Onigashima: The Mysterious Island of Demons and Legends

Onigashima image

Onigashima is a small island off the coast of Japan, famous for its role in the folk tale of Momotaro, the Peach Boy.

According to the story, Momotaro was born from a giant peach and grew up to be a brave warrior who sailed to Onigashima with his animal companions to defeat the ogres that terrorized the mainland.

But what is the real history and culture of this island?

In this article, we will explore some of the facts and myths surrounding Onigashima, and why it still fascinates people today.

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Legendary Island Onigashima

Nestled within the realm of folklore and imagination, Onigashima is an otherworldly island believed to be the dwelling place of demons, housing a diverse array of treasures, including mystical artifacts endowed with the supernatural prowess unique to these malevolent beings.

Encircled by the vast expanse of the sea, Onigashima's distinctive character lies in the necessity of maritime transport for access.

Momotaro and Onigashima

This mythical island finds its origins woven into the fabric of traditional Japanese tales, prominently featuring in the legendary folklore of "Momotaro."

In this epic, Onigashima serves as the fabled lair of demons and, significantly, as the ultimate destination for Momotaro and his valiant quest to vanquish the demon hordes.

Oni no Ko Kodzuna and Onigashima

Akin to "Momotaro," Onigashima also makes appearances in the classic Japanese folk tale "The Child of the Oni" ("Oni no Ko Kodzuna"), although the depiction of the island varies in its consistency.

In contrast to "Momotaro," the locale of the demon's dwelling can be a mere "mountain" or the "Demon's Cavern" per various renditions.

Onigashima in Ainu Folklore

In the Ainu folktales from the Tokachi region of Hokkaido, there is a story called "Omutaro Sitaro," which bears a resemblance to the tale of Momotaro, including the presence of Onigashima.

However, the famous Japanese folklorist Kunio Yanagita suggests that this story was likely introduced to the Ainu people by the ethnic Japanese population, rather than originating within their own culture.

The depiction of Onigashima as a distant island across the sea can also be found in various narratives recorded in military chronicles.

Military Chronicles and Onigashima

The notion of an island inhabited by demons across the sea also finds its place in military chronicles and tales of heroic exploits.

One such instance can be found in the "Hojo Chronicles" ("Hogen Monogatari"), which makes reference to an "Oni-jima" or "Demon Island."

Within these chronicles, the island is associated with a conversation between Minamoto no Tametomo and the island's inhabitants, who are said to possess supernatural treasures like "hiding cloaks" and "floating footwear."

This Onigashima is considered to have connections with the ancient name for Aogashima Island.

Stories influenced by military chronicles

The descriptions of Onigashima as witnessed in military narratives have, in turn, influenced stories like the "One-Inch Boy" ("Issun-boshi"), where a character resembling Momotaro drifts to an island inhabited by demons during a storm.

Additionally, tales such as "Yuriwaka Minister" were also shaped by these military accounts.

These accounts often feature islands like "Chishima no Miyako" inhabited by various oni (demons), or countries ruled by demons, referred to as "Onigashima."

Elusive Geographical Details

Notably, specific geographical details regarding Onigashima are scant, mirroring the narrative tendency in many traditional folktales to refer to it as simply "somewhere."

A vivid portrait of its precise location remains elusive, with conjectures often depicting it as an island carved out of rocks, complete with formidable gates and fortifications - an imagery closely resembling the artistic motifs found in legends like "Shuten-doji."

While numerous Japanese legends and folktales feature the concept of demons dwelling in various locales, including mountains, forests, and caves, the unequivocal establishment of an island location is primarily associated with narratives involving journeys to distant lands, such as "Momotaro" and "Yuriwaka Minister."

As such, the concept of Onigashima can be viewed as an exotic realm closely akin to the underwater kingdom of the Ryuuguu Palace, existing beyond the sea.

The Legend of Momotaro

The most famous legend associated with Onigashima is that of Momotaro, the Peach Boy.

This story is widely known and loved by children and adults alike in Japan and has been adapted into various forms of media, such as books, movies, anime, and video games.

The basic plot is as follows:

A childless couple finds a giant peach floating down the river.

They take it home and cut it open, only to discover a baby boy inside.

They name him Momotaro, meaning "Peach Boy", and raise him as their own son.

Momotaro grows up to be strong and brave and decides to go on an adventure to Onigashima, where he hears that ogres are kidnapping and enslaving people from the mainland.

Along the way, he meets and befriends a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant, who join him on his quest.

They reach Onigashima and fight their way through the ogres' fortress until they confront the ogre king himself.

Momotaro defeats him with his sword and his animal friends' help, and frees all the captives.

He also takes the ogres' treasure and brings it back to his parents, who are overjoyed to see him return safely.

The legend of Momotaro is believed to have originated from oral traditions that date back to the 16th or 17th century.

Some scholars suggest that it may have been influenced by Chinese or Korean stories of heroes who fought against evil forces.

Others argue that it may have been a metaphor for Japan's resistance against foreign invaders, such as the Mongols or Europeans.

In any case, the legend of Momotaro reflects some of the values and ideals of Japanese culture, such as courage, loyalty, justice, and filial piety.

The Significance of Millet Dumplings

When juxtaposing the role of millet dumplings ("kibi-dango") in the Momotaro legend, where they are considered the sustenance to bridge the gap between realms ("this world" and "the other world"), it is intriguing to speculate whether these dumplings symbolize a source of strength for Momotaro to enhance his vitality, ensuring a secure return from the otherworldly Onigashima, bridging the gap between the two worlds.

In this context, the concept of carrying food from one world to another bears resemblance to narratives like "Omusubi Kororin" or "Jizo's Pure Land" ("Jizo Jodo"), which similarly rely on the power of food to provide a key to prevent losing one's way in the otherworld.

Legends and Locations Associated with Onigashima

Onigashima has inspired various locations in Japan that claim to be the model for the mythical island.

These places often attribute their connection to Onigashima to local folklore or historical events.

Let's explore a few examples:

Megi Island, Kagawa Prefecture

In Onna-gi Island, located approximately 4 km off the coast of Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture, there is a belief that it served as the inspiration for Onigashima.

The island, surrounded by the Seto Inland Sea, is known for its rocky terrain and its association with the mythical creatures known as oni.

The city of Takamatsu celebrates its connection to Momotaro, the hero who embarked on a journey to Onigashima, by featuring him as a prominent figure in local culture.

Kani River Sandbar, Gifu Prefecture

In the Kiso River region, spanning Aichi and Gifu Prefectures, there is a sandbar in the Kani River that is claimed to be the model for Onigashima.

The sandbar, located in the city of Kani in Gifu Prefecture, is associated with the legend of Kijigoro, the child of an oni.

While the sandbar is not an actual island, it is believed to have been formed by volcanic ash from an eruption that occurred approximately 20 million years ago.

It is speculated to have served as a hideout for bandits in the past.

Oni Castle Mountain, Okayama Prefecture

Oni Castle Mountain, located in the cities of Soja and Okayama in Okayama Prefecture, is considered the inspiration for Onigashima.

The mountain is associated with the legend of the prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto, who is said to have defeated the oni lord Ura in his castle on the mountain.

The city of Okayama has embraced the connection to Onigashima, featuring Momotaro as a mascot and incorporating the legend into local festivals.

These are just a few examples of places that claim to be the model for Onigashima.

Each location offers its own unique interpretation of the mythical island, blending local folklore and historical events to create a connection to the captivating world of Japanese folklore.

Onigashima in Popular Culture

Onigashima has captivated the imagination of artists, writers, and filmmakers, leading to its depiction in various forms of media. Here are some notable instances of Onigashima's appearance in popular culture:


"One Piece" by Eiichiro Oda features an arc called "Onigashima" where the island serves as the stronghold for the antagonist Kaido and his crew.

Television Drama

The Japanese television series "Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors" (1944) showcases Onigashima as the final destination for Momotaro and his animal companions.


"The Birth of Japan" (1959), a Japanese historical fantasy film, includes a depiction of Onigashima as a mystical island surrounded by treacherous waters.


"Okami" (2006), an action-adventure video game, features Onigashima as a location that the protagonist, Amaterasu, must explore.

These examples demonstrate the enduring popularity and versatility of Onigashima in various forms of entertainment, where it continues to captivate audiences with its mythical allure.

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