Weekend Yokai Hunter #1
Greetings! I’m Brendan and I’m from England. Nice to meet you!
My journey into manga began waaay back, during my High School days. Whilst wading through hefty textbooks, I chanced upon Otomo Katsuhiro’s ‘AKIRA’, blowing my mind in the process! Hungry for more, I sought out Hara Tetsuo’s ‘Fist of the North Star’ and Hiroshi Aramata’s ‘Doomed Megalopolis’, allowing me to fully appreciate mature themes from an early age.
Voraciously reading manga during an adolescence that played out to a soundtrack of thrash metal, it was only a matter of time until I discovered horror! Thanks to my Dad, my obsession with the scariest of genre’s began in 1985, when he took me to see ‘Ghostbusters’ (who can forget THAT library scene!?). Since that fateful day, my life was consumed with watching the grotesque adventures of Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees and Chucky! But my thirst for scares didn’t stop at the silver screen. A voracious reader, I whiled away many a cold, British winter, glued to books on British folklore. From the ‘Beast of Bodmin Moor’ and the ‘Penhill Giant’ to the downright creepy ‘Shug Monkey’, Britain had a wealth of beasties good to enough to satisfy my horror hungry thirst!
However, manga remained number one, and with that, a trip to Japan was inevitable. Japan was everything I’d hoped it would be, and as a young, nerdy 21 year old, I instantly fell in love with everything around me, not least a young lady who later became my wife. I had everything! Friends, experiences, as much manga as I could get my greedy hands on, everything in fact, but the horror induced scares I’d now become addicted to! That all changed, one fateful evening…
My wife and I had just moved into an apartment in a newly constructed block. Exhausted after the move, we wearily crept into bed for some much needed sleep. But as tired as we were, sleep eluded us. Maybe it was the new surroundings, but we both felt uneasy…Suddenly, the air was filled with a cacophony of noise! Strange footsteps from the apartment above us, loud metallic noises from the one below filled the night till dawn. Doubly tired and a little cranky, we complained to the building manager, only to be told we were the only residents who had moved in. Terrified, I turned to my wife who smiled back at me…
“Maybe we were visited by a group of ‘Yanari’?” She said
“‘Yanari’?” I whimpered. “What the hell is that?”
“Oh? You’ve never heard of ‘Yokai’…?” She replied.
Yokai, I was delighted to hear, are supernatural entities that first started to appear in Japanese folklore around the 8th century. However, it wasn’t until the Edo period (1603 – 1863) that they really began to take root in Japanese culture, when Toriyama Sekien, a folklorist and ukiyo-e artist, chose Yokai as his subject for elaborate wall scrolls and books. Their appearance and traits range wildly. Where you may find a friendly river-dwelling Yokai that enjoys sumo and eating cucumbers, you’ll easily find another Yokai whose raison d’être is licking the grime off your ceiling while you sleep. Finally, my horror was secure!
There’s literally thousands of the creepy buggers, but it wasn’t until a certain manga creator by the name of Mizuki Shigeru came along, following his time in the second world war, that Yokai became a presence in manga. Mizuki penned a hugely successful manga called ‘Gegege no Kitaro’, and helped introduce Yokai to a new generation.
Gegege no Kitaro tells the story of a 350 year old, half human, half Yokai boy, who aims to bridge the two worlds he inhabits, often with disastrous consequences. I loved this manga from the first page. Not only was it a gripping adventure of comedic mishaps, it allowed me to discover a new Yokai with every book I picked up.
The fun doesn’t stop with Mizuki Shigeru either! Other Yokai based manga soon began to appear, including ‘Kappa no Sanpei’, ‘Jigoku sensei Nube’, ‘Yokai Hunter’ and ‘Ushio to Tora’, firmly dragging these ancient creatures of folklore into modern times. And I couldn’t get enough of those creepy beasties!
So, with my fascination with Yokai growing daily, I have taken it upon myself to search the length and breadth of Japan for the weirdest, most terrifying Yokai imaginable! As your “Weekend Yokai Hunter”, I aim to shine the spotlight on a different Yokai each week and examine their cultural impact on modern day Japan, both on and off the pages of manga. Armed with my camera, and protective amulet, I will venture forth and risk dangers beyond belief, for your reading pleasure. Hopefully I fare better than those three ghost busting scientists did in the library!
See you next week!