Hello again everyone. It’s time I discuss something I’ve considered talking about on a few occasions. Those of you who read my last article may have been curious by what I meant when I mentioned the night parade of one hundred demons? Well this is a worthy time. It is the season of Halloween after all. But how do I start?…perhaps…have any of you heard of the Japanese term Yokai?
Yokai are Japanese weird and mysterious creatures. Some kind of ’monster.’ But they can be almost anything. Sumo wrestling turtle creatures with an unusual obsession for cucumbers known as Kappas, trickster fox women known as Kitsune who play by their own rules and often have fun teasing men and folkloric demons called Oni who the west could often think of as a Japanese demon creature or ogres. To be fair…oni – and most other Yokai – can be rather broad in definition. I shall warn my readers that this review will have quite a substantial preamble before I discuss the book in question.
Yokai are fascinating creatures. But they are also part of the classical culture of Japan ranging from the modern era to the Meiji Era or any other of Japanese history. So…it makes sense that these creatures would spread to things that are exported to the rest of the world. It doesn’t matter whether you mean famous game companies or game series such as Nintendo and their ubiquitous Mario and Zelda series – which amongst other things contain the famous Bowser who is basically a variation on a Kappa and in the case of Zelda includes many references to Yokai such as the famous Tanooki curse in Link’s Awakening or the ReDeads in Ocarina of Time – or if you are more focused in Japanese anime and manga. The famous Pokemon anime and game series for example is more or less built around capturing and battling different kinds of Yokai ranging from cute critters such as Pikachu and Evee to the more disturbing or godly such as Mimikyu or Lunala. But Pokemon isn’t the only famous example. Just to name drop a few series I remember Sailor Moon and Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke also had rather obvious monstrous elements – where did you think the Negaverse came from?
Yokai owe anime a great debt as a matter of fact. A series very famous in Japan (the most recent version of which made the jump overseas and is in its final season. I highly recommend it!) known as GeGeGe no Kitaro (or roughly in English Spooky Kitaro) which began in 1968 helped popularise a lot of the currently famous Yokai to the extent that the hometown of the creator of the Kitaro manga has become something of a Yokai haven where many statues are built, customs are ritually observed and a lot of historians of Japanese traditions of old work in the area. As well as this the original creator of Kitaro is a highly respected figure among Yokai historians and has written scientific monographs on the subject.
But I think it’s time I discuss the audio book which led me down this rabbit hole. Don’t you?
The Book Of Yokai
The Book Of Yokai is quite an interesting read. It’s been split into two halves with the first section being a relatively in-depth (albeit lay person friendly) dissertation on Yokai, their origins and how various Yokai traditions have evolved as Japan itself has grown and changed. It is quite a technical book so I can’t simplify things too heavily but the author explains what he means rather well whenever he uses outdated language or terms that aren’t common outside of Japan. I have to congratulate Mr Dylan Foster. Despite the book being quite technical as I previously mentioned it was not a hard book to understand and I’m confident that those of my readers who are interested in Japan and its various customs would LOVE the book. The second half is something of a Yokai encyclopaedia with a large variety of creatures from all over Japan ranging from the famous and ubiquitous monsters to the curios. Those creatures who are very rarely heard of and more or less lost to history and those creatures who are ‘new’ Yokai created in the modern Japan as she is now such as the Kuchisake-onna (or roughly in English slit-mouthed woman.)
The audio version of The Book Of Yokai is narrated by a gentleman by the name of Tim Campbell who narrates the book rather well. His voice is rather relaxing and smooth making it easy to listen to this audio for a fair bit longer than you were originally planning. Trust me I speak from experience! He is also a considerably better narrator overall than most American narrators I’ve experienced. He pronounces the various Japanese phrases rather well in my personal opinion which leads me to believe he speaks the language fluently. I can certainly say I’d be happy to hear him again.
Between the rather interesting dissertation in the first half, the well researched encyclopaedia in the second half and the excellent narration, The Book of Yokai is a fascinating listen and read and one I highly recommend to my readers, especially if like myself you find yourself feeling curious about the various monsters that are part of Japanese life. Just keep an eye out for the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons or Hyakki Yagyō. You DON’T want them to find you.
I hope my readers will indulge this slightly different than usual review as my usual writing style just didn’t seem to fit. And I hope that a decent number of you will give The Book Of Yokai it’s due. But next time I will return to fiction befitting Halloween once again. I think it’s time I pay a call to Mr H.P. Lovecraft.