The Miyoshi Mononoke Museum

Last year I wrote a post about the Nagoya Parco yokai exhibition which served as a preview for the upcoming yokai museum in Miyoshi, Hiroshima. Well, this Golden Week the museum finally opened up! Last Friday was the grand opening, so my wife and I traveled down to Miyoshi for the opening of Japan’s very first museum dedicated to yokai, and the accompanying Miyoshi Mononoke Festival.

Miyoshi has a lot of gorgeous natural scenery

Getting There

Getting to Miyoshi is probably the only part of this trip that I could have any complaint about. Getting from Fukui to Miyoshi is not an easy task, but even coming from a major metropolitan center like Kyoto or Osaka would have been quite a task. Miyoshi is out of the way. For us, we had to take an express train from Fukui to Osaka, switch to the Sanyo Shinkansen and ride to Hiroshima, get off the shinkansen and change over to the local Geibi line, then change on to a bus route at Shimofukawa station and ride that all the way to Miyoshi, before getting onto the local city loop bus and taking that to the museum.

The trip took almost nine hours, but would have been a little shorter than that if not for a few complications. Heavy winds on Lake Biwa meant that our train had to take a longer route, delaying us by about 20 minutes and causing us to miss the first shinkansen. No problem they run every few minutes… but the shinkansen were packed to 150% capacity due to the holiday, which meant standing room only packed in like a can of sardines for the almost 2 hours between Osaka and Hiroshima.

Normally, it would be possible to go straight from Hiroshima to Miyoshi. However, the terrible rains and flooding last year destroyed the train tracks, so it is only possible to travel from Hiroshima to Shimofukawa Station at the moment. From there, a JR-operated shuttle bus drives to each station on the Geibi line until reaching Miyoshi. The bus takes about an hour longer than the train would due to traffic and lower speeds, so this is a pretty unfortunate inconvenience. On top of that, while the Geibi line is a pleasant local train, it arrived at Shimofukawa station literally 2 minutes after the shuttle bus was scheduled to leave, meaning we had to wait a whole hour for the next bus.  Fortunately, the weather was nice so wandering around the mountains for an hour wasn’t too unpleasant… but it is a very rural area with absolutely no restaurants or entertainment, so this was another unfortunate inconvenience.

Once we got to Miyoshi it wasn’t hard to get to the museum. There’s a city loop bus which stops there, but the city is easy enough to walk around. The museum is a 30 minute walk from the station, and you can walk through some very beautiful old streets lined with shops, museums, and old, restored Japanese-style buildings.

Right now, a car seems to be the most practical way of getting to Miyoshi. Very few people came to see the museum by train (we may have been the only ones) and it seems like only locals use the shuttle bus. Virtually every other visitor to the museum seems to have come by car. For us, it would have been an 8 hour drive or an 8-ish hour train ride, so we went with the train merely to have a more relaxed trip. When the damage to the JR line is repaired, it may be easier to come via train, but for the time, driving there seems to be the simplest option.

The City of Miyoshi

Miyoshi itself is a hidden jewel. I had never heard of the city before, and it truly is off the beaten path, but it’s an absolutely lovely place. It is nestled in the mountains and its isolation has kept it mostly free from tourism (although the city is hoping this museum will change that). It retains a good deal of very old buildings with glazed roof tiles, many of which have been restored and refit. Some of the old streets have been repaved recently, creating a very stylish and classic feeling “old town” area.

The streets are paved beautifully and have a classic town feeling

We happened upon what I think is one of the best reasons to walk the city: the Tsujimura Jusaburo Doll Museum. The museum features a number of works of dollmaker Tsujimura Jusaburo, which come in all sizes and themes. There were cute dolls, like rabbits dressed as princesses or samurai, dolls of historical figures, dolls of yokai and characters from Japanese folklore, French cabaret dolls, and really beautiful, detailed puppets that resemble the puppets of ningyo joruri.

In addition to being able to see the dolls up close, we made it just in time for a doll performance by one of the museum’s staff. He performed two different pieces, one a French chanson, and the other a Japanese enka piece, using two beautiful puppets. His skill was incredible, and it’s always really special to get to see someone who is so passionate about their art.

Tawara Toda fighting the omukade
Takiyasha hime
Kawasaki Kazuo performs an enka ballad
Jojo the french moulin rouge doll sings a chanson

The Miyoshi Mononoke Museum

And now the whole reason for this entire trip: the museum itself!

Outside the museum

The Miyoshi Mononoke Museum is a project that was 10 years in the making. The benefactor of this museum is Japan’s greatest yokai art collector, Yumoto Koichi. Over the past 30+ years, Yumoto-sensei has amassed a collection of roughly 5000 pieces of yokai art. His collection includes everything from woodblock prints, to books, scrolls, mummies, kimono, weaponry, netsuke, charms and talismans, folding screens, statues, dishes and other housewares, toys, and just about anything else you can imagine.

Look at this incredibly grotesque fan!
This town and bag set would be the perfect gift
These statues were found in a temple dedicated to yokai, and somehow managed to survive the religious reforms which would have seen them all destroyed. They are depicted in the form of Buddhas! Totally bizarre!
Meiji era newspapers featured reports of yokai encounters like this one as part of the daily news.
A book of various forms of kappa, and a mummified kappa hand
The museum has a few life-sized recreations of bizarre yokai cryptids depicted in old news reports
A Showa Era kamishibai story featuring a scary kappa
Fans of A-Yokai-A-Day should be able to recognize each of these bad boys!
Something that you can only see when viewing original artworks vs online scans: the colorless imprints that woodblock printers pushed into their images for a bit of 3d texture. Look at the almost imperceptible marks on Oiwa’s forehead!
And check out those teeth! They’re actually popping off of the page! There are other textured impressions on the paper as well. Woodblock prints are so much better in person.

The city of Miyoshi was chosen for the location of this museum because of its amazing yokai-related history. It is the stage for one of Japanese literature’s most famous yokai stories, the Ino Mononoke Roku. This is the title of a collection of different volumes written throughout the Edo Period which centered around a series of strange hauntings that took place in and around the home of Ino Heitaro, in Miyoshi. The stories were gathered together in the 20th century and compiled into a body of work which we know today as the Ino Mononoke Roku. During the Edo Period, the stories were widely circulated all across Japan, and printed, painted, and performed in every form of storytelling imaginable. They form a backbone and a template for thousands of derivative yokai stories. The influence of this collection can even be seen all the way up to and including in modern popular culture.

Most interesting of all is that some of the names and places in the stories are real, and there are historical records relating to them. For example, the gravestone of Ino Heitaro still stands today. And there are contemporary documents from his time detailing how so many tourists were coming from outside of Miyoshi to witness the strange hauntings of Heitaro’s home that it began to cause trouble for the locals. The government even went so far as to ban visitors in order to keep some measure of order in the town. So while we don’t know what really happened back then, we have evidence that something happened, the people were real, and it was national news.

Miyoshi has spent a lot of time and money rediscovering its yokai history related to Ino Heitaro. While walking around the town we met an old local man who was part of the excavation crews which worked to uncover the old shrines and other historical sites where the stories took place. The locals are very proud of the story, and the Mononoke Museum seems like a fitting achievement for all of their hard work.

As for the museum itself, it is nothing short of spectacular. It’s built like an old traditional Japanese warehouse, but it fuses modern technology seamlessly into its exhibits. The artifacts from the Yumoto collection are wonderfully presented, lit up by spotlights in an otherwise dark room. It’s the perfect atmosphere for looking at this kind of subject matter. Projectors display animated yokai which scamper about the walls, and large touchscreens provide a level of interaction not found in most museums. You can touch yokai to make them dance around, pull up information on them, and then view tags that lead to related yokai. It’s not unlike the Yokai Finder at yokai.com, only it’s far more complex and detailed than that. Having toiled over creating the yokai finder myself, I can really appreciate the amount of research and effort put into creating the virtual database that you can play with at the museum.

Locating a choki choki on the digital yokai database

Pictures are allowed throughout most of the museum, so I took plenty. However, one area of the museum does not allow photography, and that is the section dedicated to the Ino Mononoke Roku. It includes a long scroll display depicting the story of Ino Heitaro, as well as a history of the different versions of the story and its deviations. I found that particularly fascinating, as the literary research into the Ino Mononoke Roku mirrors the literary research into other ancient texts, in which the writing styles of various authors are identified, passages from one version are compared with passages in another version, and the history of copies, deletions, alterations, and additions is slowly revealed. It explains how the story was presented as a factual, eye-witness testimony to the strange hauntings that occurred at Heitaro’s home. The influence of the stories on later literature, and even up to and including present-day anime and manga is showcased. Although not many people have heard of Ino Mononoke Roku, it seems that almost everybody should be familiar with stories that were influenced and inspired by it.

The vast presence of pieces of Ino Mononoke Roku in Japanese literature and folklore, and the importance of Miyoshi in this central piece of yokai history, make it clear that Miyoshi was the perfect location for the first ever yokai museum.

For me, though, perhaps the coolest moment was after going through the museum, while checking out the gift shop, I happened to spy none other than Yumoto Koichi himself, sitting down in the gift shop and having a chat with Sugimoto Yoshinobu. I had a chance to speak to them personally (if briefly), which was just awesome. I was wearing my favorite Otsu-e Oni t-shirt, and Yumoto-sensei commented on it and told me a little story about the oni.

Me with Yumoto Koichi and Sugimoto Yoshinobu

The Miyoshi Mononoke Festival

While the museum was cool enough itself, one of the big draws that made me want to come at its opening was the Miyoshi Mononoke Festival, a weeklong grand opening festival coinciding with Golden Week. Although we only went for the first weekend, the even that got my attention most was the “Yokai Symposium” featuring a panel discussion with Yumoto Koichi, as well as a number of other very important yokai scholars: author Aramata Hiroshi, creator of the Kaii Yokai Densho Database Komatsu Kazuhiko, Ino Mononoke Roku researcher Sugimoto Yoshinobu, and Gakkō Kaidan author Tsunemitsu Toru. The chance to hear some of the world’s top yokai experts chatting together was just too good to miss, and it made all of the difficulty in getting to Miyoshi totally worth it.

The Yokai Symposium

While the symposium was the top draw for me, there were plenty of other really awesome events. There were parades, a cosplay contest, stage performances by a number of bands and idol groups, craft workshops, kagura, theater performances, and so on. Die-hard yokai groups came from as far away as Tokyo, in costume, to participate in the festival. My wife and I wore our t-shirts from The Book of the Hakutaku, but we didn’t do any cosplay. Still, there was one other first for me personally: a stranger came up and asked if I was the Yokai Guy Matthew Meyer, the first time I’ve ever been recognized on sight outside of the US.

Me with some performers at the cosplay contest
Those same performers later put on an amazing show detailing a section of Ino Mononoke Roku
This is probably the best kappa cosplay in existence!
A fan of nurikabe!
I just happened to run into this suzuhiko hime, the very yokai I was then working on for yokai.com! She said it was the first time anyone had recognized her costume by name.
Suzuhiko hime and her cosplay troupe from Tokyo, た組

So it was an absolutely awesome museum, and of course the opening events made it even more special. The city of Miyoshi may be a little out of the way, but it is the perfect setting for the world’s first yokai museum. For any yokai fan visiting Japan, I would rate this as an absolute must-see.

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