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Oni are a kind of yōkai from Japanese folklore, variously translated as demons, devils, ogres or trolls. They are popular characters in Japanese art, literature and theatre.
Depictions of oni vary widely but usually portray them as hideous, gigantic ogre-like creatures with sharp claws, wild hair, and two long horns growing from their heads. They are humanoid for the most part, but occasionally, they are shown with unnatural features such as odd numbers of eyes or extra fingers and toes. Their skin may be any number of colors, but red and blue are particularly common.
They are often depicted wearing tiger-skin loincloths and carrying iron clubs, called kanabō. This image leads to the expression "oni with an iron club", that is, to be invincible or undefeatable. It can also be used in the sense of "strong beyond strong", or having one's natural quality enhanced or supplemented by the use of some tool.
Some villages hold yearly ceremonies to drive away oni, particularly at the beginning of Spring. During the Setsubun festival, people throw soybeans outside their homes and shout "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" " Oni go out! Blessings come in!". Monkey statues are also thought to guard against oni, since the Japanese word for monkey, saru, is a homophone for the word for "leaving". Folklore has it that holly can be used to guard against Oni. In Japanese versions of the game tag, the player who is "it" is instead called the "oni".
In more recent times, oni have lost some of their original wickedness and sometimes take on a more protective function. Men in oni costumes often lead Japanese parades to ward off any bad luck, for example. Japanese buildings sometimes include oni-faced roof tiles called onigawara, which are thought to ward away bad luck, much like gargoyles in Western tradition.
Oni are prominently featured in the Japanese children's story Momotaro (Peach Boy), and the book The Funny Little Woman.
Many Japanese idioms and proverbs also make reference to oni. For example, the expression oya ni ninu ko wa oni no ko means literally "a child that does not resemble its parents is the child of an oni", but it is used idiomatically to refer to the fact that all children naturally take after their parents, and in the odd case that a child appears not to do so, it might be because the child's true biological parents are not the ones who are raising the child. Depending on the context in which it is used, it can have connotations of "children who do not act like their parents are not true human beings", and may be used by a parent to chastise a misbehaving child. Variants of this expression include oya ni ninu ko wa onigo and oya ni ninu ko wa onikko. It is also well known in Japan a game named kakure oni, or more commonly kakurenbo, that means chase the demon and it is the same as the hide-and-seek game that children in western countries play.