Many Japanese folklores tell of the oni – fearsome horned demons with red or blue-gray skin that lived in mountains and caves. The image of the oni, with its ferocious expression, bulging eyes, fanged teeth and large snarling mouth is enough to strike terror in the hearts of anyone.
Unlike evil demons in the west, the oni had been cast in various different roles, both good and bad. In some tales, they are mischievous pranksters, terrifying creatures that devour humans, and bringers of diseases. Other stories saw the oni as fierce, but benevolent protectors, hunters of evil-doers and guardians of villages.
The belief in the oni was deeply rooted in ancient Japan that natural disasters, plagues and famine were often attributed to these monsters. At the same time, in some Shinto ceremonies, priests wore oni masks to chase away evil spirits. Its existence in the Japanese conscious were so prominent that oni characters even appeared in traditional mime and dances, most notably the masked play known as Noh.
Today, oni tattoos are often done as a symbol of protection from one’s enemies and all forms of evil. Of course, many body art lovers also chose an oni tattoo out of nothing else but love for Japanese tattooing traditions.