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Japanese Demon Lore

Oni from Ancient Times to the Present

Noriko Reider

Publication Year: 2010

Oni, ubiquitous supernatural figures in Japanese literature, lore, art, and religion, usually appear as demons or ogres. Characteristically threatening, monstrous creatures with ugly features and fearful habits, including cannibalism, they also can be harbingers of prosperity, beautiful and sexual, and especially in modern contexts, even cute and lovable. There has been much ambiguity in their character and identity over their long history. Usually male, their female manifestations convey distinctivly gendered social and cultural meanings.

Oni appear frequently in various arts and media, from Noh theater and picture scrolls to modern fiction and political propaganda, They remain common figures in popular Japanese anime, manga, and film and are becoming embedded in American and international popular culture through such media. Noriko Reiderýs book is the first in English devoted to oni. Reider fully examines their cultural history, multifaceted roles, and complex significance as "others" to the Japanese.

Published by: Utah State University Press


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pp. vii-ix

List of Illustrations

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pp. x

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pp. xi-xv

On the last day of winter, setsubun, the parting of the seasons, people perform a ceremony at temples and in many private houses where they throw beans at imagined or impersonated frightening figures called oni. When they throw the beans they shout: “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” (Oni get out, luck come in). On this year’s setsubun a foreign colleague participated ...

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pp. xvi-xvii

So, again we wade into Japanese folklore. Modern and ancient, powerful in their ability to express the human condition, oni can always be reimagined. Therein, it is easy to imagine how this work has benefited from the kindness of many people. First of all, I express my sincere appreciation to Peter Knecht, former editor of Asian Folklore Studies (now Asian Ethnology) ...

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pp. xvii-xxvi

Why the supernatural? “Serious scholars remain very wary about studying supernatural folklore. … The supernatural has been officially demoted to the nursery, commercial, or fantasy worlds,” Gillian Bennett writes, yet at an “informal level, there continues to be a very widespread belief in the supernatural” (1–2). Here, Gillian Bennett refers to contemporary ...

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1. An Overview: What are Oni?

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pp. 1-29

In an English language treatment of oni it is tempting to seek comparisons in Western demonology. Indeed, the concept of oni and the history and development of their representation have some striking affinity to the demonic entities that populate Judeo-Christian myths and the various figures from older Greco-Roman, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic ...

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2. Shuten Dōji (Drunken Demon): A Medieval Story of the Carnivalesque and the Rise of Warriors and Fall of Oni

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pp. 30-52

More than any other time in Japanese history, the medieval period was the oni’s time. “Shuten Dōji and Ibaraki Dōji, so infamous that they are considered oni’s pronoun, were born in this era,” Komatsu Kazuhiko writes, “…many oni in performing arts and literature were also born during this time [the medieval period]” (Shinpen Oni no tamatebako 306). The ...

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3. Women Spurned, Revenge of Oni Women: Gender and Space

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pp. 53-60

The medieval time produced a great male oni called Shuten Dōji as we saw in chapter two. Indeed, the medieval period also created an awesome female oni who is as destructive as Shuten Dōji. Named Uji no hashihime (Woman at Uji Bridge) as described in the “Tsurugi no maki” (Swords Chapter) of Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike), this fierce female oni goes ...

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4. Yamauba, the Mountain Ogress: Old Hag to Voluptuous Mother

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pp. 61-89

Jealousy and shame are often intrinsic characteristics of fierce female oni who exact revenge against the men and/or women causing their undying angst. As we saw in chapter three, Uji no hashihime as described in “Swords Chapter” of Heike monogatari and the Noh Kanawa are good examples.1 Yet, some female oni are relatively detached from the jealous ...

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5. Oni in Urban Culture: De-demonization of the Oni

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pp. 90-103

Oni in early modern Japan (1600–1867) remained relatively static in their representational attributes and their overall impact on social life, particularly when compared with the medieval period. The oni as a dark, enigmatic force threatening the central authority of the court retreated, by this period, into the cultural background. While the oni may have no longer ...

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6. Oni and Japanese Identity: Enemies of the Japanese Empire in and out of the Imperial Army

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pp. 104-119

In the previous chapter, we saw that the Edoites, on some level or other, seem to unite in their belief in the supernatural. While in urban life, oni were fictitious, existing purely for the carnival sideshow-like entertainment of city dwellers, it is noteworthy that at the highest levels of government, officials paid due respect to select types of the supernatural. With the coming of the Meiji ...

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7. Sex, Violence, and Victimization: Modern Oni and Lonely Japanese

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pp. 120-143

The commercialization and commodification of the supernatural that we have witnessed in earlier chapters have followed the oni for most of their literary existence. This trend has seemingly reached its apotheosis in current Japanese culture. Thus, oni now flourish in Japanese people’s nostalgic as well as futuristic imaginations. While the traditional oni breathe ...

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8. Oni in Manga, Anime, and Film

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pp. 144-169

In contemporary Japan, a virtual world of anime (Japanese animation), film, and games offers oni and other yōkai unlimited potential. Manga (graphic novels)—a close relative of anime and an essential component in contemporary Japanese pop culture—is also fertile soil for oni. Japanese manga were popular in the pre-war period, but it was only after the war ...

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9. Oni without Negatives: Selfless and Surrealistic Oni

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pp. 170-176

Oni without negatives do not strike one as oni. Yet, modern times have witnessed the birth of an utterly kind and selfless oni. He appears in the children’s story, now widely considered a classic, titled Naita Akaoni (Red Oni Who Cried). Its author, Hamada Hirosuke (1893–1973), says that he created a kind oni, hoping to spread compassion among modern ...

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pp. 177-184

As the reader has witnessed in the course of this monograph, oni emerge, take shape and derive substance from Buddhist cosmology, yin and yang beliefs, Chinese literature, and popular Japanese imagination. Through the ebb and flow of Japanese history oni are sustained by and feed upon not just human flesh but human creativity and the seemingly overriding ...

Appendix A: Translation of Shibukawa’s Version of Shuten Dōji

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pp. 185-203

Appendix B: Japanese and Chinese Names and Terms

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pp. 204-209


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pp. 210-230


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pp. 231-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780874217940
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874217933

Page Count: 241
Publication Year: 2010