Last weekend saw the return of the Mononoke Ichi (モノノケ市) yokai flea market in Kyoto. Normally, this event takes place several times per year, with a spring flea market, an autumn yokai parade, and several smaller events at various temples and other locations. However, due to coronavirus, the festival has been on hold since 2019. This was the first Mononoke Ichi in over 2 years. This time, the event was stretched over two days (April 16-17) in order to reduce crowding.
Getting from Fukui to Kyoto is not the longest journey, but it’s still a bit of a haul. It’s a 3 hour drive through the mountains, then along Lake Biwa. During April when everything is blooming it’s an incredibly scenic drive. We left the day before the event so we wouldn’t have to leave before the crack of dawn in order to reach the event in time. Fortunately, Kyoto has lots of AirBnB rentals in the area of the event.
Mononoke Ichi is held at the Daishogun Hachi jinja, an ancient shrine that was originally an Onmyodo/Taoist temple dedicated to the gods of the stars. Astrology and geomancy were a very important part of politics, religion, and society in ancient times, and this temple was established at the northwest extent of Heian Kyo (the ancient name of the capital) in order to protect that direction. Part of the reason for the selection of this site for the festival is that the street it is located on served as the border of the capital in ancient times. Yokai live in borderlands, such as the border between land and sea, dark and light, light and death, and, in this case, the “civilized” capital city and the “barbaric” wilderness beyond it. This road is where yokai were said to appear in those times, and that makes it an ideal location for a modern yokai festival. The shops and residents of the street have embraced this history, and the area is known today as “Yokai Street.” The street is lined with yokai-themed statues and artwork maintained by the shops and businesses operating there. The fact that the shrine itself is dedicated to magic and mystery only adds to the folkloric atmosphere.
Mononoke Ichi is organized by Hyakuyobako, a yokai art group run by Kono Junya, a professor at Kyoto Saga University of Arts. The first thing that greets you at the festival are Kono’s yokai masks, which are sometimes worn by art students who parade around the festival dressed as yokai. Several of these masks are currently on display in the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while the rest are here at the festival. This year, to prevent crowding, only a limited number of yokai were parading around. However, they leave a very strong impression!
It’s clear the students really enjoy performing as yokai. They’ve each practiced their poses and motions, and bring life to their characters. Part of the joy of this performance is scaring children, and throughout the event the period shrieks and screams of little children crying, “Don’t come any closer!” bring about spontaneous chuckles from all of the vendors and visitors.
The weather was perfect for an outdoor festival. The event was busy, but never so crowded that it felt unsafe. I think that both vendors and guests all felt a sense of excitement to be able to experience events like this once again, after such a long hiatus.
For me, this was especially fun because I so rarely get to participate in events like this. Yokai-themed festivals happen fairly regularly in large cities like Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo, but not in Fukui. So I treasure the opportunity to participate in yokai events that take place not too far from my home.
It’s also thrilling to get to interact with so many yokai fans (or even maniacs) up close and all in one place. Most of the time, my work involves introducing people to yokai for the first time, or sharing my work with English-speaking yokai fans who don’t have access to them in Japanese. It’s a rare thing to encounter fans who can name every yokai I have on display.
One anecdote that illustrates this phenomenon is that when I show my postcards at events, people often ask me why I have a picture of Godzilla among my illustrations. It’s a fun opportunity to explain that it is not Godzilla, but a yokai called hōnengyo that coincidentally looks very much like him. But at Mononoke Ichi several people approached my table and immediately commented that they liked my hōnengyo, without even questioning whether it was Godzilla or not. Witnessing that level of fandom is very satisfying.
Speaking of fans, there was one surprise guest who came to the event unannounced. It was professor Komatsu Kazuhiko, one of the world’s top yokai scholars and creator of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies’ yokai database. I’m pretty sure on any other street in Kyoto he would have been seen as just another man walking down the street, but when he suddenly appeared in the shrine grounds at Mononoke Ichi, everyone’s eyes lit up as if a major celebrity had appeared.
A TV crew followed him around and also interviewed several of the vendors and fans. I had the opportunity to speak to them about my work and my goal of sharing yokai with English-speaking fans around the world.
It was a great event, and it felt especially satisfying to participate again after such a long hiatus due to the pandemic. It helped me feel like life is slowly returning to some kind of normalcy. (And it was also the most exhausting thing I have done in over 2 years!)
You can see more photos and posts from vendors, participants, and fans by viewing the hashtag #モノノケ市2204 on Twitter.