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18th century Netsuke mask of Hannya
The moth genus Hannya is now considered a junior synonym of Habrosyne.

Hannya (般若) mask is a Japanese ritual mask used in Noh theater, representing a jealous female demon. It is used to represent the malice or sublime emotions of human beings. It possesses two sharp bull-like horns, glaring eyes, and a leering mouth split from ear to ear.[1]

The Hannya mask has been used in many noh and kyōgen Japanese plays. Like many other ritual masks the Hannya mask has been used in dance, theater, festivals, Shinto and Buddhist rituals. The origin and creation of the Hannya mask varies. Japanese literature’s concepts of cosmos and anticosmos have been linked to the story behind the female demon known as Hannya. It is said that the frightening Hannya mask potrays the souls of characters who have gone mad from jealousy. Plays in which a person may wear the hannya mask include in the Tale of Genji, Adachigahara and Dōjōji.

In the Tale of Genji the story goes: "The shining Genji's wife, Aoi, is possessed by an evil spirit and confined to her sickbed. An itinerant mountain priest is summoned, and while he is offering incantations and prayers, the protagonist, the spirit of the shining Genji's old girlfriend, the Rokujo lady, who is jealous of his affection for Aoi, manifests. The priest wages a bitter spiritual battle with the Rokujo lady, and at last the revengeful ghost is vanquished by his prayers and attains Buddhahood. It is noteworthy that the evil spirit never takes off the hannya mask throughout her transformation into a Buddha. The Rokujo lady is still disturbed, but in the releasing of her madness she discovers a path to salvation, thus demonstrating that madness and sanity, suffering and salvation, are not unrelated to each other"

The Hannya mask is said to be dangerous and demonic, but also sorrowful and tormented displaying the complexity of human emotions. Further meaning behind the mask is found in the definition of hannya a Sino-Japanese word for prajna or wisdom. The word hannya is associated with madness, but in Buddhism it signifies wisdom of enlightenment. In regards to the mask’s creation a Buddhist sutra called Hannya Kyo is said to have an influence on female demons also known as "Hannya". The creation of the mask has also been associated with an artist active in the late 15th or early 16th century called Hannya-bo (bo is usually added to end of an artist’s name who has the rank of priest) who might have been the first to carve the mask of hannya. The hannya mask usually has pointed horns, metallic eyes and teeth, the mask’s expression shows anger, resentment and wrath. The oldest hannya mask is dated 1558. The most noticeable feature is its horns and the coloring of the mask is said to depict the intensity of anger. Three types of Hannya mask are used in Noh theater plays: the white hannya mask; representing noble women with jealous rage, red hannya mask; representing strong anger and the black hannya mask; representing poor and world-weary women.

The color of the flesh tones of the mask represents the social rank of the woman portrayed. For example a lighter complexion might indicate aristocratic status, light on top and red below indicating lower-class status, and completely red for true demons. Several traditions explain the name "hannya." The use of hannya masks in plays is based on the idea of women who turn into demons because of jealousy and anger. The mask is also associated with the ghost world. The hannya mask in Noh plays falls under the category of masks that portray incarnate spirits of dead persons or ghosts from the netherworlds.

In popular culture

  • In the popular anime and manga One Piece, the character Hannyabal's face resembles the Hannya Mask. His name is also from the mask.
  • This mask is also worn by Noboko Otowa's character for a period of time in Kaneto Shindo's 1964 film Onibaba. The film has a theme of female jealousy, as an old woman becomes envious of her young, widowed Daughter-In-Law's sexual relationship with their neighbour. She uses the Hannya mask to scare her Daughter-In-Law away from his hut as she sneaks off in the night. Eventually, the Hannya mask becomes bonded to her face.
  • In the 4th episode of Shonan Junai Gumi anime, a tattoo of hannya appears back of the shoulder of Nagisa when she turns into her other personality Yasha.
  • One of the antagonists, George Maxwell in the game Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within wears a Hannya mask
  • In City of Heroes, "ink men" from the Yakuza-based Tsoo gang wear hannya masks.
  • In the Xbox360 game Tenchu Z, your character can wear a hannya mask, among other traditional japanese masks.
  • In Darkstalkers, the samurai Oboro Bishamon is under the control of demonic armor named Hannya, which bears some physical resemblance to the mask of the same name.
  • In Sekirei Miya is often seen threatening people with a Hannya mask aura in the background.

In the Manga/Anime Gantz a Hannya is one of the monstrs the Team has to fight. It is Killed by Host Samurai.


  1. ^ "hannya". Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System JAANUS. 

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