Japan heritage Story

Oni resides in the temples of Kunisaki.

Although demons are considered frightening by many, the demons of Kunisaki are seen as creatures who bring happiness to the people.

On the night of the Shujō onie , it laughs, dances, and drinks harmoniously with the people.

In Kunisaki, oni and people are connected like life-long friends.

※What is oni ?
The Japanese word “oni” is often translated as “demon” in English. In this book,
we decided to use the word untranslated. Because there are all kinds of different
oni in Japan, from pretty scary monsters to friendly creatures that are deeply
connected with local communities.

The oni That Resided in the Mysterious Caves

 When Yamato Takeru's father, Emperor Keikō, traversed the Suōnada in order to conquer the Kumaso, he discovered Kunisaki, the peninsula that protrudes from Eastern Kyushu. For Yamato's men, who crossed the Seto Inland Sea, Kunisaki was the boundary to another world, and came to represent the ends of the earth. The mysterious mass of misty mountains is covered in fog with a strange miasma, and one can't help but feel this eerie place houses oni. The truth is, oni really did reside here. Cliff ridges spread across the round peninsula in a radial pattern and you can find caves in these rock formations. Furthermore, these caves are located in positions which are inaccessible to humans. Only unimaginably strong oni could have lived in those locations. Once upon a time, Kunisaki was a magical land part of another world, where oni roamed. Like the legend of the oni who breaks large rocks with brute force, and makes them into stone steps in one night, Kunisaki is full of oni tales.

左:鬼が棲む奇岩霊窟/右:鬼が築いた石段イメージLeft: Mysterious Caves where oni resided/Right: Stone steps built by oni

In Kunisaki, oni and People Are like Life-Long Friends

 In Kunisaki, there is a night where you can meet the oni. The Shujō Onie is the largest memorial service in Kunisaki. Sparks fly, and a suffocating smoke fills the air as the oni dance wildly with torches. Although sparks from the torches that land on hair or clothes can cause panic, and the incantation section which involves spanking with a torch are rather violent, the sounds that echo from spectator hall are not screams of terror, but rather, screams of delight and joy. That's because being spanked, or showered in sparks, are seen as omens of bumper crops and sound health. The oni of Kunisaki use their mystical power to prevent hardship and disaster, and are thus fervently worshipped by the people. Offerings to the oni are generally decorative mochi (rice cakes) and large mochi. In between intervals of long services, cayenne peppers, or "no mezamashi;spicy grilled rice cakes" are given to the monks, and at the end, big round mochi are scattered about for good fortune. Every year, the Shujō Onie also promises a strong yield for the Kunisaki crops. After the ceremonies conclude at Iwatoji and Jōbutsuji, the oni heads back to their colony. The people eagerly invite the oni to their homes and bars to drink deep into the night. The celebration is a representation of a spin put on a popular phrase, "Better the oni I know, than the saint I don't." Although you see festivals like Setsubun, where oni are chased away, or you see parents scaring children into good behavior with tales of oni, in Kunisaki, the oni themselves brings good fortune.

左上:松明を持って暴れる鬼/右上:豊かな「くにさき」の里(田染荘)/左下:鬼と酒を酌み交わす/右下:鬼と人は長年の友イメージTop left: oni dancing wildly with torches/Top right: The fertile Kunisaki area (Tashibunoshou)/Bottom left: Drinking with the oni/Bottom right: oni and people, life-long friends

The Monks of Kunisaki who Pray to the Oni

 Monks play a key role in the deep and strong friendship between people and oni. Monks have always looked up to the oni in a way, because of the mystical power the oni has possessed since the days of old. Ancient Buddhist monks established "mineiri," a training that involves making their way around grottos built into the cliff ridges. The grottos were originally built when the monks went searching for the oni high in the ridges long ago. The halls and shrines may not be there, but the idea of naturally coming in contact with the deities in these mystical caves has been part of Kunisaki's history for 1000 years. Many of the grottos are called "okunoin," and they are considered the origins of faith by every temple. Before long, in the six localities of Kunisaki, up to 65 temples were built, and the Buddhist culture of "Rokugo Manzan" was established. Most of these temples created masks of oni, where priests would dress up as oni. These rituals prayed for everything from national peace and security to rainmaking. And just like that, the culture of praying to oni took root in Kunisaki. Presently, even at temples that no longer celebrate the Shujo Onie, there is a service with demon masks on the original dates of the Shujō onie. Oni masks in these rituals are rich with variation, and not all of them have intimidating expressions. If you stare long enough, they will seem to smile at times, proud at times, and perhaps they will even tell you tearful stories of the old days.

左:岩屋を巡る僧侶達(峯入り)/中:岩窟の寺院「五辻岩屋」/右:表情豊かな「くにさき」の鬼達イメージLeft: Monks making their way around the grottos (mineiri)/Center: Temple in a grotto (Itsutsuji)/Right: The various expressions of the Kunisaki's oni

Kunisaki's Oni and Acala

 As esoteric Buddhism spread into Kunisaki during the Heian Period, Kunisaki's oni and Acala often got lumped together. If you look at the oni's appearance you can see some of the similarities. The sword they hold in one hand is one and the same with the treasured sword of Acala. The flaming halo that Acala sports can be likened to the torches that the oni waves around to repel disaster. But most notable is this: many of Kunisaki's Acala statues are enshrined in the okunoin grottos that the oni used to reside in. Generally, Acala is depicted with an expression resembling silent anger, but in Kunisaki, many of his statues have a round, pleasant face. The wooden statues of Acala that reside in Maki Odō Hall and Mudō-ji from the Heian Period feature soft expressions. Also soft are the expressions from the Kumano Magaibutsu and Kawanaka Fudo stone statues, and if you stand before them, you feel a sense of comfort and security. The statue of Tarōten in Chōan-ji depicts a child, but read the Sanskrit letters and you will learn that he is an incarnation of Acala. Here, Acala is portrayed with the gentle face of a child, and this statue is a concentration of all the wisdom in Rokugo Manzan culture and its merging of Shintoism and Buddhism. By learning more about the various depictions of Acala, you can also learn more about Kunisaki's culture of praying to oni.

左:鬼と不動明王が持つ「宝剣」/中:優しい顔の不動明王(熊野磨崖仏)/右:不動明王の化身「太郎天」イメージLeft: The treasured sword held by both the oni and Acala/Center: The soft expression of Acala (Kumano Magaibutsu)/Right: An incarnation of Acala (Tarōten)

In Kunisaki, scary Oni is like Buddhas, and answer the people's prayers.

Idolize oni. Meet oni. Pray to oni. Laugh with oni.

That's the culture in Kunisaki. Why don't you try and become a friend to the oni yourself?