A name given to a variety of monsters which resemble oxen. The term was in use at least by the mid-Heian era, as it appears in a list of "things with terrifying names" in Sei Shōnagon's The Pillow Book
. The Taiheiki
of the late 1300's gives us another ushi-oni
of classic literature, a bull-headed demon which fought with Minamoto no Raikō.
most often found in recent folklore is an aquatic creature that dwells in the ocean or in mountain pools, and stories of it are mostly heard on Shikoku
and the Kinki
regions. This monster is known for its ferocious temper, and killing it or otherwise invoking the resentment of its spirit will lead to certain death or curses upon one's family.
Many legends of ushi-oni
dwelling in deep pools and waterfalls are known from the Kumano area (now Nishimuro and Higashimuro Districts) of Wakayama Prefecture
, and these bodies of water are often named "Ushi-oni-fuchi" or "Ushi-oni-taki" after their occupants. One of these ushi-oni
resembles an ox with the head of an ogre and a red nose. At night it visits ox barns, and licks the bodies of the cattle and tussles with them, but it is seldom noticed because its footsteps are silent and it has soft, rubbery horns that make no noise when they strike the walls. In Minoo Valley 箕尾谷, in Ōtō Village 大塔村, there is an ushi-oni
with a head like a cat's, a bovine body colored yellow with black speckles, and a tail ten feet long. Catching sight of it causes illness and death. There is a pool in Esumi 江住 that is connected to the ocean, and the ushi-oni
there is said to appear when the water becomes muddy, and to remove stones thrown into its pool and place them on a nearby boulder. Its cries can be heard at night on the 23rd of every month. In Hirose Valley 広瀬谷 of Susami Town すさみ町, there is a waterfall called Kotonotaki 琴の滝, and the ushi-oni
who lives there is thought to kill people by devouring their shadows. It loves alcohol, however, and offering it some on New Year's can protect a person from having his shadow eaten.
Reports of ushi-oni
taking the form of young women are known from Nishimuro's Koza Town 古座町. One appeared on Mount Kasane 重畳山 in response to the sound of a young hunter's flute, but he panicked when he saw her true shape reflected in a stream and shot her. The next day the ushi-oni's
curse took effect and the hunter went mad. In Miogawa Valley 三尾川谷, a young man named Ueda Matanosuke 上田又之助 shared his lunch with a girl who appeared at an Ushi-oni-fuchi and demanded food. Later, when Matanosuke was being swept away in a devastating flood, the ushi-oni
girl appeared and took her true form in order to rescue him. She then revealed that she could not continue living if she helped a human, at which she dissolved into a pool of blood and disappeared into the river. 1
On the coasts of Northern Kyūshū
and the San'in Region
adjacent to the Sea of Japan, the ushi-oni
is thought to dwell in the ocean. Its appearance on the shore is preceded by that of a woman, who may be the monster called nure-onna
or a transformation of the ushi-oni
itself. She holds a child which she presses on passers-by, asking them to take it and give it something to eat. In the usual ubume
pattern, the child becomes enormously heavy and stone-like when held, impeding the unfortunate person's movements and giving the ushi-oni
a chance to attack. 1, 2
The legend of still another famous ushi-oni
with an unusual shape is handed down at Negoro-ji Temple 根香寺 in Takamatsu City 高松市, Kagawa Prefecture
. This monster, an ox-headed biped with huge fangs, spurred wrists and membranes like a flying squirrel, was slain near the temple about 400 years ago by an archery expert by the name of Yamada Kurando Takakiyo 山田蔵人高清. Yamada gave its horns to Negoro-ji, along with an image he painted himself, both of which are still among the temple's treasures. 1, 3
The Uwajima region of Ehime Prefecture
is famous for the Ushi-oni Matsuri at Warei-jinja shrine 和霊神社 and the ushi-oni
parade floats with carved wooden heads that accompany it. Various proposed origins for these ushi-oni
exist, including more than one claim that they venerate a creature killed by an archer from Iyo Province (the old name of Ehime Prefecture), and another that they were invented to frighten the "tigers of Korea" during the Imjin war. 2
Many modern images give the ushi-oni
the horned head of an ox or ogre and the body of a gigantic spider, a shape which seems to have its origins in various old picture scrolls. Another scroll, the Matsui Hyakki Yakō Emaki
, gives a monster with the same shape the name tsuchigumo
, and indeed the tsuchigumo
which attacked Minamoto no Raikō in the Taiheiki was described as having a horned head on the body of a spider. Tada Katsumi theorizes that the spider-bodied ushi-oni
image may be the result of confusing the two horned monsters associated with Raikō. 1
1. Tada 2000 p. 161.
2. Murakami 2000 p. 52-3.
3. Yumoto 2005 B p. 97.
• A photo of Kotonotaki, where the shadow-eating ushi-oni is said to dwell.
• The ushi-oni image and horns in the treasury of Negoro-ji, from the temple's website.
• Photos of Negoro-ji's ushi-oni statue and an informational sign.
• Official site of the Uwajima Ushi-oni Matsuri.
• Photos of the Ushi-Oni Matsuri on uwajima.org.