Japan is famous all over the world for its production of Horror movies such as The Ring and Ju-On. Is there an explanation to this resounding success of the genre? We do have one. Ghost, monsters, phantoms and spirits have a central role in Japanese literature (there is also a literature genre called “kaidanshu”) and traditional culture. Indeed, during the summer, Japanese people traditionally uses to tell each other horror stories in order to fight the high temperature through the sensation of coolness given by gooseflesh and thrill. Therefore, in Japan Summer is regarded as ghost’s season and many scary stories are also transmitted on Television too. Moreover, during the plenty of Festival that are organized all over the country, is very common to find what is called “Obakeyashiki” (something similar to a ghost house) where people from different ages enjoy the thrill of being scared by the traditional Japanese monsters as well as ghosts. Among these, there are some figures that become the subject of Japanese tradition and literature such as Youkai.
This word, that means literally “strange apparition”, is commonly used to indicate a class of supernatural monsters, spirits and demons in Japanese folklore. They are often malevolent and mischievous, but in some occasions can bring good fortune. They have many supernatural powers such as shapeshifting. Nevertheless, Youkai is a broad term that is often used for any supernatural being or monsters. Indeed, they resemble to humans, animals or things. In the animal category, we have Kitsune(foxes) and Tanuki(raccoon dogs) that are masters in the art of shapeshifting, appearing often in human form to deceive and sometimes punish people. The, we have the Oni, that are very similar to both demons and ogres, depicted as evil they usually carry iron clubs and wear tiger skins. Oni are very popular in Japanese literature and theatre and have a primary role during the Setsubun festival when people throw soybeans from their home shouting “Oni go out! Blessing come in!”.
Instead, Tengu (“heavenly dog”) are creatures similar to goblins and were originally enemies of the Buddhism. It is traditionally believed they can have both human and avian characteristics.
A special category is the one of yokai that were originally ordinary human beings until they were transformed in monsters because of an extremely intense emotional state such as jealousy. Inside of this category of humanoid yokai we can find the Rokuro-kubi, that are able to stretch their neck or to make their head come off and fly around freely. The Rokuro-kubi appear also in so many yokai art works and in Japanese traditional myths. They become so famous to be re-created also in some popular Manga and Anime such as Naruto, Inuyasha or YuYu Hakushu. However, in my opinion, the most interest and singular category is the one of the Tsukumogami, that comprises, ordinary household items that have come to life on the one-hundredth anniversary of their birthday.
Yokai database http://www.nichibun.ac.jp/YoukaiGazou/index.html
By Bucceri Salvatore