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Introducing a Video on Japanese Yokai

This video, titled "Yokai - The Monsters That Ward off Plagues With the Wishes of the People" (妖怪 〜疫病退散 ! 人々の願いを込めて〜), was uploaded by "Japan Video Topics - Japanese" (Japan Video Topics - 日本語).
In Japan, there is a culture of yokai, Japanese folklore which believes in the existence of numerous supernatural monsters and ghosts.

The yokai introduced from 0:19 are the ones that most Japanese people are familiar with.
The first one is the Tengu.
Tengu, who roam the mountains, are probably the most well-known yokai.
Next, there's Hitotsume kozo, a monster that appears out of thin air to scare and play with people.
The third yokai is Zashiki warashi, a monster that appears in the form of a child and is known as a yokai that brings prosperity to one's home.

Yokai Depicted in the Past and Present

Image of yokai
Photo:An image of yokai

The International Research Center for Japanese Studies has been conducting research on yokai, and one of the documents, the Hyakki Yagyo Emaki, depicts many yokai and appeared in the 16th century.
As time passed, these once feared monsters became a part of Japanese people's daily life.
You can see the Hyakki Yagyo Emaki at 0:48 in the video.

Even today, yokai are seen in a number of different works.
Gegege no Kitaro, which can be seen from 1:04 in the video, is a famous manga featuring yokai, and has also been made into an anime.
In addition, there are many other popular works in which yokai appear, such as "Natsume's Book of Friends."

Fukusaki, Hyogo - Revitalizing a Town Through Yokai

Image of a statue of a kappa flying out of the water, Fukusaki, Fukushima
Photo:A statue of a kappa emerging from the water, Fukusaki, Fukushima

In Fukusaki, Hyogo, the birthplace of the folklorist Kunio Yanagita, author of "Yokai Story" (妖怪談義), the town is being revitalized with the help of yokai.
When a statue of a kappa jumping out of a pond was installed, it attracted attention from all across Japan.

On the benches of the town, visitors will find fascinating yokai sculptures, including kappa, oni, and many others.
There are also some unusual and humorous yokai sculptures on display, such as a yokai relaxing on a convenience store bench, an oni taking a selfie with a smartphone, and a tengu working in a suit.
Since then, the town has held the "National Yokai Modeling Contest" and sold plastic models of kappa and other yokai, leading to an increase in the number of tourists.

The Many Yokai Towns of Japan

Fukusai is not the only town in Japan with yokai.
The town of Yamashiro in Tokushima Prefecture is known as Oboke Yokai Village, where yokai folklore is still passed down to this day.
In addition, yokai have appeared in various places such as Mizuki Shigeru Road in Sakaiminato, Yokai Street in Kyoto, and in Yokaichi , Shiga, yokai are being used to revitalize towns.

Amabie - A Yokai as a Symbol to Ward off Plagues

Image of an Amabie
Photo:An Amabie

Amabie, introduced from 2:30 in the video, are yokai that are said to have appeared in the sea in Higo Province, present-day Kumamoto Prefecture, during the Edo Period (1603-1868 AD) in Japan.
They are said to have predicted good harvests and warded off epidemics, saying, "If an epidemic should appear, show the people my image, that their plagues shall spread unto me," before disappearing into the sea.

Amidst the difficult situation caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus, information about Amabie began to spread.
The cute Amabie, a half-human, half-fish, but not in a ghost story kind of way, triggered the Amabie boom.
The boom, known as the "Amabie Festival," is just as Amabie once said it would be, and people have been posting pictures and illustrations of Amabie on social networking sites.
Using the hashtag "#アマビエチャレンジ" (#AmabieChallenge) it has become an internet phenomenon.

Many amabie goods have also appeared, including figurines, Japanese sweets, cafe items, origami, and even coloring books.
The mascot craze has become so popular that it has even made the news outside of Japan.

Summary of Japan's Yokai Culture

With the Amabie boom, shrines around Japan, including Gokoku Shrine in Himeji, began to hand out charms depicting Amabie to worshippers.
In addition to Amabie, there are also Amabiko and Arie, yokai that are very similar to Amabie.

In the past, when there was an epidemic of cholera in the late Edo Period, Amabie was also popular as a way to ward off cholera.
Japan's yokai culture has been around for hundreds of years.
From the distant past to the present, they continue to be a part of Japanese people's lives.

Written By
Last Updated : Mar. 28, 2023
鈴木 正孝(Masataka Suzuki)
A writer born and raised in Asakusa, Tokyo who loves traveling and novels
Japan's Ancient Yokai - Learn About the Ghosts and Other Monsters and Their Importance in Japanese Culture!
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