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The Book of Yokai

The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore

Michael Dylan Foster
With Original Illustrations by Shinonome Kijin
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Book of Yokai
    Book Description:

    Monsters, ghosts, fantastic beings, and supernatural phenomena of all sorts haunt the folklore and popular culture of Japan. Broadly labeledyokai,these creatures come in infinite shapes and sizes, fromtengumountain goblins andkappawater spirits to shape-shifting foxes and long-tongued ceiling-lickers. Currently popular in anime, manga, film, and computer games, many yokai originated in local legends, folktales, and regional ghost stories.Drawing on years of research in Japan, Michael Dylan Foster unpacks the history and cultural context of yokai, tracing their roots, interpreting their meanings, and introducing people who have hunted them through the ages. In this delightful and accessible narrative, readers will explore the roles played by these mysterious beings within Japanese culture and will also learn of their abundance and variety through detailed entries, some with original illustrations, on more than fifty individual creatures.The Book of Yokaiprovides a lively excursion into Japanese folklore and its ever-expanding influence on global popular culture. It also invites readers to examine how people create, transmit, and collect folklore, and how they make sense of the mysteries in the world around them. By exploring yokai as a concept, we can better understand broader processes of tradition, innovation, storytelling, and individual and communal creativity.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95912-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Names, Dates, Places
    (pp. xvii-xx)

    • 1 Introducing Yōkai
      (pp. 3-32)

      About fifteen years ago, I lived for a time in a small coastal village in rural Japan, where I was researching a local festival. I rented a rickety old wooden house literally a stone’s throw from the ocean. Until a few months earlier, a family had lived there, and a lot of their belongings were still in the house: old furniture, pots and pans, kitchen utensils, drawers overflowing with clothes. A single Japanese-style room with worn tatami flooring served as my living room and became my bedroom when I unfolded my futon at night. There was a television in one...

    • 2 Shape-Shifting History
      (pp. 33-73)

      Most likely in every part of the globe, human beings have shaped mysterious and fearful phenomena into monsters and spirits as a way of making sense and meaning of their experiences. But the particular shapes such monsters and spirits assume are anything but universal. They are sculpted by the distinct cultures and societies in which they emerge, evolving through specific historical moments and with the changing desires and challenges of the people who tell their tales.

      To understand the history of yōkai, then, we have to meet some of the individuals who have sought, documented, illustrated, explained, and discussed them...

    • 3 Yōkai Practice/Yōkai Theory
      (pp. 74-100)

      By tracing how yōkai have been portrayed, illustrated, and analyzed at different times in Japanese history, we can see that they are a permanent (though ever-changing) feature of the cultural landscape. And if Japan is currently experiencing a yōkai boom, it is only because in recent years Mizuki, Komatsu, Kyōgoku, and others have brought this feature to the attention of a large number of people. In other words, the boom is about awareness. Now that people notice that yōkai have long been part of their lives—in legends or literature or art or games—they feel a greater affinity for...


    • [PART II. Introduction]
      (pp. 101-104)

      Books are bound, literally: pages are put into a particular order and sewn together or cemented along the spine so that they cannot be removed or reordered. And in contrast to a picture scroll, an individual page of a book, and the words and images imprinted on it, can be accessed at any time without having to review what comes before it. That is, even though the pages are in a sequence, they can be opened and read at random. A book like this is called a codex, simply defined as “a collection of sheets of any material, folded double...

    • 4 The Order of Yōkai
      (pp. 105-114)

      The ocean is full of fish. When you look at the opaque surface of the water, you can’t see them, but you know they’re down there, everything from gargantuan silver-sided tuna to wormlike fingerlings to deep-sea dwellers moving like ghosts in the cold darkness. There are blue-bodied sharks and shimmering schools of tropical fish, red and yellow and luminous indigo, flitting this way and that with the slightest current. And there are slithering eels and flat, gliding rays, some of which can make electricity, and hagfish that secrete gallons of gooey slime when you touch them.

      This is to say...

    • 5 Wilds
      (pp. 115-153)

      All the yōkai in this chapter are associated in one way or another with natural landscapes, especially forests and mountains. They are creatures or phenomena that humans may encounter when they venture into the woods or walk along a mountain pass. A lone traveler in a distant part of the forest, for example, may bump into a nurikabe or mikoshi-nyūdō. Some of these yōkai—such as tengu and yamamba—live in the mountains but also may descend specifically to visit the habitations of humans. Wherever they are encountered, however, all these yōkai possess a certain wildness: they are undomesticated expressions...

    • 6 Water
      (pp. 154-171)

      Japan is made up of numerous islands and surrounded by ocean. It is also full of rivers, creeks, marshes, and ponds. Historically much of the arable land has been farmed through wet-rice cultivation, in which paddy fields are flooded during the growing season. Water control and irrigation are critical to Japanese economic life, and water plays a large part in the cultural imagination. All the yōkai in this chapter are connected in some way with water.

      Legends of human-fish hybrids, often called mermaids or mermen, are found throughout the world. In Japan, the earliest documented account of a ningyo (literally,...

    • 7 Countryside
      (pp. 172-200)

      The yōkai in this chapter live and appear in the countryside, by which I mean any sort of rural setting—from a wooded mountain to a farming village. This designation is necessarily broad and somewhat vague, occupying the expansive space between the Wilds of nature and the busy streets of Village and City. The yōkai here might appear by a shrine or small shelter in a lonely forest, but they also might come right down to a farmhouse or field or a bridge in town. Some of the yōkai in this group, particularly tanuki and kitsune, seem to be at...

    • 8 Village and City
      (pp. 201-227)

      This chapter introduces yōkai associated with human settlements, such as cities, towns, villages, and suburbs—essentially any place people gather in large numbers. Again, such designations are necessarily vague: some of the yōkai listed in this chapter, such as hitotsume-kozō, are not associated with a particular kind of place and might just as easily be found in the rural setting of the countryside. On the other hand, tōfū-kozō and kamikiri seem to be cosmopolitan in their hauntings. Not surprisingly many yōkai here originally emerged during the Edo period, a time characterized by the intensive development of urban centers. Some, such...

    • 9 Home
      (pp. 228-242)

      Yōkai may reside in the wilds, in the water, in the country, and in cities and villages, but we don’t necessarily have to travel far to find them: they also live in thehome. In fact, these domestic (but undomesticated) creatures may be some of the most frightening of all yōkai because they share with us, whether we know it or not, the places we think of as our own, the places where we feel most secure. These are intimate yōkai. When we see the signs they leave—marks on the ceiling, a pillow in the wrong place—they remind...

  8. Epilogue: MONSTERFUL
    (pp. 243-244)

    Monsterfulis an archaic word defined by theOxford English Dictionaryonline as meaning “rare, marvelous, and extraordinary.” Even though the word may be all but forgotten today, it seems an appropriate adjective to apply to the yōkai pantheon. In part this is because yōkai are akin tomonstersin the modern sense—strange, anomalous manifestations of otherness. But most important,monsterfulis associated with the marvelous and rare. It describes a sense of wonder—indeed, our contemporary equivalent might simply bewonderful. Wonders, of course, are things that transcend easy categorization and understanding, things beyond our powers of comprehension....

  9. Notes
    (pp. 245-276)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-294)
  11. Alphabetized List of Yōkai in the Codex
    (pp. 295-298)
  12. Index
    (pp. 299-309)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 310-310)