Japanese folklore is rich in legends and its characters are the most varied, the Onibi being one of the most prominent. In Supercurioso we have talked about Yuki Onna, the ice woman or the Jubokko, the blood-drinking trees. This time we want to get closer to other extraordinary creatures. Join us to learn more about the Onibi, the ghosts of light from Japanese legends.
Onibi, the ghosts of light
There is a type of ghostly creatures, supernatural monsters or demonic beings that in Japanese folklore they are called “Yokai”. They enter the list of the most popular Japanese ghosts in the region.
Yokais are divided into five categories depending on their natural form (some are able to change it) that it can be that of a human being, an animal, a plant, an object or a natural phenomenon. Their qualities are also very diverse and there are some with a malevolent and harmful nature, but sometimes they are also bearers of good fortune.
The Onibi is one of the most dangerous «yokai», and at the same time more beautiful. It is an extremely beautiful phenomenon, but deadly. Its name means “fire demon” and it is said that it comes from the body of deceased animals and humans.
The reason why it manifests itself in some cases and not in others is unknown. However, it seems to be related to evil, the resentment wave envy that the deceased kept inside.
They appear floating, at a distance of between one and two meters from the ground, especially on rainy days in the warmer months of the year. As for places, they are almost always revealed in the middle of natural landscapes or cemeteries. Rarely, or almost never, do they do it in cities or large towns.
Are the Onibis dangerous?
The Onibi attack their victims in groups and them extract their vital energy until they are killed. In Japanese mythology, it is said that they attract travelers with their ghostly lights and that they sometimes adopt the voices or faces of their previous victims.
They follow them thinking that they are lanterns of people who will lead them out of the forest, but when they realize, the orbs surround them and attack them. The Onibi empty them out, leaving only a shell-like offal.
They appear as small balls of fire of varied colors, although they are usually white or blue. They usually appear in groups in which up to 30 orbs have been counted and their size ranges from a few centimeters to more than 30.
For centuries, a rational explanation for the appearance of these yokai has been sought. The most plausible theory has to do with the phosphorus that the corpses contain and that in certain circumstances could produce luminescence. It is also attributed to the burning of methane from these decomposing bodies.
Know the different types of Onibi
The Onibi is not to be confused with the Oni, which is a monstrous ogre that lives in the mountains. It has skin colors ranging from blue to black, through red, and brown. He also sports two horns on his head, a mouth full of fangs and wears only a tiger skin loincloth. He is a demonic being who attacks his victims with a giant iron mace and is sometimes the personification of a natural force that causes some kind of disaster.
For this reason, We will describe some of the most popular Onibi and those that have been registered cases of appearance.
1. Asobibi (遊火, “play with fire”)
It manifests below the castle and above the sea in Kōchi, the prefecture of the same city, and on Mitani Mountain. It is usually a very harmless class, because legend says that it does not cause any kind of harm to humans.
2. Kazedama (風玉, “ball of wind”)
Hailing from Ibigawa, Ibi District, Gifu Territory, this Onibi has mostly been seen in thunderstorms, dazzling like a rounded ball of fire. Its size is comparable to that of a personal tray, while it emanates an intense bright light. It was seen in the Meiji typhoon in 1897, where the kazedama was seen from the mountain and levitated in the air for a while.
3. Sarakazoe (皿数え, “counting plate”)
It is a yokai that had its appearance in Sekien Toriyama’s Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki. During the Banchō Sarayashiki, popular for ghost stories, the Okiku entity manifested as an inka (shadow fire) from the well, and did so as counting plates.
4. Sōgenbi (叢原火 or 宗源火, “religious fountain fire”)
This being made his appearances in Kyoto in Sekien Toriyama’s Gazu Hyakki Yagyō. legend says that it was about a monk who robbed the Jizōdō in Mibu-dera, for which he received a Buddhist punishment.
The penance would be to become an Onibi, where the expression of anguish on the priest’s face would be the center of the fire. His name was also mentioned in “Shinotogibōko”, which was a series of ghost stories from the Edo period.
5. Wataribisyaku (渡柄杓, “cross ladle”)
He is an Onibi from Chii Village, Kitakuwada District, Kyoto Territory (now Nantan). It manifests itself in mountainous localities as a bluish-white ball of fire that levitates in the air.
Witnesses comment that it has the appearance of a hishaku (ladle), but not exactly like one. Indeed, it gave the sensation of pulling a long and thin tail, which is why it was compared to a ladle.
6. Hidama (火魂, “fire spirit”)
Hidama is from Okinawa Territory, where he usually lives in the kitchen behind the charcoal fire extinguisher. Nevertheless, It is said that it takes the form of a bird and moves through the places causing things to light up.
What do you think of the Onibi of Japan? There is no doubt that they are interesting creatures with great sighting stories to tell. If you have been interested in this article, you may want to know the bakeneko, the Japanese ghostly cats.