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The Japanese culture and arts have been strongly influenced by a wide-spread belief in ghosts, demons and supernatural spirits. The roots of Japanese mythology are in the Shinto religion, in Taoism and in Zen Buddhism alike.
First Publication: May 2001
Latest Update: April 2013
Daruma is the founder of Zen Buddhism in Japan (552 AD). Originally an Indian priest named Bodhidharma, he crossed all over China to introduce Buddhism in Japan. The legend says that he crossed the sea from China to Japan standing on a bamboo. Daruma is mostly shown in a position of meditation. He is said to have lost the use of his arms and legs by meditating for nine years in a cave. Therefore he is often shown as Daruma doll without legs and arms.
The Daruma dolls, or today simply called Daruma, are a symbol of good luck in Japan. Students having their exams or companies starting a new enterprise, buy a Daruma for good luck.
Kintaro, also called the "Golden Boy", was a child of extreme strengths. The son of a princess, he was brought up by Yamauba, an old woman living in the mountains. Kintaro lived in the mountain woods and talked to the animals. He was so strong that he could bend trees like nothing.
In one of the legendary stories, Kintaro one day had a fight with a demon that took the form of a gigantic spider. Kintaro uprooted a tree and smashed the evil spider demon with the tree. On Japanese art objects, Kintaro is usually shown fighting with a wild animal or a demon. Needless to mention that he won all his fights. When he was grown-up (!), Kintaro became a warrior calling himself Sakata Kintoki.
Oni are devil-like demons with long nails, wild hair, a fierce look and two horns on their forehead like the devil images known in Western Christian cultures. They wear tiger skins and can fly. Oni hunt for the souls of those who did evil things in their lives. In a nutshell, a guy one would not like to encounter in the darkness!
The Oni character is a deep-rooted aspect of Japanese culture. Japanese children grow up with tales of Oni. In medieval times, people living on distant islands were considered as oni. And during the time of the Japanese seclusion from the rest of the world and during war times, foreigners were looked at as Oni.
Raiden got his name from the two Japanese words rai for thunder and den for lightening. According to the Japanese legend he saved Japan from a fleet of invading Mongolians in 1274. The way he managed it, was by sitting on a cloud, throwing a shower of lightening arrows against the Mongolian fleet. As the god of thunder, Raiden is shown with a drum.
Sarumawashi are more a character of real life than of mythology. Sarumawashi is formed of the Japanese words saru (monkey) and mawashi (trainer). Sometimes it is written as Saru Mawashi. Sarumawashi are street performers, traveling from one place to another and making a living by entertaining people with their trained monkey/s.
Unlike in Western civilizations, monkeys are a symbol of wisdom in Japan. Saru Mawashi are neither a legend nor a thing of the past. Even today, they can be found in Japan in crowded places making a living by showing performances of their trained monkey. Saru Mawashi performances are even shown on Japanese TV shows.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
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