Japanese Mask

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- Japanese Masks Collection -

Traditional Japanese masks tend to be ornamental and are sold at shrine festivals and celebrations. Others are worn at certain Shinto dances or by actors playing a role on stage.

Most of these masks are archetypes borrowed from myths, ancient dances or Noh theatre, and they have become some of the most popular Japanese masks you will see today.

Japanese Masks Origins

The history of wearing masks in Japan for religious rituals is estimated to date back to the Jomon period, an era that lasted from 10,000 BC to 300 BC.

Crude masks made of shells and simple pottery evolved during the Kofun period from the 4th to 6th centuries. Following the emergence of Buddhism and Korean cultural practices in the 6th century, the use of masks was extended to secular activities.

Gigaku masks, those that covered the totality of the head, have been used in dance performances, however their prevalence faded away when the Edo period came to an end in 1868. Kagura dance performances, on the other hand, where the masks cover only the face, have survived and are still performed today.

Hannya Masks Meaning

The Hannya mask is a classic of Japanese tattoos and as tradition dictates also in this case it was inspired by folk tales and legends. It is represented with a large head equipped with horns, two wide eyes that stare and scrutinize the viewer and the open mouth ready to devour or at best swallow whoever is in front.

"Hannya" is a Sanskrit word that means "wisdom", "virtue" is the path that leads to enlightenment.

The meaning of this tattoo, however, is not strictly related to the legend, therefore to the figure of the woman turned into a demon as a result of blind jealousy and anger due to the betrayal of her lover, but it is said to "drive away evil spirits and bring good luck to people who wear them on their skin".

Different types of Japanese Masks

1. Oni Mask

Oni are demons. They are usually depicted as red-faced and angry with long, sharp teeth, but these creatures are not Japan's most fearsome monsters.

Oni masks are most commonly seen during the bean-throwing festival, also called Setsubun, when people wear them for festival performances at shrines. Parents even wear them at home to scare their children while the children throw beans to scare away the "oni" and bring luck into the house for the year.

2. Tengu Mask

Tengu are the fearsome demigods who protect the mountains. This demon-like creatures is depicted with red faces and furious expressions. But their most striking feature is a long, red nose.

In the past, the Tengu were more bird-like. When they became human, this beak changed into a nose, but kept its long shape. Tengu masks are used for Noh stage plays and certain Shinto festivals. They are also often used as decoration, as the tengu are said to scare off evil spirits and bring good luck.

3. Kitsune Mask

Kitsune masks or fox masks are worn by participants in certain Shinto festivals or by visitors just for fun. Historically, foxes were considered magical creatures with the ability to transform.

They were also considered messengers of Inari, the Shinto god of travel, trade and prosperity. For this reason, they are important figures in some festivals that have this god as their theme.

4. Hyottoko Mask

Hyottoko is a silly, childlike figure with a comical expression on his face. His mouth is almost always rounded and tilted to one side as he usually blows on a bamboo cane in the stories about him.

In some traditional Japanese dances during festivals, dancers play the role of the clown while wearing hyottoko masks.

5. Okame Mask

Okame is something like the female version of hyottoko, and their masks usually appear together. They can be worn by dancers to perform amusing, silly dance moves.

Like her male counterpart, Okame is a positive figure and is sometimes said to bring good luck. She is depicted as a woman with a large, oval-shaped head and smiling eyes. She is also known as otafuku.

6 Noh & Kyogen Masks

Kyogen is often performed as a comic diversion during breaks in Noh theatre, which is usually more serious and solemn. In kyogen, actors playing non-human roles wear masks.

In Noh theatre, masks are much more common and there are hundreds of different types. Most of the masks on this list also appear in or are based on Noh theatre.

7. Men-Yoroi

Men-yoroi were the armoured masks worn by warriors and samurai. They were decorative and could be adjusted according to the wearer's preference and fit.

Somen covered the wearer's entire face and offered the most protection, while menpo were partial coverings. Today, most men-yoroi are on display in museums.