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Saturday 13 August 2011

Gyuki or Ushi-Oni

The Gyuki or Ushi-Oni is represented by this odd Japanese statue said to represent what several people had been seeing in the 1600s. Although it is called an "Ox-headed Demon" and translated also as "Minotaur", most commentators bring attention to the odd capelike effect of the area under the arms and at the sides.
Orangutan at the left and a redrawing of the creature from the statue at the right, from Deviant Art. The colouration is speculative but the resemblance between the two is striking. Male orangutans can have such long hair on their arms that it hangs down a long way, and the hair over the upper back also forms a "Cape". The thumbs are represented as spikes on the statue and in the painting, and oddly enough so is the moustache. The feet are "Cloven" but in this case that seems to mean the big toe is in opposition to the others. The EYELIDS would be white and the nose is flat with round nostrils pointing straight ahead (I had to retouch the painting to make the nose clearer) And it is just possible the protruding ears mean to indicate the cheek pads on the male. The original creature would have had no horns but adding horns to "Onis" is pretty much the standard practice.

The creature seems to be the same creature as is called Xing-Xing in Chinese, pronounced Shing-Shing and said to mean "Lively-Lively." In the Japanese version it means a distinctly reddish creature, but one of the Chinese descriptions has it being green or blue. Presumably that was a copyist's error. One Chinese description says it has the body (belly?) of a pig but a face more like a man's, which is a fair description of an orangutan, and the word is used in modern Chinese and Japanese (and on the larger nearby islands such as Taiwan) as a direct translation for the recognised name of the orangutan.

In this case, I think we have a series of old and misunderstood reports of a male Hibagon, and some of the reports also make it out to be a cyclops or a water-dwelling creature like a Kappa. The ordinary appearance of the females and young are less extreme and the netsuke illustrated in an earlier CFZ posting (reposted here) could still be the same species. More recently, the bigger adult males are said to be like gorillas, which is probably more generic once again. In this case there is a whole constellation of observed features which are close to a male orangutan, although perhaps not portrayed exactly correctly on the statue.

Best Wishes, Dale D.

Yet another ushi-oni is depicted as a statue on the grounds of the Negoroji temple in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture. It is a bipedal monster with huge tusks, spurred wrists, and membranes like a flying squirrel. A sign nearby explains that this creature terrorized the area about four-hundred years ago, and was slain by a skilled archer by the name of Yamada Kurando Takakiyo (山田蔵人高清). He dedicated its horns to the temple, and they can still be seen to this day. [1]

[The horns are possibly fossils. They did not come from a recently living animal and probably have nothing to do with the creature that was sighted four hundred years ago and slain by the archer.-DD]

Ushi-oni are also mentioned in Sei Shōnagon's tenth-century diary The Pillow Book, and in the Taiheiki of the fourteenth century.
[Shojo is used to translate the Chinese Shing-shing. It also means a young girl]

Princess Mononoke Apes (Shojo=Shing-Shing or Xing-Xing, Orangutans)


  1. One of the illustrations to the Shojo Wikipedia entry showed a naked old man creature and his son, and both of them are completely human except for the long hairs of the "Cape" hanging down in back. I thought they were much to human-like to be added here, but that the hairy "cape" part was consistent and deserved to be mentioned.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  2. Thanks for this very interesting theory.
    I live in Takamatsu and always wondered how such a legend could have appeared only 400 years ago.


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