Today’s yokai is the third and final “evolution” of the adorable nobusuma which we looked at earlier, and it is no longer cute at all.
This was the first of the really difficult entries to do for The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits. Most yokai that I translate are pretty straightforward—they really only exist as a couple of sentences in old storybooks, and they are pretty simple and easy to understand. And then there are others that include really subtle jokes or references that require a really in-depth knowledge of the pop culture of the time these creatures were in vogue. This is one of those strangely detailed ones that is hard to understand if you only look at it in today’s light.
A number of yokai master Toriyama Sekien’s creations included references to hanafuda, a card game that was extremely popular in the Edo period. (It’s still somewhat popular today, and a pretty fun game!) I won’t go so much into the details here because I do so on the yokai.com page, but let me just say it was not obvious at first sight! It took a lot of translating, researching, and helpful explanations by my wife to figure out all of the weird cultural connections associated with this yokai. While now I can look at it and say, “Ooooooh, that makes perfect sense,” before it all would just gone over my head.
When I read about these yokai, I wonder how obvious certain things like that would have been to contemporary residents of Edo, and the purchaser of Sekien’s books… Would common folks have immediately gotten the jokes, or would they have to be aristocrats or literati in order to fully appreciate the amazing subtle touches that he put in his yokai encyclopedias? Even when he only writes one or two sentences about a yokai, the name and the illustration alone can say so much more. Toriyama Sekien truly was a great artist!
Head of over to yokai.com to read the whole story about this creepy old man yokai who evolves from a humble bat, and to learn about the crazy cultural references that Toriyama Sekien managed to squeeze into his description!