  23. 23.0 23.1