Yokai, Japanese Ghosts and Monsters   妖怪

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Yokai from the Edo period

Mizuki Shigeru's Ge-ge-ge no Kitaro

Yokai costumes

The tengu by the entrance to Kurama-dera


Masks and beans used for the Setsubun ceremony.

The Land of Ghosts

Shigeru Mizuki, author of the classic manga Gegege no Kitaro, sadly passed away recently. In his memory, let's take a trip into the world of Japanese ghosts...

There wouldn't be so many successful Japanese horror films, books and manga without the country's long tradition of ghosts and monsters of all kinds.

Shigeru Mizuki had all kinds of horrific beasts to inspire his Kitaro, while Hayao Miyazaki has introduced us to a whole host of them through his animated films.

In Japan they speak of yokai, obake, shinigamioni or mononoke when they want to describe ghosts or spirits.

These creatures have been a part of folklore and Japanese tales for ages, and are still extremely popular today.

There are thousands of different shapes and types, and new ones are yet to be imagined. You may even encounter them walking down the streets in Japan without even realising it...

Fantastic beasts

Have you ever encountered a large, strange-looking raccoon statue? That's a tanuki, a forest spirit.

Have you seen pictures of a turtle-like animal? That's a kappa, an aquatic being that feeds on cucumbers.

How about a frowning monster with a long, red nose? That's a tengu, a winged demon that's particularly terrifying for children. And the list goes on!

Young men should be wary of mysterious beautiful women, as she could be a kitsune, fox spirit, luring them into a trap.

During the festival of Setsubun, children throw beans to drive away oni (red ogres with horns).

An item preserved for over 100 years is believed to turn into a tsukumogami, an object that has come alive and become self aware!

And late in the evening on a street corner, you may cross the path of the terrifying kuchisake-onna, a woman with a Glasgow smile...

Omnipresent Characters

These characters aren't just confined to children's stories, but are mentioned in print or current daily life as elements of folklore.

It's difficult to know if it's genuine belief, but some particular places are known for their yokai inhabitants.

The Japanese often exorcise their fears by giving them shape and personality. For example, it's possible to come to an agreement with most yokai: it's a way to have control over the uncontrollable.

But why not go meet them yourself on Yokai Street in Kyoto, especially for the Hyakki Yagyo, held every October 15th during the Yokai Costume Parade. After all, who can really tell if they are just costumes...?

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