The First Museum Dedicated to Japanese Folklore Monsters Is Now Open

As any enthu­si­ast of Godzil­la movies knows, nobody does mon­sters quite like the Japan­ese. The cul­tur­al tra­di­tion of giant crea­tures lay­ing waste to cities is known as kai­jūa com­bi­na­tion of kai (怪), “strange,” and  (獣), “beast.” The well of kai­jū goes deep, but the well of Japan­ese mon­ster­hood itself goes much deep­er. Take yōkai, the cat­e­go­ry of mon­sters, spir­its, and demons whose his­to­ry goes all the way back to the first cen­tu­ry. But it was­n’t until the medieval era that depic­tions of yōkai —whose name com­bines the char­ac­ters  (妖), with its con­no­ta­tions of attrac­tion, bewitch­ment, and calami­ty, and kai (怪), which can indi­cate some­thing sus­pi­cious, a mys­tery, or an appari­tion — turned into pop­u­lar enter­tain­ment.

Most yōkai pos­sess super­nat­ur­al pow­ers, some­times used for good but often not so much. Some look human, while oth­ers, such as the tur­tle-like kap­pa and the intel­li­gent if dis­solute rac­coons called tanu­ki (stars of Stu­dio Ghi­b­li ani­ma­tor Isao Taka­ha­ta’s Pom Poko), resem­ble ani­mals. But the wide world of yōkai also includes shapeshifters as well as only seem­ing­ly inan­i­mate objects. You can famil­iar­ize your­self with all of them — from the gong-bang­ing bake ichō no sei who hang around under gingko trees to the cloth drag­on shi­ro uneri born of a dishrag to the “tem­ple-peck­er” ter­at­sut­su­ki who lives among Bud­dhist priests and on a diet of rage — at the Eng­lish-lan­guage data­base Yokai.com.

Demand for yōkai sto­ries increased dur­ing the ear­ly 17th to the mid-18th cen­tu­ry Edo peri­od, which saw the intro­duc­tion of the print­ing press to Japan. One pop­u­lar tale of that era, Ino Mononoke Roku, tells of a young boy who must under­go 30 days of con­fronta­tions with var­i­ous yōkai in the city of Miyoshi. It’s no coin­ci­dence that the very first muse­um ded­i­cat­ed to yōkai has just opened in that same place. “The Miyoshi Mononoke Muse­um, or for­mal­ly the Yumo­to Koichi Memo­r­i­al Japan Yokai Muse­um, opened in the city of Miyoshi after Koichi Yumo­to, a 68-year-old eth­nol­o­gist and yokai researcher in Tokyo, donat­ed some 5,000 items from his col­lec­tion in 2016,” says the Japan Times. “The muse­um dis­plays about 160 items from Yumoto’s col­lec­tion, which includes a scroll paint­ing of the famous folk­tale and crafts.”

Locat­ed in Hiroshi­ma Pre­fec­ture (also home to the Onomichi Muse­um of Art and its famous cats Ken-chan and Go-chan), the Miyoshi Mononoke Muse­um fea­tures “about 160 items from Yumoto’s col­lec­tion, which includes a scroll paint­ing of the famous folk­tale and crafts,” an “inter­ac­tive dig­i­tal pic­ture book of yōkai” as well as oppor­tu­ni­ties to “take pho­tos with the mon­sters using a spe­cial cam­era set up at the site.” You’ll find a suit­ably odd ani­mat­ed pro­mo­tion­al video for the muse­um, which turns into a yōkai dance par­ty, at the top of the post. Whether or not you believe that these attrac­tive, bewitch­ing, calami­tous, sus­pi­cious, mys­te­ri­ous appari­tions real­ly inhab­it the world today, you have to acknowl­edge their knack for inhab­it­ing every form of media that has arisen over the cen­turies.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bam­bi Meets Godzil­la: #38 on the List of The 50 Great­est Car­toons of All Time

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe & Elvis Pres­ley Star in an Action-Packed Pop Art Japan­ese Mon­ster Movie

Dis­cov­er the Japan­ese Muse­um Ded­i­cat­ed to Col­lect­ing Rocks That Look Like Human Faces

Two Cats Keep Try­ing to Get Into a Japan­ese Art Muse­um … and Keep Get­ting Turned Away: Meet the Thwart­ed Felines, Ken-chan and Go-chan

Watch “The Mid­night Par­a­sites,” a Sur­re­al Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion Set in the World of Hierony­mus Bosch’s The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights (1972)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.


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