Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Exploring Japan's Yokai with Shonen Magazine
Parents are always looking for new ways to trick their children into leaving the house and experiencing the world. The most recent ruse is train station stamp rallies where you get your card stamped at various towns to be redeemed for a prize upon completion. Two words: BO-RING!
Everyone knows that kids love monsters, so what better way to send them outside to skin their knees and fall out of trees then with a Yokai hunt? Magazines these days only advertise video games and toys, but the grandpappy of Kaiju, Ohtomo Shoji, and his boys at Shonen Magazine were there to provide dreams to a post-war generation brimming with imagination but short on cash.
Behold, the Yokai Hunter's guide to Japan divided by region and complete with maps detailing where these bizarre beasties are said to roam!
Hokkaido and Tohoku Regions:
The child-thieving giant Kamasu offers a sharp contrast to the squat Ainu witch doctor in the upper right. If we're counting indigenous people as Yokai, is it PC to include Pygmies as well?
The Seven Wonders of Honjo (modern day Sumida) presented here are mostly harmless, as exemplified by the giant stinky foot that demands to be washed every night. What you really need to watch out for is the Kama-Itachi, or Sickle Weasel, that rides on the wind to lop off your extremities with its scythe hands.
These bone eating foxes prowl crematorium grounds and suck the marrow from discarded skeletons. The Guzu in the lower left is a demonic transformation of the Sculpin, an actual amphibious fish that resembles a mud skipper more than the prehistoric beast in the illustration.
History shows that encountering giant spiders is usually fatal and the fire-breathing Kumon-Bi eliminates any chance of survival.
The Western seas are not safe! Lurking between the flotillas of garbage from Korea are some of the most utterly unfair monsters imaginable. Take the snake woman Nure Onna in the lower left for example. When you walk by, she thrusts what appears to be a bundled baby into your arms. Your immediate instinct is to say screw the baby and fling it away in a mad dash to safety, but doing so causes it to lay heavy on your body like the weight of your sin, thus making escape impossible. And if you make the noble choice and flee with the child cradled close to your chest, the Nure Onna's tail snakes back around the length of three towns--you were doomed from the start.
From Daruma to lacquerware, every region of Japan credits themselves as being famous for something, with Shikoku's main export being Tanuki. The island's been lousy with these over-sized raccoons and their even bigger testicles ever since Kobo Daishi, founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect, chased out the previous mythical animal, the trickster Kitsune foxes, after he found them too arrogant for his liking.
According to legend, a vampiress appeared before a castle on the brink of collapse, and to repay the blood she had sucked from its samurai, she transformed into the giant turtle Bakegame and rebuilt the edifice upon her shell to act as a mobile fortress during battle.
If you liked this article, you can see more of Ohtomo Shoji's projects with Edogawa Rampo's World of Grotesque Beauty and Robot Empire.