Oni Mask Tattoos
In monotheistic religions, there are only so many figures we can turn to for examples of good and evil.
There is a standard God-like figure with a legion of angels, and a mirror-image devil figure with his demons.
It’s rare to find much excitement outside of that when portraying legendary religious stories in art.
Polytheistic religions, on the other hand, have a whole cast of interesting characters to choose from.
This is perhaps why the whole Western world has such a love affair with belief systems from faraway lands.
Japanese folklore is admired worldwide for its beautiful artwork, exciting imagery, and a variety of mystical figures to learn about.
In the tattoo world especially, these ancient belief systems provide an endless well of inspiration to draw from.
When worn respectfully and for the right reasons, the mythical creatures in Japanese folklore can make for some gorgeous pieces.
Oni Mask Origins
Speaking of respectfully wearing a tattoo, one of the more popular designs for Japanese tattoos is the Oni Mask.
If you are not from a Japanese background, you may understand the Oni best as “demons.”
It is important to respect and understand the Oni before you rush out and get a tattoo of one, for a couple of key reasons:
Demonic characters are notoriously tricky, and will think nothing of messing with someone they see as a gullible human.
Whether or not you believe in the things that go bump in the night, you may want to be on the safe side here.
Oni Masks have roots in the Hindu-Buddhist belief system.
While Hinduism and Buddhism may look different today than they did when the Oni were first written about, they are still widely practiced throughout the world.
Something that you see as a fun design may have deep meaning to someone else.
For someone to flippantly wear a sacred symbol without any regard for the people who practice that religion can be very hurtful.
But that doesn’t mean an Oni mask tattoo is off the table, it just means you need to do some careful research to decide if an Oni mask tattoo is right for you.
Who are the Oni?
Oni are part of a larger umbrella term known as the Yōkai.
Yōkai are a group of what westerners may call goblins and ghouls.
The word Yōkai is comprised of two parts: alluring chaos and apparition.
There are some members of the Yōkai that are mischievous at best, more like the pixies from the UK.
These characters may find it funny to mess with humans, but they aren’t going to cause any harm.
The Oni figures, on the other hand, don’t mind breaking a few eggs to make an evil omelet.
They’re nasty little figures.
So much so that they pop up as villains in many Japanese folk tales- the same way stories from the UK tend to lean on witches as a source of evil.
Oni characters are often thought to be the cause of epidemics and large disasters.
What do the Oni Look Like?
The Oni figures have a very ogre-like appearance.
Though the origin of ogres is mysterious, it seems every culture has their version of these beastly giants.
The Oni are said to be large, lumbering characters with a violent nature and slow movement patterns.
There are a few characteristics specific to Oni:
- Large clumsy forms.
- Horns on either side of their heads.
- Red or blue skin, sometimes green or black.
- Tigerskin lion-cloth.
- Trusty Kanabo weapon (large clubs, sometimes with spikes.)
Typically when someone gets an Oni tattoo, they get an Oni mask. These are traditionally carved out of wood and painted in striking colors.
Masks are still very present in Japanese traditions, and generally used in three contexts:
Noh theatre: Noh is an ancient form of theatre where actors portray traditional folklore stories through movement. There is very little dialogue in a Noh production, so actors must move their bodies in ways that make their masks seemingly come to life.
The Oni mask appears as a stock character in Noh theatre, meaning anyone familiar with the shows will recognize it when they see it. This is similar to sitcoms, where we can pick out who will fall in love, who will have funny blunders, etc.
Festivals: Oni masks may be worn during Japanese festivals. The intent behind this is generally to protect yourself from demonic influence, or ward off any Oni who happen to be around!
Before the first day of Spring, there is a Japanese festival called Setsubun wherein children through soybeans out of their window. A they throw the soybeans, they yell “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which roughly translates to “Oni out, blessings in.” During this festival parents may dress as Oni to scare the bad spirits away.
Charms: Small decorative Oni masks are sometimes sold as necklaces, talismans, or even cell phone charms for good luck and protection.
Meaning of the Oni Mask Tattoos
Generally, someone who wears an Oni mask on their body has the same intent as someone who wears one on their face: they want to tell evil not to mess with them!
Oni mask tattoos may be to ward off evil or protect you from unseen forces.
Oni mask tattoos may be a way of confronting your fears or your “shadow side.”
What to Consider Before Getting your Oni Mask Tattoo
Ask yourself why this tattoo is important to you, and what you hope to gain from wearing it on your body.
Ask yourself if you are ready for an investment!
Oni Mask tattoos tend to be intricate in their designs, and may take up a significant portion of your body.
This is going to be a commitment both financially and in how visible it will be on your body.
Ask yourself if you have personal ties to the Oni Mask, or if there is perhaps something more fitting in your own background.
Oni Mask Tattoo Ideas
In any case, Oni mask tattoos are pretty bad-ass!
Trying to picture what your Oni mask tattoo will look like?
Check out our Oni mask tattoo gallery for some inspiration.