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Japanese Mythology & Folklore
Yōkai (妖怪, literally demon, spirit, or monster) are a class of supernatural monsters in Japanese folklore. The word yōkai is made up of the kanji for "otherworldly" and "weird". Yōkai range eclectically from the malevolent to the mischievous, or occasionally bring good fortune to those who encounter them. Often they possess animal features, (such as the Kappa, which is similar to a turtle, or the Tengu which has wings), other times they can appear mostly human, some look like inanimate objects and others have no discernible shape. Yōkai usually have a spiritual supernatural power, with shape shifting as one of the most common. Yōkai that have the ability to shape-shift are called obake.
Japanese folklorists and historians use yōkai as "supernatural or unaccountable phenomena to their informants". In the Edo period, many artists, such as Toriyama Sekien, created yōkai inspired by folklore or their own ideas, and in the present, several yōkai created by them (e.g. Kameosa and Amikiri, see below) are wrongly considered as being of legendary origin.
There are a wide variety of yōkai in Japanese folklore. In general, yōkai is a broad term, and can be used to encompass virtually all monsters and supernatural beings, even including creatures from European folklore on occasion (e.g., the English bugbear is often included in Japanese folklore to the point that some mistakenly believe it originates from said folklore).
Shapeshifting yōkai (Obake)
A good number of indigenous Japanese animals are thought to have magical qualities. Most of these are henge (変化), shapeshifters, which often imitate humans, mostly women. Some of the better known animal yōkai include the following:
- Tanuki (raccoon dogs)
- Kitsune (foxes)
- Hebi (snakes)
- Mujina (badgers)
- Ōkami (wolves)
- Bakeneko (cats)
- Tsuchigumo and jorōgumo (spiders)
- Inugami (dogs)
One of the most well-known aspects of Japanese folklore is the oni, which is a sort of mountain-dwelling ogre, usually depicted with red, blue, brown or black skin, two horns on its head, a wide mouth filled with fangs, and wearing nothing but a tigerskin loincloth. It often carries an iron kanabo or a giant sword. Oni are mostly depicted as evil, but can occasionally be the embodiment of an ambivalent natural force. They are, like many obake, associated with the direction northeast.
Tsukumogami are an entire class of yōkai and obake, comprising ordinary household items that have come to life on the one-hundredth anniversary of their birthday. This virtually unlimited classification includes:
- Bakezouri (straw sandals)
- Biwa-bokuboku ( a lute)
- Bura-bura (A paper lantern)
- Karakasa (old umbrellas)
- Kameosa (old sake jars)
- Morinji-no-kama (tea kettles)
- Mokmoku Ren (Paper screens, with eyes)
There are a large number of yōkai who were originally ordinary human beings, transformed into something horrific and grotesque usually during an extremely emotional state. Women suffering from intense jealousy, for example, were thought to transform into the female oni represented by hannya masks. Other examples of human transformations or humanoid yōkai are:
- Rokuro-kubi (humans able to elongate their necks during the night)
- Ohaguro-bettari (a figure, usually female, that turns to reveal a face with only a blackened mouth)
- Futakuchi-onna (a woman with a voracious extra mouth on the back of her head)
- Dorotabō (the risen corpse of a farmer, who haunts his abused land)
Some yōkai are extremely specific in their habits, for instance:
- Azuki Arai (a yōkai who is always found washing azuki beans).
- Akaname (only found in dirty bathrooms and spends its time licking the filth left by the untidy owners).
- Ashiarai Yashiki (A gargantuan foot that appears in rooms and demands the terrified home owner washes it)
- Tofu Kozo (a small monk who carries a plate with a block of tofu).
Various kinds of yōkai are encountered in folklore and folklore-inspired art and literature. Lafcadio Hearn's collection of Japanese ghost stories entitled Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things includes stories of yūrei and yōkai such as Yuki-onna, and is one of the first Western publications of its kind. In Japan, yōkai are particularly prevalent in manga, anime and Japanese horror. Shigeru Mizuki, the manga creator of such series as GeGeGe no Kitaro and Kappa no Sanpei, keeps yōkai in the popular imagination. With the exception of three volumes of GeGeGe no Kitaro, however, Mizuki's works have yet to be translated into English.
Yōkai have continued to be a common theme in modern works of fiction. They served as the stars in the 1960s Yokai Monsters film series, which was loosely remade in 2005 as Takashi Miike's The Great Yokai War. They often play major roles in Japanese fiction.
Anime and manga
- Ghost Stories
- Higanbana no Saku Yoru ni
- Kamisama Kiss
- Kaze no Stigma
- Natsume Yuujinchou
- Nurarihyon no Mago
- Omamori Himari
- Otome Yōkai Zakuro
- Shonen Onmyouji
- Yōkai Ningen Bem
- Yozakura Quartet
- YuYu Hakusho
Some of these sources, including InuYasha, feature the child of a yōkai and a human. This child is referred to as a or "半妖" or "han'yō" (half-yōkai) in InuYasha. This may derive from folkloric tradition—some folklore also deals with the child of a yōkai and a human, which may have supernatural powers.
- Harukanaru Toki no Naka De
- Kamen Rider Hibiki
- Muramasa: The Demon Blade
- Ninja Sentai Kakuranger
- Pocky & Rocky
In the English-speaking world, knowledge of yōkai is slowly, but surely, developing a dedicated following.
- Hawaiian folklorist Glen Grant was known for his "Obake Files", a series of reports he developed about supernatural incidents in Hawaii; the grand bulk of these incidents and reports were of Japanese origin, though have been modified greatly in their retelling from their original forms in Japanese folklore.
- The first major work on yokai in English is The Great Yokai Encyclopedia by Richard Freeman from CFZ Press
- In the Dungeons and Dragons Oriental Adventures rulebook, one of the playable races is the hengeyokai, shapeshifters that can assume a human form, an animal form, and a hybrid bipedal animalistic form.
- Yōkai have also been featured in the animated film, Hellboy: Sword of Storms. In the movie, several yōkai were featured, including the kappa, rokurokubi, and various other creatures.
In more modern works, yōkai (妖界, note the different kanji) and makai (魔界) are used synonymously as the supernatural world where yōkai live. Works which have included one or the other include the manga series Tokimeki Tonight and the young adult fiction series Yōkai Navi Luna (妖界ナビ・ルナ).
- ^ http://www.yokaiattack.com/yokai_yokai.html
- ^ http://www.obakemono.com/obake/toriyama-sekien/
- ^ http://www.sarudama.com/japanese_folklore/hannya_-.shtml
- ^ Ashkenazy, Michael. Handbook of Japanese Mythology. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003. p. 148.
- ^ http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Fox,_Hengeyokai_%284e_Race%29
- Ballaster, R. (2005). Fables Of The East, Oxford University Press.
- Hearn, L. (2005). Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, Tuttle Publishing.
- Phillip, N. (2000). Annotated Myths & Legends, Covent Garden Books.
- Tyler, R. (2002). Japanese Tales (Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library), Random House.
- Yoda, H. and Alt, M. (2008). Yokai Attack!, Kodansha International, ISBN 978-4-7700-3070-2.
- Youkai and Kaidan (PDF file)
- The Obakemono Project
- Tales of Ghostly Japan
- Hyakumonogatari.com Translated yokai stories from Hyakumonogatari.com
- The Ooishi Hyoroku Monogatari Picture Scroll
- Database of images of Strange Phenomena and Yokai (Monstrous Beings)
Japanese folklore Folktales Text collections Legendary creatures
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