Ondako: a curious symbol for an historical island

The island of Iki sits in the Tsushima Strait, about halfway between the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula and the northwestern shore of Kyushu island. Given its position, it has seen a lot of historical events.

Iki was once commonly known as Onigashima (Ogre Island) thanks to a legend that a band of ogres inhabited the island, making life difficult for humans who attempted to live there.

According to the legend, the ogres were eventually vanquished by a warrior named Yuriwaka, who is also famous for his exploits against the Mongols during their ill-fated attempts at invasion in the thirteenth century.

As a skilled fighter, Yuriwaka took on the ogres, defeating them one by one until finally only one, the leader, remained. The two clashed violently, raining blows on each other. 

Finally, Yuriwaka got the upper hand and slashed off the ogre’s head. The head flew into the air and landed itself on Yuriwaka’s head, attaching itself to his warrior’s helmet. 

This image, of an ogre’s head biting into a warrior’s head, has now become a symbol of Iki. It is famously used to decorate kites known as ondako (lit. ogre kite) that are a popular child’s toy.

It is found on talismans and amulets said to ward off disease and disaster. It can also be seen decorating objects ranging from manhole covers to bridgeheads. 

And sure enough, there are now no other ogres to be found on Iki.

© 2023 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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