Oni fleeing



Oni fleeing at a Tsuina festival

Artist: Priest Reikun (unknown priest)
Formerly in the collection of Michael Dunn (Tokyo)

In this painting, a priest wearing a simple loincloth pursues an Oni. In his right hand the priest holds an object that could be a nyoi, a zen sceptre often used by the Rinzai school, and in his left hand a sardine head impaled on a holly branch, in keeping with a Setsubun custom called Hiiragi Iwashi.

Setsubun is the day before the beginning of spring in Japan and is celebrated yearly on February 3rd as part of the spring festival. In its association with the Lunar New Year, spring Setsubun can be and was previously thought of as a sort of New Year's Eve, and so was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. Setsubun has its origins in tsuina, a Chinese custom introduced to Japan in the eighth century.

On this day, it is essential to eat maki-zushi, throw beans out your front door, eat sardines, and to impale a sardine head on a holly branch, placing it near your front door to ensure a healthy and prosperous new year. The Oni, a kind of ogre, is of human form and size, with sharp claws on his feet and two protruding horns on his forehead. He wears a tiger skin loincloth and has dropped his iron club called kanabō to the ground.

It is written on the awasebako (collector’s box) that the artist who created this scroll was from the Sengai Gibon school.