Why do samurai wear masks

Traditional Japanese Masks And Their Use For

Traditional Japanese masks are mostly decorative and are for sale at shrine festivals and events. Others are worn during certain Shinto dances or by actors playing a role on the stage. Most of these masks are archetypes taken from myths, ancient dances, or the Noh theater, and they have become some of the most popular Japanese masks you will see today.


Oni are demons. They are usually depicted as red-faced and angry with long sharp teeth, but these creatures aren't the scariest of Japan's monsters. Oni masks are most common during the Bean-Throwing Festival, also known as Setubun, when they are worn for festive performances in shrines. The parents even wear them at home to scare their children, while the children throw beans to scare away the "oni" and invite good luck into the house for the year.

Oni masks are worn on the Setsubun © kai keisuke / Shutterstock


Tengu are the fearsome demigods who protect the mountains. These demon-like creatures are depicted with red faces and angry expressions. But its most obvious feature is a long, red nose. In the past, tengu were more bird-like. When they became human, that beak became a nose, but it kept its long shape. Tengu masks are used for Noh stage plays and certain Shinto festivals. They are also often used as decorations, as the Tengu are said to scare evil spirits and bring good luck.

Tengu are the demigods who defend the wilderness © Kiattisak Anoochitarom / Shutterstock


Kitsune masks or fox masks are worn by participants in certain Shinto festivals or by participants just for fun. Historically, foxes were viewed as magical creatures with the ability to shift shapes. They were also seen as messengers of Inari, the Shinto god of rice, trade, and prosperity. As a result, they are important characters at some festivals with this god.

Kitsune masks come out during festivals | © Norrie MacKenzie / Shutterstock


Hyottoko is a stupid, childlike character with a strange expression on his face. His mouth is almost always round and tilted to one side as stories about him usually include him blowing on a bamboo pipe. In some traditional Japanese dances during festivals, dancers perform the role of clowns while wearing Hyottoko masks.

Hyottoko masks are worn by dancers during festivals | © d'n'c / Flickr

Okame (Otafuku)

Okame is like the feminine version of Hyottoko, and their masks usually appear together. They can be worn by dancers to do amusing, silly dance moves. Like her male counterpart, Okame is a positive figure and was sometimes thought to bring good luck. She is depicted as a woman with a large, oval head and smiling eyes. It is also known as otafuku.

Otafuku and Hyottoko, lower row on the right | © bluehand / Shutterstock

Noh & Kyogen masks

Kyogen is often performed as a comical relief in the breaks of the Noh theater, which is usually more serious and solemn. In Kyogen, actors performing non-human roles wear masks, and in Noh, masks are much more common, with hundreds of different types available. Most of the masks on this list also appear in, or are based on, Noh theaters.

Masks are common in the Noh Theater © posztos / Shutterstock

Men yoroi

Men-yoroi were the armored masks worn by warriors and samurai. They were decorative and customizable depending on the preference and fit of the wearer. Somen covered the wearer's entire face and provided the most protection while Menpo Partial coverings were. Nowadays, most of the men's yoroi are exhibited in museums.

Samurai masks were both functional and decorative | © Vladimir Zhoga / Shutterstock

Author: Victoria George

Victoria George is a 41 year old journalist. Certified music expert. Travelaholic. Pop culture advocate. Introvert. Web fan. Researcher. Beer Geek. Thinker. Zombie specialist. General organizer.