Of all the tattoo designs a person may choose, it seems that demons reign supreme in the kingdom of ink.
At first blush, a devil tattoo may seem to reflect something negative about the tattooed person’s character.
But if you take a peep at demon myths, it becomes much more complicated than that.
In Christian mythology the devil is an angel who fell from grace, or was cast out of heaven.
Many other religions reflect this tension between good and evil in the devil, or demons.
A demon is rarely a purely evil entity – usually the specter has something of a tragic or misunderstood backstory.
In Greek mythology Hades presides over the underworld, which can make a guy seem a little ghoulish, but he’s actually seen as a pretty reasonable and even passive god.
He even asks permission before abducting Persephone which, by Greek god standards, is pretty gentlemanly.
It’s only more recently that Hades has been painted as an evil, vengeful spirit.
Japanese folklore, too, reflects the duality of demons.
While Japanese Oni (demons) are fearsome creatures- they have often transformed into Oni because of misfortune.
It’s interesting then, to think about why the devil is such a popular character for tattoo artists and canvases alike.
One of the more popular choices for a devil tattoo is the “Oni,” or Japanese demon named Daikijin.
There isn’t much known about Daikijin, but what is known is fascinating.
We’ll get to more about him after a primer on demonology in general.
Why Devil Tattoos?
It’s reasonable to assume that someone who chooses to align himself with this controversial figure would have a good reason for it.
Perhaps they feel cast out from society, or like they don’t belong.
Maybe the person in question did something monstrous, but only in response to something unjust.
Maybe they want to acknowledge the duality of human nature- that everyone has the capacity to fall from grace in a weak moment.
It could be that a demon tattoo is there to protect its wearer from other demons.
One of those “pretend to be a zombie to avoid getting eaten by zombies” moves.
The popularity of devil imagery in Japanese tattoo art is that much more powerful when we consider the Japanese folklore.
Japanese belief systems, customs and art styles seem to capture the attention of people and artists all over the world.
In Japan, demons are known as Oni.
Oni are thought to have made their way over to Japan along with Buddhism sometime in the 6th century.
Oni can be women or men, and are depicted as having abstract skin colors (pink, red, blue, etc) with horns protruding from their face, and sometimes 3 eyes.
In addition to their frightening faces, Oni are said to have super strength.
They are also gargantuan in size, making them pretty darn fearsome overall!
Oni Masks in Japanese Culture
Though Oni are terrifying creatures, it’s not uncommon to see their image everywhere in Japan.
In fact, people will often wear Oni masks at festivals, rituals, and in plays.
When speaking about rituals and plays, these masks are often seen as a “fight fire with fire” type tactic.
When wearing a demon mask, you protect yourself against any other beasties who may be lurking around.
It’s almost as if an Oni wouldn’t want to trespass on another Oni’s turf.
Oni masks (Oni mask tattoo) as a part of a great festival is something we see reflected in so many cultures.
Take Halloween, for example.
The reason we dress up for Halloween is that the veil between the living and the dead is said to be at its thinnest, and we want to blend in with the goblins and ghouls so they don’t try to grab us and take us to the other side.
In theatre, an Oni mask would be part of a special production.
Oni Masks in Noh Theatre
A Noh production is a series of short dramatic plays.
These plays do not have much dialogue if any at all, and instead the actors use their bodies, mask work, and exquisite movements to tell the story.
There are 5 types of Noh productions: the kami/god play, the shura mono/fighting play, the katsura mono/wig play, the gendai mono/contemporary play, the kyōjo mono/madwoman play, and finally the kiri or kichiku/demon play.
Obviously the kiri or kichiku play is where we meet the Oni and our friend Daikijin.
Who is the Oni Daikijin?
Not much is said or known about Daikijin, but his image is a popular one.
His name translates to “Great Demon God,” so he’s not messing around!
Daikijin is certainly a sight to take in.
He has a pale white face with long, bushy white hair.
In turn, he has a long white beard and moustache, which gives him an overall lion-esque appearance.
Two large white horns protrude from the sides of his forehead, and he has angry golden eyes.
His great red mouth is open, exposing a set of sharp looking teeth with golden canines.
If there is in fact a great demon god, it would only make sense for it to be Daikijin.
Some say he is not only the demon god, but also the god of pestilence.
Sometimes Daikijin is the spirit of an influential person who was abused in life and comes back feeling vengeful.
What do Daikijin Tattoos Symbolize?
Daikijin is often seen as a protector god, which would only make sense.
Having the king of demons on your body would signal other, lesser demons to stay away.
This could also be a great tattoo for someone who is a fan of Noh theater, or who feels they’ve been wronged and are trying to fight against becoming devilish because of that.
Daikijin Tattoo Ideas
Having a demon tattooed on you may make you a cast out in some circles, but it may also invite in anyone who feels the same way.
Not sure if you’re ready to get such a menacing image on you for life?
Check out these Daikijin tattoos and see if you find yourself inspired.
To read more about Japanese tattoos, go to:
- Japanese Masks Tattoos
- Yokai Tattoos
- Kendo Tattoo
- Nue Tattoo
- Kokeshi Doll Tattoo
- Maneki Neko Tattoo
- Fujin Tattoos
- Namakubi Tattoos
- Kabuto Tattoos
- Ebisu Tattoos
- Karura and Garuda Tattoos
- Kirin Tattoos
- Fudo Myoo Tattoos
- Heikegani Tattoos
- Japanese Snake Tattoos
- Raijin Tattoos
- Koi Fish Tattoos
- Geisha Tattoos
- Kitsune Tattoos
- Foo Dog Tattoos