10 Famous Japanese Masks and their Meanings

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Japan has a long history with masks. Since the past the Japanese wore masks, their legends were represented by masks, and even today, the Japanese wear medical masks at the first sign of allergy or cold.

Most Japanese masks have their history, tradition and are part of Japanese culture from the past to the present. Some are practical and some are just decorative. In this article, we will talk about the famous Japanese masks.

We will start by introducing the main and most popular Japanese masks. Then we will see the more traditional masks that refer to Japanese legends, stories, spirits and creatures.

Remembering that in practically all the matsuri (festivals) in Japan you will find stores selling masks of anime characters, animals and mythical creatures. Most are made of plastic especially for children.

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The Tokusatsu masks

Since 1970, tokusatsu series such as Ultramam and Kamen Raider have been popular in Japan, so it is possible to find several masks of these heroes and villains, especially at festivals.

To learn more about Tokusatsu, we recommend reading our: Japanese Heroes Guide

The famous Japanese masks

Menpo – The Samurai Mask

Samurai often wear masks in their battles, they are called menpo [面頬]. They were designed to protect the Samurai's face and strike terror into the enemy's heart.

Samurai masks were made by special craftsmen to suit the samurai's personality and preferences. Some had a demonic and frightening appearance, usually with whiskers, fangs and a big nose. 

They were usually made of iron and leather, with a small hole under the chin for sweat drainage. Others wore a menpo called Happuri, who only covered from the nose down, with a helmet that protected the rest.

japanese samurai mask

Men – The Kendo Mask

Even practitioners of kendo (way of the sword) wear a protective helmet. This armor mask is called “men” and usually protects the entire face, throat and shoulder. The name can also refer to a kendo blow to the head.

Two warriors of kendo fighting fight with bamboo swords in the
kendo – the Japanese martial art with swords

Animegao – Anime masks

anime It's a mask that looks like anime and manga characters, with big eyes. Unlike common cosplay, the face is really a mask of the character.

Artists who wear these costumes and animated faces are often called kigurumiOften, these clothes and masks can be used to entertain children and young people at some type of events.

10 famous Japanese masks and their meanings

Oni Mask – Demon

Many Westerners translate the word “oni” as demon, but they are not always evil creatures. Oni is the Japanese word for any supernatural creature, be it a demon or an ogre.

Oni masks can be funny or scary, as many oni are just troublemakers. Rural Japanese festivals often involve locals wearing oni masks in a mad dash down the street.

The famous Japanese masks

Kitsune - Fox mask

The word Kitsune [狐] means fox. According to Japanese traditions, foxes are messengers of the goddess Inari. It is common to find these masks for sale at festivals.

The gods appear as foxes in Japanese legends. Some even appear as beautiful women to deceive humans. Therefore, some anime characters wear a fox mask as an ornament.

Saint petersburg, russia - april 27, 2019: japanese masks souvenir

Hyottoko and Okame Mask

Hyottoko is a mythical spirit represented by a mask. Stories linked to Hyottoko differ widely by regions. In some places he was a boy with a funny face that produced gold from his belly button.

In all variations of the myth, Hyottoko is a lucky spirit with a funny face. Hyottoko plays a role in a number of traditional dances as a clown with silly steps.

Okame is the female version of Hyottoko. The two have funny faces and are often seen together as a pair. Okame is generally seen as a goddess who generously spreads fortune.


Hannya's Mask

Hannya are oni-like female demons with horns. Hannya masks are used in Noh theaters. They are often portrayed as extremely fearsome and jealous characters. The Noh Theater also has several other masks besides Hannya.

The famous Japanese masks

Tengu and Kappa Masks

Tengu [天狗] are fantastical creatures from Japanese folklore, a species of elf whose legends have traces of both Buddhist and Shinto religion. They inhabit forests and mountains. The Tengu's most distinguishing physical trait is their long noses.

Most of them also have a beard. Some Tengus have bird heads; these were regarded as great martial artists. Tengu masks are used at a variety of festivals and are a popular ornament to decorate temples, businesses and restaurants.

Kappa are river monsters that attack swimmers and enjoy challenging humans in Sumo. They are usually mean, but they keep their promises.


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