The Story and Symbolism Behind Hannya Masks

by James Martin


Japanese masks are art objects that represent the spirits of nature and ancestors. They are widely believed to be magical. In fact, they have been used in folk religions, rituals and festivals ever since they were imported from the Asian mainland in early historic times. The Japanese people wore them at dances as well as other festivities, believing that they could ward off evil and diseases. Demons are a separate category of mask in Japanese tradition, but the representation of gods, or any other mythological beasts, is not uncommon.

Hannya Mask

The Hannya mask, also referred to as a “Demon Face” mask was originally used in Noh and Kabuki plays. They have remained popular through the years and are used in other performance arts such as Karate, dance, and music. The origin of the Hannya masks lies in the actors themselves who had starring roles. These masks were first used around the late 16th century and were used extensively in Kabuki Theater.

For those who aren’t familiar with the word “Hannya,” it is an adjective and refers to the jealous rage of a scorned woman. The masks themselves were often used as stand-ins for females in early Noh performances, and are highly stylized; Hannya masks are instantly recognizable by their long, sharp teeth and extremely long tongues.

Hannya masks are purely a work of art. Handcrafted by master craftsman, these fun and beautifully designed masks are made for both adults and children. The intricate handiwork on the masks is what makes them quite expensive. They are often made using hard wood, with not just one, but several layers of paper which are then painted with beautiful designs, masks of demons and gods alike.

The appearance of a malevolent character, the Hannya mask was believed to possess supernatural powers to ward off evil and sickness, and protect against spiritual intruders. This kind of mythology has its roots in Japan’s primeval past, and people continue the tradition today by getting Henna Mask Tattoos.

Hannya Masks History

The Hannya mask is undoubtedly one of the most popular and most mysterious works of art in Japan. It is used in Noh theatre. The use of masks in Noh is considered to have preceded the use of masks in kabuki theatre that started developing later around the 16th century. The oldest form of Japanese theatre, Noh is a type of dance-drama that originated from music and dance performances during Buddhist ceremonies. The origin of Hannya masks is believed to have positioned women on a more equal footing with men.

Hannya Mask Symbolism

In Japan, Hannya masks are used in Noh theatre to depict woman possessed by jealous rage. There are two types of masks; one has the face of an attractive young woman the other a grotesque demon-like face. The masks are traditionally carved from Japanese cypress. The masks represent (among other things) archenemy women who do not know their place and need to be brought down a peg or two!

The Hannya mask, representing jealousy itself and said to be unrivaled with terrifying power, is one of the most widely recognized masks in the Noh Theater. The frightening, contorted features and violent emotional excess embodied by these masks strike legendary fear into audiences. Hannya masks are placed at varying heights onstage for individual characters; some are also tilted forward or sideways for variety and effect.

The Uses of Hannya Masks

Hannya masks are used in Japanese Noh and Kyogen theatre to evoke various emotions, including those of demons and other malevolent beings. They are placed on the face of the performer, both male and female, to create a varying degree of intensity in their performances. In some kabuki plays, they can be seen worn by evil characters to frighten the audience.

Hannya masks have a lot of meaning in different forms of art. Some people use them as mere decoration and others use it as integral part of their masks in Noh. It is believed that the Hannya masks are made to resemble human face that has a lot of suffering and agony. These Japanese masks have a wide variety of shapes, and they can be used differently while being made differently as well.

Hannya masks, the scary mask worn in the most traditional Kabuki performances, is famously terrifying. But it’s also an example of a perfect mask no detail has been left untouched, from the nose to the chin. And now you can decorate your house and frighten your guests with a Hannya mask for your front door!

Hannya masks are terrifying. They look like something out of a “we are your friends” nightmare, but there is so much more to it. They tell stories of love, betrayal, revenge and struggle. Their purpose is to scare the crap out of everyone that set eyes on them.

Hannya Masks Material

The material from which Hannya masks is made is very important. The mask should be made out of a flexible, but durable, material. Mask material is very unique in terms of techniques used and style but overall, there are generally a few types of materials used in their creation.

Hannya masks are made of pine, cypress, hinoki (Japanese cypress), and other wooden materials varnished with lacquer.

The Hannya Mask is one of Japan’s most traditional masks. Made from a lacquered, wooden base with a painted design and decorated with gold leaf, it features long flowing red hair and rather extraordinary facial features – this mask definitely looks angry!


Beyond the imaginative spirit and mystery of Hannya masks, these sculptures also represent a much darker concept: the evil state of self-denial. The amazing masks have been used to both frighten and intimidate enemies, but they are also said to embody the spirit of women who were unable or unwilling to confront or acknowledge the cruel or evil acts they had committed. In today’s world of societal challenges, where those in power still acknowledge no wrongdoing and perpetuate moral injustices in their pursuit of power, this iconic artifact from ancient Japan may yet serve a modern purpose.







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