A Visit to the Yokai Museum

This weekend I went to Nagoya to see the Yokai Mummy Exhibit at Parco Gallery. If you can get to Nagoya before this ends, I strongly recommend you go see it! It was pretty fantastic.

This exhibit is a preview event for a brand new yokai museum set to open next year in Miyoshi City, Hiroshima. The museum is going to be the new home of Yumoto Koichi’s yokai collection. Yumoto holds the largest collection of yokai in the world, and is a prolific yokai researcher with a few books published detailing the contents of his massive collection. Having a museum built for them is a pretty incredible thing, and this preview showcased some of the highlights of his collection; the mummies!

And unlike lots of art galleries, photos were allowed, so I am happy to share some of what I saw with you! You’ll have to forgive the poor quality of the photos. It was difficult to take shots without my own shadow getting in the way, so most of my pictures were taken at sharp angles. There are some glares and lots of perspective distortion, so you’ll have to use your imagination a bit.

Part One: Paintings

Here I am peering at the first scroll: a hyakki yagyo emaki featuring tsukumogami cavorting in a night parade.

These are yokai you’ve probably seen countless times. They have been painted over and over in many different picture scrolls. Some have names, some don’t, but it’s fun to see the same characters appear over and over by different artists.

Next up is a picture scroll depicting a long story, with yokai interacting with humans among a lavish-looking samurai house.

Only parts of the scrolls were visible; they unfurl different sections of different days of the exhibit, so if you can go for multiple days you can catch even more of the stories!

Next up is a scroll with a number of famous yokai, including this old school nurikabe! I also liked this version of nurikabe more than Mizuki Shigeru’s version, which is what you mainly see nowadays.

This next character is heavily distorted because I took the photo at a sharp angle, but it’s a giant catfish! This was another scroll that had a number of large sea monsters on it.

I know I’ve seen this ghost before! This is a copy of another painting.

An inugami and a rokurokubi, also copies from an earlier scroll.

The next one is a bizarre scroll worth mentioning. This scroll depicts a group of wisemen from China who developed a method of defeating yokai… by farting on them! Fart scrolls are surprisingly common among yokai paintings, and there are lots of images of people farting on kappa or other yokai to drive them off. I’m not sure how this particular scroll falls into the timeline of things, but the silliness of it is charming.

This is an Edo period book about a young man who goes kitsune hunting off in the mountains, and runs into yokai after yokai. How I would have loved to turn the pages and see the other parts of this book!

This scroll depicts a house full of yokai; you can see faces on the walls, and ghostly heads floating about.

These next few images were from a relatively modern (Showa Period) scroll, and I absolutely love them! In particular, chikusho (the skull with a skeletal deer’s body) has definitely become one of my new favorite yokai. This scroll was also unfurled over many days, so I wish I could come back and see the others! (Fortunately Yumoto Koichi’s books do display more details of this and his other pieces.)

Part Two: Prints

First up are two of the most famous yokai images ever: Hokusai’s prints of Oiwa and the sarayashiki ghost (aka Okiku). You can find better scans online than my photos, but seeing them in person is something else!

This is a copy of Inou mononoke roku, which I’ve posted about on here and yokai.com in the past. It’s a collection of pictures from the life on Inou Heitarou, a young boy from Miyoshi, Hiroshima who had a series of very bad nights as yokai repeatedly visited him. How I would love to read this whole book!

Next up is a series of prints framed all together. If you look closely you can see all kinds of yokai hidden in the pictures. Even the walls have eyes!

This story features a big tsuchigumo!

Below is a yokai-themed board game (sugoroku).

Here is a set of yokai karuta.

This is a newspaper article, believe it or not. It tells the story of a shop owner who was attacked by the ghost of the man who owned the shop before him. It looks like it would have been very fun to be a newspaper illustrator back then!

Part Three: Clothing

There were a couple of neat articles of clothing at the exhibit. This is a kimono and obi featuring Ibaraki doji, a famous oni.

Below is a thick outer jacket with a nue on it. Nue were disaster beasts, associated with fire and lightning. So this jacket was actually worn by a fire brigade. It’s made of very thick and heavy cotton, like a judo uniform. The firefighters would soak it with water to protect themselves when running into the fire. Then they would turn it inside out when returning. It’s quite clever.

Part Four: Mummies!

This, of course, is the main event! The yokai mummies! In their day, these were toured around as sideshows, displayed in temples as curiosities, and even kept as charms.

First up we have a ningyo. The first page is a description of the creature and its story. Of all the man-made mummies, this one was by far the most realistic. Check out those teeth!

Next up is a creature that was billed as a “three headed dragon.” Three snake heads on an alligator. I guess it didn’t specify whose heads…

You’ve probably seen these images before. These famous kappa paintings are circulating around the internet. They diagram the kappa and suiko mummies presented below.

A kappa’s hand!! This reminds me of the old ghost story about the monkey’s paw.

This one here is a suiko.

Human for scale. I definitely picture suiko as much bigger in my mind! Isn’t that what people always say at sideshows?

Next up are a couple of raiju mummies. This illustration accompanied them:

There was also a karasu tengu mummy! This document describes it.

And now, the grand finale: the kudan! There were a number of posters advertising it from ages long past. I especially liked this one:

Human for scale. I’ve seen this guy on so many websites and in so many books. While there are other kudan mummies out there, this one is probably the most famous. He has a very serene look on his face. It’s not hard to see why people thought these were special or magical beasts.

Seeing these mummies really makes me long for a time I’ve never experienced. I’d love to visit that age of wonders, when science and fantasy were still at odds with one another, and sideshows like this traveled around the world. Although I suppose it’s not so different today. Instead of being scammed out of my money to see a “real mermaid,” I happily paid to see a fake one.

Anyway, it was an awesome exhibit. I am eagerly looking forward to the opening of Yumoto’s Yokai Museum in Miyoshi!

Spring Update

This update is overdue! I thought it was only a short time since my last update, but suddenly its mid-April and I haven’t posted in a month and a half! Where does the time go? Here are a few updates on what’s been going on:

The Book of the Hakutaku

I’ve been kept busy mainly by work on the book. The text was finished in March and it was sent off to my editor, yokai expert and manga translator Zack Davisson. In the meantime, I am working on the final illustrations for the book, such as the chapter headers, and other details like that. You can follow the progress on the Kickstarter page.

Your last chance to become a backer through BackerKit is also quickly approaching! The BackerKit pre-order store will close at the end of April! So if you want hardcover collector’s editions, slipcases, bookmarks, or yokai clothing, you only have a short time left to order them! After the BackerKit pledge manager is closed, you will only be able to buy paperback and Kindle versions of the book.

Patreon & Yokai.com

Of course, I am always busy working on my Patreon project, bringing more and more yokai to yokai.com! February and March saw the creation of a bunch of new paintings, and very recently I put up an entirely new site template on yokai.com, one of my campaign goals for the Patreon project! The new template is streamlined for various devices, and is smartphone friendly, which has been something I’ve wanted for a long time. Many people have asked for an app for yokai.com, but a smartphone-friendly version has always seemed like a better solution for viewing the website on your phone or tablet, as it saves the time and effort (and money) involved in maintaining a series of apps in addition to the website.

Here are the new yokai posted since the last update:

If you’d like to get regular updates, monthly postcards with hand drawn yokai doodles, help choose the yokai I paint, or even original yokai paintings every quarter, please consider supporting yokai.com on my Patreon page! I don’t run ads on the site, and it is entirely supported by backers who pledge as little as $1 per month to keep it running. If you enjoy yokai and want to keep reading more, I do need your help to keep making them!

Other Yokai Updates

Now that winter is over, the time for outdoor events has begun. I visited the Mononoke Ichi down in Kyoto a couple of weeks ago. Mononoke Ichi is like a miniature Comic Con for yokai lovers which takes place a few times a year. It is located in “Yokai Street,” an area of Kyoto which used to be the northern border of the old city (remember how yokai live in the border lands?”). The shops and residents of that area have banded together to make the area yokai-themed in an effort to increase local PR, and they have really done a good job. They run a number of events, including Mononoke Ichi, but also Kyoto’s very famous “Yokai Train” which runs during the summer.

This was my first visit to Mononoke Ichi, but it definitely won’t be my last! I had a blast, and I hope to go next time as a booth presenter instead of a customer. Here are a couple of photos of me with yokai cosplayers at the event, and if you’re involved in my Patreon project you can even watch a walkthrough video I took while I was there!

Setsubun is Just Around the Corner

For yokai fans, one of the really fun Japanese holidays is Setsubun. I’ve covered this on my blog a few times before so there’s not much more to say about it this time around. But I did want to share some of the yokai that I completed during January:

Hososhi

Firstly, the hososhi, which I covered on this blog during A-Yokai-A-Day, but now have a painted version. Of course, with Setsubun coming up, this yokai is more appropriately timed than ever!

Basho no sei

Byobu nozoki

Enenra

All of the yokai for The Book of the Hakutaku are now painted, which is an exciting milestone. There is still a lot of layout and editing work to do, so the book is still a ways away, but it gets closer and closer to finished each day. There’s still time to pre-order it on Backerkit, and have your name included in the book as an early supporter!

In other news, I was also really pleased to see on 世界!ニッポン行きたい that one of the people featured was a young Hungarian girl whose dream to visit Japan was because of her love for yokai! She is writing about yokai for her graduation thesis, it seems. And I was extra honored that she presented one of my illustrations as part of her inspiration. Good luck メルセデス, I hope you get to visit Japan!

Happy New Year!

It’s 2018 already! Well it has been for a week, but with all the vacation followed by the bustle of getting back into things, it is just starting to sink in.

There’s only a few yokai left to post before the Book of the Hakutaku is complete! It’s hard to believe it’s that close to being packed, and that the Patreon project is that close to having produced 100 yokai!

In case you missed it, December produced four yokai:

Furi

Gumyocho

Kazenbo

Himamushi nyudo

And of course, more are coming this month!

There is still time to pre-order The Book of the Hakutaku on BackerKit. Pre-order backers will have their books signed by the author, and also have the opportunity to get collector’s editions, bookmarks, and yokai apparel that are only available through the Kickstarter/pre-orders. Pre-orders will close most likely in February, so there is still a little time left, but don’t miss your chance!

November Yokai Update

The blog has been quiet since the last A-Yokai-A-Day post and the end of the Kickstarter. That’s because I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to post here until now.

Now that the Kickstarter is over, there may be some of you who missed the date or didn’t hear about the project in time, but you still want to get your hands on the collector’s edition hardcovers, or the awesome yokai apparel. The Book of the Hakutaku is now on BackerKit, so you can still become a part of it even if you missed the Kickstarter! BackerKit backers will still be able to order any of the add-ons that were available during the Kickstarter, including hardcovers, slipcases, bookmarks, and clothing! They will also be able to have their books signed, and even have their name listed in the book’s acknowledgments as a backer. So don’t fret if you missed the Kickstarter, you can still be a part!

What you may have missed if you’re not part of the Kickstarter or my Patreon, is the yokai paintings that have been completed this month. I’ve been working my way through the sketches from this year’s A-Yokai-A-Day. Here’s what’s been done so far this month:

minobi

kosamebo

ushirogami

shukaku

On a side note, I visited Kyoto on Thanksgiving, and I found an interesting sight. At Kiyomizu Temple there was a small shrine dedicated to removing curses. I took a few photos to share on the blog:

This is a kind of “curse disposal area.” If you suspect you’ve been cursed, you can write down your name and birthday on a paper doll and drop it into the water.

The paper dolls will slowly dissolve in the water, taking your curse with them! You may remember reading in The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits about this exact sort of thing. In old times, curse dolls would be tossed into rivers to purify them; today, with concerns about pollution, a water bucket is a much more eco-friendly solution!

Interestingly, that’s not the only curse-related area in the shrine. Check out this tree below:

See the holes in that tree? Any guesses what they were made from?

The god of this mini shrine will supposedly answer one prayer, no matter what it is. Consequently, many people have used their one prayer to curse people. According to the shrine, the holes on this tree are the scars left behind by nails and dolls, from people performing the Ushi no Koku Mairi!

I love visiting yokai-sites in real life. There’s something of a bridge between the supernatural and the real world at these locations, as well as a connection between past and present. I wonder who the people were who nailed into this tree? And who they were cursing, and why…

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hangonko

This is it folks, the last yokai of A-Yokai-A-Day 2017! And also your last day to back The Book of the Hakutaku on Kickstarter! Collectors editions and stretch goals won’t be available in stores, so don’t miss your chance to get them as part of the Kickstarter!

I like to save my favorite and scariest yokai of the month for last. Today’s yokai won’t make you scream and won’t make you cringe in disgust. It won’t take your breath away… But it may just bring you true dread. Read on to find out why this is my pick for scariest yokai of the month!

Hangonkō
反魂香
はんごんこう
“spirit calling incense”

Toriyama Sekien’s Hangonkō

Hangonkō is a legendary incense from ancient China which has the power to bring forth the spirits of the dead before those who burn it. Those who burn the incense will see the spirits of the dead within the smoke.

The incense was famously used by Emperor Wu (Japanese: Butei) of the Han dynasty in China. After his beloved concubine Li Furen (Japanese: Rifuren) passed away, the emperor fell into deep depression. A Taoist sorcerer, in an attempt to ease the emperor’s grief, provided him with a bit of hangonkō so that he might see Lady Li one more time.

Hangonkō was a popular subject in Japanese literature as well. It appears in a number of Edo period works, from ghost story books to theater, kabuki, rakugo, bunraku/ningyō jōruri puppet theater… The Japanese versions star different characters; for example a man whose beloved prostitute dies is overcome with grief, and a taikomochi recommends he try using hangonkō—a secret incense handed down by the onmyōji Abe no Seimei.

Hangonkō is made from the hangonjū, a magical tree with leaves and flowers that resemble those of a maple or Japanese oak. Its smell can be picked up from over 100 ri away. To make hangonkō, you steam this tree’s roots until the sap comes out. Then you knead the sap to make the incense. A small piece of this resin is said to be effective at recalling the spirits of those who died from sickness or disease.

There is, of course, a catch. Hangonkō only returns the spirit for a short time; and they only exist in the smoke of the burning incense. All of the different versions of the story share the same ending: the person using the incense meets their lover’s spirit one last time, but it only leaves them sadder and more grieved than they were before. It doesn’t alleviate their loneliness, it makes it worse.

There’s an allegory here. Smoke often symbolizes delusion. And in Buddhism the the strongest delusion is attachment to material things—like the inability to let go of a loved one after death. Delusion is said to be the ultimate cause of all suffering.The smoke of the incense prevents those using it from properly letting go of their loved ones and moving on. They’re stuck in the past, in a delusion, and will be miserable until they learn to let go.

To me, there’s nothing comforting about this story. No good moral, no reconciliation, not even a punchline. It just evokes pure, existential horror; the horror of losing a loved one too soon. How do you get over that? Either you do or you don’t… One of my best friends says that their greatest fear is to die alone. Staying alive, however, seems even worse.

Happy Halloween!

Hangonkō, from The Book of the Hakutaku

A-Yokai-A-Day: Kurobozu

Those of you long-time readers of A-Yokai-A-Day will probably know that I like to build up towards Halloween, with the scariest and most thematically-appropriate yokai saved for the end. This past week we’ve seen yokai dressing up in costumes, old hags, monsters hiding under your floor, the ghosts of people burnt at the stake (sort of), just to name a few. Today’s yokai is one that I find pretty spooky, a little funny, but mostly just darn creepy.

Be warned: kurobōzu is nightmare fuel. If you are the type of person who has to have your blanket tucked under your feet before you can fall asleep (I know I am!) then you might want to not read this before bed!

Kurobōzu
黒坊主
くろぼうず
“black monk”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s depiction of the kurobōzu, from the Hōchi Shinbun issue #663.

As we’ve seen, there’s no shortage of bōzu (priest or monk-shaped) yokai. Heck, even black monk yokai are not in short supply. Kuro bōzu stands out those, because it is a relatively modern yokai. While the others come from the depths of folklore, this one appeared in the early Meiji period, in a newspaper article in the Hōchi Shinbun. It’s a good transitional link between the yokai of old and modern-day urban legends. The report came from the Kanda neighborhood of Tokyo:

At a certain carpenter’s house in Kanda, every night at 12 midnight, a dark, black, shadowy figure resembling a monk would appear in the house.

The creature would creep into their bedroom and stick its tongue in the ears and mouth of the carpenter’s sleeping wife, licking her all over.

The creature smelled so fowl, like rotting raw fish or garbage. The smell was so noxious that the family became ill.

The wife could not put up with this nightly treatment, so she left the house to go live with her relatives. After she left the house, the black monk never returned.

So what was the kurobōzu? Some yokai-ologists say it was a kind of nopperabō, due to its vague and indiscernible features. Others say it was related to a yamachichi, and it was sneaking into houses to steal the breath of sleeping humans.

Of course, less supernatural minded people might jump to the even more fearsome conclusion that some sort of homeless pervert was sneaking into the house and assaulting the wife. Or maybe it was even a hallucination caused by the unwanted advances of a drunk, disgusting husband? Who knows… Whatever it was, it’s difficult to imagine that poor woman’s trauma, and it’s hard to believe she had a good night’s sleep for a long time after that…

Kurobōzu. This one is going to be fun to paint!

Halloween is the final day of the Kickstarter for The Book of the Hakutaku! Don’t miss out on the chance to have over 100 yokai paintings and descriptions in glorious paperback, hardcover, or art prints!