A-Yokai-A-Day: The Ao Oni of Kaga Province

Tonight’s story is rather brief, but it’s rather funny. The idea of all the bravest samurai from the three provinces of Kaga, Etchū, and Noto (comprising all of today’s Ishikawa and Toyama Prefectures) were gathered together and yet all they could do was scream is worth a chuckle. But can you really blame them? Oni are terrifying, and a six meter tall one is definitely not something to trifle with.

Tonight’s oni is specifically described as an ao oni, or a blue oni. It’s not often that the color is explicitly stated, which makes this story a bit intriguing. Why blue? What is the meaning?

According to folklorist Yagi Tōru, oni come in five colors, which are specifically related to Chinese philosophy and the five hindrances of Buddhism. Blue oni are related to the element wood and the hindrance of antipathy. Red oni are related to the element fire and the hindrance of avarice. Yellow oni are related to the element earth and the hindrance of disquietude. Green oni are related to the element metal and the hindrance of sloth. Black oni are related to the element water and the hindrance of doubt. These hindrances are problems because they disrupt both meditation and daily life.

Since this was a blue oni, it must have been born out of feelings of hostility and bitterness. The man who died is not actually named in the story, but he is called the chūnagon of Kaga Province. That refers specifically to Maeda Toshinaga, the first lord of Kaga Domain and the second head of the powerful Maeda clan of Kaga. Toshinaga suffered from syphilis late in his life, and he withdrew from society. He died in 1614 either from syphilis, or from suicide by poisoning. The intense aversion he felt due to his terrible illness, which caused him to withdraw from society, is surely responsible for causing the ao oni to appear.

The Ao Oni of Kaga Province
Long ago, when the chūnagon of Kaga Province died, all of the samurai from the three provinces of Kaga, Etchū, and Noto were packed in a great hall. That day, at dusk, an ao oni about six meters tall came out of the back room and into the hall. Then it went to the front entrance, pointed at the front gate, and left. All of the samurai from the three provinces were brave men, but all they could do was scream. Only when the oni had left through the front door did they finally put their hands on their swords.

a blue-skinned oni wearing tiger-skin pants points into the distance

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