Sit down over here by the campfire. No, not there — come a little closer.
I’m going to tell you a story about hell and the oni — a kind of Japanese demon — forever connected to those accursed spots for Halloween. You’re laughing, but these stories of evil monsters and things that will haunt your dreams aren’t made up — they’re 100 percent legit.
Don’t believe me? Let me show you the proof, but I warn you: it’s not for the faint of heart.
Where the soil turns red
If you don’t believe in the netherworld and the creatures it hides, then I might ask you this: why has the land around Jigoku-dani turned red? If the smoldering rocks and unnatural scarlet color in this volcanic area around Noboribetsu onsen in Hokkaido don’t convince you of the existence of something ghoulish, then surely the numerous statues of devils in the area will — especially the one of Enma, the King of Hell. You can even see oni spraying sparks of furry every summer at an event literally translating to the “demon fireworks.”
Not convinced? Well, in Osaka there is a place where a hole is dug so deep that if you listen closely, you can hear the sounds of the damned. Located on the grounds of Senkou-ji Temple, the supernatural noises that emanate from the hole in the ground are — take it from me — beyond description. The sounds of eternal suffering are like the whining of the wind through the reeds, except deep, deep, deep underground.
Where the demons live
So if hell exists, then there must be demons, right? To the Japanese, demons — being demons, of course — are never far from humankind, wreaking their sadistic havoc.
In Nagano Prefecture, there are giant stones found in strange places where no human or natural event could have taken them. The local people, however, are pretty clear about how they got there. A great evil creature known for being half-oni, half-bear throws them around to teach people a lesson for coming too close (or perhaps just for its own wicked enjoyment). In the local language, these are called “Onikuma Stones,” derived from a combination of the Japanese words for oni (demon) and kuma (bear).
While the Onikuma thankfully limits itself to the mountains, other oni are known for coming into a town and devouring its townsfolk. The evidence of one of these invasions can be seen at Shin-yakushi Temple in Nara. The bell in the holy place’s belfry has some fascinating scratches across its surface, slicing deep into the thick metal. The gashes are the only evidence left of an epic fight between the local people and a great oni.
It seems that the Kansai oni liked to wander, as neighboring Kyoto also had similar problems with the creatures. This resulted in the local people building Heisei-no-Oni, the biggest anti-demon gargoyle of its type in the world.
While the Heisei-no-Oni is fascinating by itself, the more interesting attraction is nearby. A series of stones mark the actual graves and tombs of mighty oni. Be careful walking too close, as oni exist between the spirit and the real world and have been known for interfering with people long after their death!
to the Japanese, demons — being demons, of course — are never far from humankind, wreaking their sadistic havoc.
What the tombs remind us of is that while the demons are powerful, they can also be slain.
At Nenokami Shrine, it is said that the unusually red soil that is found in the area is due to an ogre that was cut and left to bleed out — some say by the hero of Japanese legend, the ogre-slayer from Okayama, Momotaro. As the great beast’s vital fluids mixed with the ground itself, the earth was left permanently reddened even into the present day.
So I can see that you’re doubting me now. Not scary enough for you? Well, how about if you were to see an oni itself? Surely, you couldn’t doubt something that you saw with your own eyes? While few have seen one of these devils and lived to tell the tale, there are plenty of places in Japan where their remains can be found.
Where devils remain
While the onikuma is a terrifying combination of two menacing beasts, oni and bears, you would be wise to watch out for the equally hideous ushi (ox) oni. While a cross between an ox and an ogre might not sound so awful, the creature in question terrorized the Takamatsu area in Kagawa Prefecture. The brute was so awful that the only person who could slay it they say was the great archer Yamada Kurando Takakiyo. As a reminder of the end of its reign of terror, the horns of the great beast can still be seen at the old temple of Negoro-ji.
The horns of any type of monster remain one of the great fiend’s most distinctive features. As a result, they are often kept and used to prove that one of the great beasts was indeed slain in that area. At both Kikotsu-ji and Jyuppouzan Daijyoin temples near Kochi, you can see the remains of one of these mighty headpieces. These giant trophies of spiky bone are kept in a protective box — a testament to the historic and heroic struggle between a vicious brute its defeat at the hands of mortals.
If bones are not scary enough for you, how about the remains of kappa (water monster) at Shofukuji Temple in Osaka and Matsuuraichi Shuzo sake brewery in the south near Saga; mermaids at Hachinohe City Museum in Aomori, raiju (beasts that descend from the sky with a thunderbolt) at Saishou Temple and even a Game of Thrones-esque dragon at Zuiryuuzan Houn Temple in Saitama?
So, yes, it seems that the tales of creepy monsters and hellish dimensions are true and far from requiring a unique mystical experience to see one, you can just pop over and take photos on your next trip.
Luckily, even after hearing about these horrible creatures, there is one more fiend that awaits travelers, the yukijin. The yukijin is not a malevolent type of ogre, instead, it is actually a welcome demon that invites people into the Jigoku-dani area and even helps them receive good fortune.
See, even among the terrifying demons of the night, there are benevolent beasts out there. Sleep tight, campers…
Do you have any favorite oni or have you seen any of the evidence for the existence of demons, spirits or similar mythical beasts? Let us know in the comments!