The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures
The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore
Monsters, ghosts, fantastic beings, and supernatural phenomena of all sorts haunt the folklore and popular culture of Japan. Broadly labeled yokai, these creatures come in infinite shapes and sizes, from tengu mountain goblins and kappa water spirits to shape-shifting foxes and long-tongued ceiling-lickers. Currently popular in anime, manga, film, and computer games, many yokai originated in local legends, folktales, and regional ghost stories.
Drawing on years of research in Japan, Michael Dylan Foster unpacks the history and cultural context of yokai, tracing their roots, interpreting their meanings, and introducing people who have hunted them through the ages. In this delightful and accessible narrative, readers will explore the roles played by these mysterious beings within Japanese culture and will also learn of their abundance and variety through detailed entries, some with original illustrations, on more than fifty individual creatures. The Book of Yokai provides a lively excursion into Japanese folklore and its ever-expanding influence on global popular culture. It also invites readers to examine how people create, transmit, and collect folklore, and how they make sense of the mysteries in the world around them. By exploring yokai as a concept, we can better understand broader processes of tradition, innovation, storytelling, and individual and communal creativity.
I am and have been a long time lover of culture and religion. So much of my reading over the years, focuses on non-fiction titles which can be classified in those two categories.
First off, I have never read anything else by this author, and this is the first book completely dedicated to the yokai that I have read. So my knowledge as well as my experience may be a bit flawed by these facts.
Over all this is a really good book, and a very readable book, the latter will come as a bit of a surprise to those whom are familiar with academic writings. Which this book is, but the author says very early on in the book that his aim while writing was to bridge the gap between academic and lay reading, and I think he did a very good job at this.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are a few places where it gets bogged down a bit, in explanation and theory, but it doesn’t last long.
I think the most useful thing about this book, not only the obvious that you will gain a lot more understanding about the yokai, but also, how “beings” and “ideas” such as the yokai, have changed, adapted and evolved alongside the Japanese culture, with no break by a competing or subjugating rival religion.
This is something as westerners we do not have the luxury of enjoying when it comes to pre-Abrahamic beliefs, as they did the favor of either erasing, changing or subverting our ancestors pagan beliefs to the point that eventually you have to dig through a cultural array of different “Christian” festivals and traditions, to get the puzzle pieces of one unified idea or another. Doable, and is done.
But its nice for a change to be able to see the entire “horizon” if you will, without having to change our vantage point over and over again.
I think there is a lot to be learned here from that perspective, on top of yokai in general.
In the end, if you have even a faint interest in yokai, and you are relatively or completely new to the study, I imagine this book probably ranks high up there in areas to not only begin but get your footing.