Yōkai: Supernatural Japanese Monster Art
Yōkai are a group of supernatural Japanese monsters, kind of similar to our notion of ghosts. The kanji (or symbol) that describes the Yōkai is made up of two other symbols meaning “bewitching; attractive; calamity” and “apparition; mystery; suspicious”. Sounds good already doesn’t it?
The Yōkai have a spread of traits from mischievous right the way through to downright dangerous; some appear in human form, some are more nebulous and others still can shapeshift on demand. They’ve been filling Japanese children’s dreams and nightmares for centuries.
Why am I bringing them to your attention? Well, as always it’s because I found some really cool old Japanese paintings of these Yōkai. There’s a really modern feel to them even though they are mostly from the Edo period (1603 – 1868).
The Yama-warau are a one-eyed bunch who like to muck about. They are well known for breaking into people’s houses and taking a bath or stealing food. Lumberjacks pay the Yama-warau in liquor and rice balls for assistance in moving trees.
Rokurokubi are sort of like an ancient Japanese Mr Tickle. There are two types, those whose necks can stretch indefinitely and those who can remove their heads all together.
The Ouni yōkai are unattractive mountain hags. They turn up at people’s homes late at night and ask for lodging. If the family is kind and lets them stay she spins butt loads of yarn for them and disappears before morning. She ain’t no looker though.
The Mikoshi-nyudo is a googlie eyed, goblin with a stretchy neck. They are huge and likely to bite your throat out. Apparently it’s best to look at their feet and never try to look up to their face.
Kami-kiri means “hair-cutter”. They hang around in urban areas, having a penchant for back alleys and toilets. In general they sneak about chopping people’s hair off. If they catch wind that someone is about to accidentally marry a ghost they cut off the lady’s hair to try to prevent the unholy matrimony from taking place.
These guys are like black magic dog demons. You don’t mess about with these fellas. If you want to summon an Inugami for your self this is what you have to do apparently. DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME:
Bury a normal pet dog in the ground so that only its head is showing, put a bowl of food or water just out of its reach. Then after a few days when the dog is out of its mind and about to die, sever its head and bury it under a noisy street. After another set period of time dig up the head and bury it in a shrine with its body.
Personally, I might not bother.
Ukiyo-e prints of yōkai, by Kawanabe Kyōsai