A Yokai-Filled Weekend

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Last weekend was a very busy and very fun weekend for me. As I mentioned earlier on my blog, May 25 was the Mononoke Ichi yokai market down in Kyoto, and on May 26 I gave a talk on yokai in Echizen City. Both events were awesome. I thought I’d post a little summary and some photos here to share with my readers.

Mononoke Ichi

This is an event which is held multiple times a year by a group down in Kyoto. Their biggest event is their annual hyakki yagyo night parade in October. They do a number of other events, and Mononoke Ichi is one of them. It’s basically a yokai-themed crafts convention. Vendors include artists and craftspeople from around the region, as well as students from Kyoto’s local art universities. They also do local yokai tours, and being in Kyoto there is no shortage of yokai spots. In fact, the event is held right next to the temple where the severed hand of Ibaraki doji is kept as a relic. The organization and its events serve two main purposes: to preserve and spread awareness of yokai, and also as a sort of community stimulus/revival.

It was wonderful to meet so many other creators who are passionate about yokai. I was also really surprised at how many of them knew who I was before I even met them. I mentioned in a previous blog post how the Miyoshi Mononoke Festival was the first time anyone in Japan had ever recognized me for my work, but it turns out a lot of others recognized me and just were too shy to say anything. A number of people came to my table last weekend and told me they saw me at the Miyoshi museum opening and wanted to say something but didn’t. And many of the vendors and guests were already fans of yokai.com and my twitter feed, and said they were very excited to meet me in person. It was very humbling, because I was also so excited to meet everyone there.

Anyway, here are some photos of the event:

manning my battle station

prints, posters, books, and shirts for sale

check out this awesome mikoshi nyudo!

a very real looking nuribotoke

amefuri kozo, kerakera onna, and kuchisake onna

all of the cosplayers here are top-notch!

Yokai Presentation

The next day I gave a talk on yokai in Echizen City, which is the town where I lived for 5 years when I first moved to Japan. The presentation was organized by the Echizen International Association as part of their annual stakeholders meeting.The things I spoke about were both personal (about my own history and experiences with yokai and my appreciation for yokai art) and general (about the appeal of yokai outside of Japan and among non-Japanese). I also spoke about recent events in the Japanese yokai community, including the Miyoshi Mononoke Musuem and Mononoke Ichi, and how yokai are being used by local communities to revitalize aging communities suffering from population drain. Like pretty much every place in Japan, Echizen has its own collection of local yokai stories, and those could be tapped for yokai-themed festivals and events to help bring attention and visitors to the city.

Although I’m used to talking about yokai in Japanese with people, it was my first time to ever give an hor long presentation in Japanese on the subject, so I was pretty nervous. But it went well, and the attendants were all very interested. People asked lots of questions, which I usually take as a good sign that the presentation was interesting. And there was a lot of interest in the idea of putting on some kind of local yokai festival to promote investment in the city; an idea which I enthusiastically support.

Here are some photos of that:

answering questions, post-presentation

rockin’ the ao andon t-shirt

giving explanations of the yokai in each illustration

more Q&A

So all in all, it was an awesome weekend. And a very exhausting one as well! I am looking forward to doing events like that again, but maybe (hopefully) not on the same weekend!

Get The Book of the Hakutaku Now!

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Attention yokai lovers! The Book of the Hakutaku is now available for purchase on Amazon.com! Currently the only paperback is available, but the ebook will also become available within a few days. Like with my other books, if you buy the paperback, you will be able to use Kindle MatchBook to get the Kindle version for free.

Thank you to everyone for your patience waiting for the book to be released. I originally had planned for its release in December of last year, but due to a misprinting at the factory, everything was delayed by about five months while the books were reprinted. But the long wait is finally over!

I’ll make a more detailed post about the book and its contents later, but since I know so many people are eagerly awaiting the release, I wanted to post this notice as soon as possible.

Upcoming Yokai News

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It’s time to get hyped! The launch of The Book of the Hakutaku is imminent! I’m currently waiting for Amazon to iron out a few bugs with their delivery system. It’s taken a few days already, but we’re almost there. The paperback will be released within the next few days, and hopefully the ebook will be right after that.

In other yokai news, I will be operating a table at the Kyoto Mononoke Ichi yokai flea market this year.

I posted about my trip down there last April, and since then I’ve really wanted to participate. I’m happy to say that I’ve been accepted as a vendor this year. This will be my first time vending a table since coming back to Japan, and I am very excited. I loved having tables at Wizard World Philadelphia and Baltimore Comic Con, and even though Mononoke Ichi is much smaller, it’s entirely yokai-specialized, so it has a very unique feeling. It’s going to be an awesome event, and I am very much looking forward to it.

The day after that I’ll be giving a presentation back here in Fukui. Specifically in Echizen City, where I lived for four years previously. I’ll be talking about my illustrations, what attracted me to yokai in the first place, and a little bit about Echizen’s local yokai history.

For now, stay tuned to this blog and my Facebook and Twitter streams for the announcement when The Book of the Hakutaku becomes available!

The Miyoshi Mononoke Museum

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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

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.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Sunamura no onryo

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It’s finally upon us! Halloween is here! During this year’s A-Yokai-A-Day we’ve seen hungry ghouls, dark clouds, hunchbacks, giant bugs, vampires, cats, ghosts, and old hags. But I wanted to save the most quintessentially Halloween-y yokai for today. Creepy or not, I don’t think anyone can make an argument against this guy being the most Halloween-y yokai of all.

Sunamura no onryo

Sunamura no onryo
“the ghost of Sunamura”

Sunamura was a neighborhood in what is now Koto City, Tokyo. Today it has been fully swallowed up by municipal mergers and technically no longer exists, although some parts of the area still contain remnants of its name. During the Edo Period it was famous for one particular vegetable: pumpkins!

The ghost of Sunamura is a walking pumpkin monster. Its body and limbs are formed of a tangled mess of pumpkin vines and leaves. Its head is a heavy, bright orange pumpkin which it struggles to carry around in its thin arms. There is a face in the head, although it doesn’t appear to be carved like a Jack-o’-Lantern.

According to legend, this spirit would appear night after night in the village of Sunamura and chase people. What strikes me as interesting is that it is referred to as an onryo rather than the more common obake or kai, or some other generic term. As you may know, onryo are the scariest type of ghosts. They born out of extreme emotional attachment or grudges, and wreak their vengeance upon the living. But what could cause a pumpkin to come back as an onryo? What kind of grudge can a pumpkin hold??

Sadly, there aren’t any surviving contemporary documents with more information on its story, so how this little guy began and any others details about it are lost. It may even have been lost to time if not for its inclusion in an 1858 ghost-themed board game by Utagawa Yoshikazu which features famous local ghosts:

Kaidan hyakumonogatari sugoroku

Kaidan hyakumonogatari sugoroku

It’s amazing that this creature so closely resembles a Jack-o’-Lantern even though it was created long before the concept of Halloween ever reached Japanese shores. In fact, in the 1850’s Halloween wasn’t even a big thing in the United States yet! Before The Great Pumpkin, before The Pumpkin King and Pumpkinhead, and even before David S. Pumpkins, the ghost of Sunamura was hopping around Tokyo scaring people!

Pretty incredible, huh?

Sadly, this marks the end of A-Yokai-A-Day for 2018. Thanks for reading every day, whether on my blog or on social media! If you enjoyed it, please consider joining my Patreon project and following along as I continue to paint and translate yokai all year long. The support of my patrons is what allows me to keep making art and maintain yokai.com year round.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Gotoku neko

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October is almost over, so don’t forget to take a look at all of the fantastic #ayokaiaday contributions across the various social media platforms! Even though it’s only the first year I’ve ever asked people to share their own #ayokaiaday posts, the response has been amazing! It’s fun to see so many people getting into the Halloween spirit with yokai-themed paintings, drawings, and sketches.

Now on to today’s yokai:

Gotoku neko

Gotoku neko
“trivet cat; five virtues cat”

In Japan, just like in the West, cats have a long and deep connection to superstition and the occult. For instance, you must not let a cat anywhere near a corpse. If a cat crosses a corpse, or jumps over one, or even sits on a coffin, the corpse will reanimate and begin to dance. It’s even been said that cats will suck the breath out of fresh corpses in order to gain power. Cats who are allowed to do this develop bizarre abilities, and begin acting more and more human-like. One major warning sign that a cat has turned into a yokai (a bake neko) is when it begins to stand up and dance on two legs. Many bake neko are depicted in paintings and prints standing on their hand legs with their arms outstretched as if dancing. When a bake neko becomes even more powerful, their tail splits in two, after which they are known as a neko mata.

Gotoku neko is a variant of the neko mata. It was invented by Toriyama Sekien and includes a couple of puns, which I will get to later.

Sekien is not explicit on what this yokai does beyond that of a normal neko mata. However as a neko mata it certainly has the ability to do all sorts of wicked deeds. Sekien’s depicts this cat as sitting around the irori (an in-floor hearth found in old Japanese country houses) and stoking the fire by blowing on it with a bamboo pipe.

The name gotoku neko comes from the gotoku, or trivet, that the cat wears on its head upside-down like a hat. A gotoku is an iron ring with three or four legs that is used in an irori or a hibachi to hold a tea kettle or pot and keep it out of the ashes. While it does make an awesome hat, it has its own occult connections: the ritual of the shrine visit at the hour of the ox requires that the participant wear a gotoku upside-down on his or her head, just like this cat is. So even though at first glance the gotoku neko appears to just be a cute cat warming itself by the fire, there’s something a little more sinister going on.

Another bit of wordplay in this yokai’s name is that gotoku also refers to the “five virtues” of Confucianism: benevolence, honesty, knowledge, integrity, and propriety. It’s a bit ironic for a yokai to be connected with the five virtues, but there’s a pun buried in there which Sekien references in his writing. He cites an old story about a nobleman named Shinano no Zenji Yukinaga. One day Yukinaga was set to perform the shichitoku no mai (dance of the seven virtues) before the court. However, he forgot two of the dances! As a result, he jokingly became known around the court for his dance of five virtues (gotoku). Since neko mata are also known for dancing around, the joke takes us back to yokai cats. It’s a bit vague, but that’s the silly and mysterious style of Sekien’s writing!

One last note is that folk belief also associates cats with house fires. There are many variations, but one example is that it was believed if you let a cat sleep near a fire, your house would burn down. The sparks from the fire would ignite the cat’s tail on fire, then the burning cat would run around in a panic, igniting everything it touched. And as you can see, there are flames on gotoku neko’s twin tails!

It is explicitly stated, but I think that the gotoku neko is far less virtuous than its name implies…


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Yanagi baba

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Today’s yokai is a bit of a continuation of yesterday’s. It’s another willow tree yokai. Many trees have connections with yokai, ghosts, and the supernatural, but willows may be the species with the most connections. In folklore all over Japan, and even going back to ancient China, willows have a lot of connection with femininity (from the graceful, sweeping branches which hang down from the tree and sway in the wind) to death and evil spirits (from the horrifying, clawing branches which hang down from the tree and seem to grasp at the wind). It’s interesting how those two viewpoints are so different.

Yanagi baba

Yanagi baba
“willow hag”

Yanagi baba is a terrifying hag who appears beneath willow trees and beckons men to her. There’s no one rule for what she does to people who approach, but it’s generally not a good thing. Sometime those bewitched by her call simply become lost, and other times they might get injured, or fall ill. Whatever happens, it’s pretty clear from looking at her that yanagi baba is not a nice spirit.

In some ways, yanagi baba is similar to yesterday’s yanagi onna. They are both ghostly women who appear under willows and call out to people. However, the chief difference is that rather than being a spirit caught in the willow tree, yanagi baba is the spirit of the tree itself.

Willow trees that stand for 1000 years are said to gain the ability to change into beautiful young women. However, sometimes they can turn into hideous old hags. Either way, from that point on, they begin to call out to men on the roads to mislead them. In essence, these willow spirits are reminders to people not to be negligent or careless.

One of my favorite yokai researchers, Murakami Kenji, has suggested that this cautionary meaning is not really meant to warn people about willow trees, but that it may be a metaphor for staying away from the sex trade. If the willow tree is a symbol of womanhood, then “willow trees” who beckon men on the roads could be hinting at prostitution. We’ve seen many times how too much lovin’ can supposedly ruin a man, and getting it from strange women on the roads is probably not the safest way to do it either.


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!