A-Yokai-A-Day: Ushi-oni

Phew… today was a long day. Left the house at 8:30 and got home at 11:30… pm… A 15 hour day. But Wednesdays are my busiest day, and I knew that going into this project, so I was happy that I had done all of my research for this project last month. When I got home all I had to do was draw and paint! But like Monday, it was another all-nighter! Do to time constraints, this painting was done on a smaller shikishi than normal, so it only took about 4 hours instead of the usual 12. Anyway, it’s a strange and interesting yokai, so please read on!


Ushi-oni literally means “ox demon,” and as vague as that sounds, the creature itself is even more mysterious. There are many many different depictions of ushi-oni throughout Japanese folklore. It’s a common theme across the country, but it seems that every region of Japan has its own version of the ushi-oni, each one drastically different from the one before it.

You may remember the smaller one I painted last year as part of the Hyakki Yako panels (another all-nighter!). That one, admittedly, is my favorite depiction of the ushi-oni. Based on a painting by Sawaki Suushi, an 18th century painter who did a gorgeous yokai anthology called Hyakkai-Zukan, it depicts a monstrous crab-like beast with a hairy carapace and the head of a bull. It likes to attack fishermen, and is also often found working in cahoots with a nure-onna (which I will paint later this month, and which was also part of last year’s Hyakki Yakko panels). This ushi-oni is found in Shimane prefecture and around western Japan.

Another famous ushi-oni is from Ehime prefecture, most famous for its likely named festival, the Ushi-oni Matsuri. This yokai more resembles a Chinese dragon, with many dancers forming a head and a body, and with a long sword at the end of its tail. This ox demon is said to drive away evil spirits.

There are many others, however the one I bring you today comes from Negoro-ji temple in tiny Kagawa prefecture, Shikoku (also the location of the strange Japanese movie, Battle Royale). This guy has tusks, wrist spurs, flying-squirrel-like wings, and is not a jovial bovine. About 400 years ago he terrorized the area until he was slain by a famous archer. The archer dedicated the creature’s horns to the temple, where they can still be seen today! And in the monster’s memory a large statue was erected. I hope I can visit it some day… and then go get some yakiniku!



Etsy prints will be available very soon! Please bear with me a bit longer, until I have a day where I don’t have to pull an all-nighter to finish. 😉

3 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Ushi-oni

  1. Hey sorry this is probably really random, however I’m looking for reference and literature about Japanese folklore, stories about oni’s and dragons etc.. I’m getting my back and leg tattooed entirely in one large japanese peice and was trying to find a great folklore story of a fight between 2 characters that will be a good subject for my peice… However I can’t find much reference in the way of stories or books etc.. If you could perhaps point me in the right direction to where you found all this stuff out?

  2. There’s really not much information available in English, which is why I wrote my book, to fill that gap. There are a few books on yokai that you can find on Amazon.com, however, and you can also find a fair amount of information on Wikipedia. There are a number of legends about samurai like Minamoto no Yorimitsu fighting giant monsters; Momotaro is a famous story about a boy who fights an oni, and Kintaro is another legendary warrior character. Try doing a google search for those names and see what comes up. I hope you’ll find what you’re looking for!

  3. Pingback: 10 Japanese Monsters That Will Kill You – QS Daily

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