• Mother of Mugwort

Folklore Friday: Yōkai II


Art by Utagawa Yoshifuji

Welcome back for another Folklore Friday! This week we're still on the subject of Yōkai, but today--instead of focusing on Tsukumogami--we'll be talking about Oni and Tengu, which are more demonic Yōkai. And after this post, you might realize you recognize these creatures from your emoji keyboard!

As a reminder to what I explained in the first post, "Yōkai" is sometimes an all-encompassing word, that can describe demons, ghosts, and even what Western cultures consider to be faeries.

Oni (鬼鬼) are ogre or troll Yōkai. They are often depicted as enormous, hideous, ogre-like creatures with horns and fangs. They are most commonly shown with blue or red skin. They wear tiger-skin loincloths and carry iron clubs called kanabō.

Oni are said to be evil creatures that bring destruction, disaster, and disease. There is even a special Spring festival called Setsubun, where Japanese people throw soybeans outside their homes and shout "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" ("鬼は外!福は内", "Oni go out! Blessings come in!") in an effort to ward off Oni.

However, one of my favorite Japanese folktales is the story of two kind Oni and their friendship. So maybe, not all Oni are as evil as they say. Two anime that I love actually retell the story so I'll share the videos and let them teach it to you, rather than prattling on about it myself. The first video is from "Ore Monogatari!!" and the second video is from "Re:Zero."

While Oni are similar to Western ogres and trolls, Tengu (天狗) are quite unique. Sometimes they translate to goblins, but in folklore, Tengu are described as demons with human and avian qualities. In the past, Tengu were actually depicted with birdlike beaks, but this has since been humanized as an unnaturally long nose.

Art by Kawanabe Kyōsai

In Buddhist tales they were originally known as disruptive harbingers of war, but over the years they have become better known as dangerous--but protective--spirits of the mountains and forests.

In the old tales, Tengu were opponents of Buddhism who robbed temples, kidnapped monks, and possessed women in an attempt to seduce holy men. Any of the Tengu's kidnapped victims were known to come back in a state of near death or madness.

Those Tengu were believed to be the ghosts of arrogant people--and as a result, Tengu have became strongly associated with vanity and pride.

Then, in the seventeenth century, some stories emerged that presented Tengu in a more positive light, as protectors of Buddhist institutions, rather than their enemy. And in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Tengu came to be known as the feared protectors of certain forests.

At this time there became two clear forms of Tengu: Karasu Tengu (烏天狗, “Crow” Tengu) (the more violent form) and Yamabushi Tengu (山仏師 天狗, Mountain Monk) (the protective Tengu).

But at the end of the day, you're just better off avoiding Tengu, rather than seeking out a peaceful one.

Check back in next week for another Folklore Friday--Yōkai Edition!


© 2018 by Indigo Baloch. 

  • Instagram - White Circle