A-Yokai-A-Day 2016 Lineup

Well, A-Yokai-A-Day for 2016 is officially over.

I’d like to take this chance to one more time plug my Patreon project. If you enjoy A-Yokai-A-Day and want to get the same kind of thing year-round instead of just October, you will love my Patreon project. You can subscribe for as little as $1 a month, and it gets you access to my sketches and backstory for each yokai. At higher levels, I will mail you postcards with original yokai doodles on them each month, or even send you a new yokai print every month! And all backers get input on which yokai I paint next, so if you are impatiently waiting for me to complete your favorite yokai, this is how you get me to do it!

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In case you missed any of the entries, here is a list of all the yokai featured on the site last month. Click below to read any of the entries you missed:

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A-Yokai-A-Day: Aka Manto

Happy Halloween! It’s my favorite day of the year, and also one of the reasons I ever got into yokai in the first place. A-Yokai-A-Day was started as a Halloween celebration, so it’s always a little bittersweet when I post the last yokai of the month. But I’m excited to share with you tonight’s awesome story!

Towards the end of the month, I like to focus on the scarier end of the yokai spectrum, which is why we’ve seen a few creepier entries over the past couple of days. Something that is requested a lot, and which I am always happy to cover, is urban legends—toshi densetsu in Japanese. I’m often asked if urban legends like Hanako-san and Kashima Reiko (and even urban legends with older roots, like Kuchisake onna) qualify as yokai. My answer is always a resounding YES! In fact, I think urban legends are the perfect analogy to yokai in the modern day.

Yokai started out as explanations for the unknown, and were gradually explained away by science—sort of a god-of-the-gaps (or in this case maybe ghost-of-the-gaps works better). Over time, though, they changed from being just-so-storie, morality tales, and genuine superstitions into stories made for entertainment. Certainly some superstition still existed; part of their attraction is that they have that air of believability. And isn’t that exactly what an urban legend is today? We shake our heads and laugh that you might wind up in a bathtub full of ice, missing a kidney, but there’s that nagging spot in the back of our minds that thinks, “Well… it’s not like it couldn’t happen…” That feeling right there is the source and essence of what it means for something to be “yokai.”

Urban legends and even creepypasta aren’t just like yokai. They are modern day yokai, moreso than anime or manga, video games, Pokemon, Yokai Watch, and any other pop culture property. Urban legends are true folklore, because they are adapted to fit every locale they pop up in, and they really can’t be traced to any one source, and even when there is historical precedent, the stories are larger than their humble origins. They are rumors that have grown a life of their own and spread beyond their original parameters, becoming something much bigger than they were. It’s the modern day expression of whatever part of human nature caused us to invent ghosts and goblins back in days of yore.

So on to today’s yokai. Along with the ones I listed above, Aka manto is one of the most well known and highly requested urban legend. It seems like every one has heard of it or a version of it from their own school, or at least from a friend’s or a cousin’s school, and so on like that. Even as a non-Japanese, it feels so familiar and so believable that it wouldn’t be out of place in an American elementary school. It might be the location (along with Hanako, there are a few other memorable yokai that live in bathrooms, like kanbari nyudo and kurote); it might be the fact that it relies on a riddle (and the riddle is different from version to version); it might be the fact that the true shape of the killer is unknown; but there is a special charm to the story that makes it universal and gives it real staying power.

Click below to read about this most famous of bathroom monsters:

Aka manto

Aka manto

A-Yokai-A-Day: Kyokotsu

There’s only one more day until Halloween, which means that after tonight, there is only one more day of A-Yokai-A-Day left, and only one more yokai after this one.

Tonight’s yokai was requested on Patreon earlier this year. Kyokotsu was invented by Toriyama Sekien, as many many yokai were. I think it’s an interested creation, because most of his puns were cute or bizarre, while this one is genuinely pretty creepy looking. The original illustration by Toriyama Sekien is hard to be when it comes to disturbing illustrations!

In the illustration, the kyokotsu is seen rising out of a well. Wells have been a staple of Japanese horror for centuries. When talking about Japanese ghosts in wells, it’s hard to ignore the most famous well-ghost of all, Okiku. A number of other less-known well stories exist, though, like the ghost of the violet well, and even some taka onna stories, in which a man sees his wife fall down a well and easily hop back out again. And of course, today probably the most well-known (no pun intended) famous well-ghost is found in Sadako of The Ring.

Click below to read more about kyokotsu, and stay tuned tomorrow for the last A-Yokai-A-Day of 2016!

Kyoukotsu

Kyokotsu

A-Yokai-A-Day: Akateko

Today I gave another yokai presentation at Shofuso Japanese House and Garden. Tonight, instead of a yokai lecture like last night, I was able to hold a modern-day hyakumonogatari kaidankai, or ghost-story-telling party. I picked a handful of my favorite yokai and ghost stories, and told them as the sun set and night overtook the sky. The 17th century Japanese teahouse was lit by LED tea lights, which were the perfect safe alternative to lighting 100 candles and snuffing them out after each story. Thanks to everyone who came out and helped make the event awesome!

Earlier this week we looked at a tree-yokai called the ninmenju. A few other tree-based yokai have been featured on A-Yokai-A-Day in the past, including jubokko and sagari. Today I’m featuring another tree yokai, one that is slightly creepier than ninmenju.

There’s something special about this yokai that isn’t obvious on first look. Akateko actually successfully straddles the realms of old yokai and contemporary urban legend. While it does have its roots as an old yokai in the Edo period, it still remains popular today as a schoolyard rumor. Not many yokai have that staying power, but akateko does. It think part of it is the simplistic nature of the story. It’s easy to understand, yet avoids specific details that make it feel connected to any particular era.

To read more about this really cool half-old half-modern yokai, click below.

Akateko

Akateko

A-Yokai-A-Day: Donotsura

Today was a fun night for yokai. I gave a lecture at Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. The combination of cool fall air and the twilight sky, with the fall colors every, and the 17th-century Japanese tea house and garden made the perfect atmosphere for talking about yokai.

lecture at shofuso

Thanks to everyone who came out and took part in my lecture! Tomorrow night I’ll be at the same place, telling a bunch of ghost stories in a mini hyakumonogatari kaidankai!

Tonight still needs a yokai, though, and I have a great one. It fits the punny theme we’ve been looking at this week.

Donotsura is another one of those yokai with no description, just a name and an image. But it’s not terribly difficult to guess where he comes from. It’s a great play on words, and very pun-tastic. I’ll let you click on the link below to read about it, as I go into the meaning of his name on the yokai.com page.

Dounotsura

Donotsura

A-Yokai-A-Day: Nigawarai

Like the shiro ukari, today’s yokai is one that started out just as an illustration. Unlike shiro ukari, though, nigawari originally didn’t even have a name to serve as a clue to its meaning. It started out as just a creepy looking phantom on 15th-16th century yokai scrolls.

It’s not hard to see why this particular guy was copied over and over by successive yokai painters. He looks absolutely hilarious, while simultaneously creepy and disgusting. Eventually, the name nigawarai was slapped on to this yokai, and from there the meaning became clear.

Nigawarai refers to a sarcastic or bitter smile in Japanese. The kind of laugh or smile that slips out by accident when something bad happens to someone you hate. The sarcastic snort you give when your racist uncle makes a joke you find offensive. All of those fake, bitter smiles that cause your stomach to turn as you hold down your bile—these are caused by nigawarai.

Yokai are often named or blamed for the bad things that humans do. It’s sort of the Japanese equivalent of “the devil made me do it.” So when you give a yokai a name like nigawarai, there’s an instantaneous understanding of what its intention is. It’s not quite a pun in the way that shiro ukari is, but there’s definitely an element of humor in it. Hey, maybe there’s a yokai for that feeling too! And even though he was originally an unnamed monster, I think that whoever finally named him found the perfect name to go with the illustration; this is pretty much exactly the way I would picture the embodiment of bitter laughter to look.

Click below to read all about nigawarai:

Nigawarai

Nigawarai

 

A-Yokai-A-Day: Shiro ukari

Tonight’s yokai is a really special one, very close to my heart. It’s funny, I feel like every time I post a yokai I say “this one is really special” or “I really love this yokai” or something along those lines. It’s true, though! There are plenty of yokai that I’ll briefly chuckle at, or that I find only moderately amusing. But there are so many yokai that really hit the spot—they find that one little slice of life to satirize, and they do it better than anything else. In some ways, a yokai is like a walking, breathing pun. With just a name and an illustration, you can get across an entire joke, and never even need to explain the punchline.

Those are the truly special yokai.

And shiro ukari is one of them.

Shiro ukari has a visual charm to him that makes it impossible not to like him on first sight. And after you see him and want to know more, the next thing you get to hear is his name… “shiro ukari…” Shiro means white, and ukari has a sort of floating, light, aimless meaning to it. Even it’s definition is hard to pin down, which is pretty much the definition of the word itself. Lovely!

So what does shiro ukari do? Well, obviously he is a white thing… that floats around… Beyond that there is no description at all! Why would someone create this guy and give him this intriguing name, only to leave it completely unexplained?

Well that’s pretty common with yokai actually, and it’s part of the fun: deciphering what on earth the artist meant when he came up with this character.

I go a little more into the meaning of his name on the writeup, so I won’t repeat it all here on the blog. But the yokai that you have to guess have a really special charm to them, especially when you’re pretty sure you’ve figured it out. Because there is such a comic, layered, and punny nature to yokai, part of the joy of studying them is trying to solve the riddle.

Click on the shiro ukari to visit yokai.com and read more about him:

Shiro ukari

Shiro ukari