If you’re a fan of spooky Japanese mythology and folk tales (kaidan), then you probably know a few Japanese ghost stories and yokai (an umbrella term for Japanese monsters, demons, and supernatural creatures of every weird and wonderful kind). I adore yokai and the folklore that accompanies them, hence their appearance in my books.
If you’re new to the genre, there’s a few tried-and-true resources I totally recommend for getting started.
In no particular, I list below five places to go in your search for ghostly Japanese tales:
What a fab idea this project is. From here you can download free e-books that are out of copyright, including:
- Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, by Lafcadio Hearn
Hearn’s awesome 1904 translation of early Japanese folklore. The full text is available free from Project Gutenburg, or you can check out a couple of the scary stories on my blog (Of a Mirror and a Bell (about the power of possessions and a curse) and Mujina (about a yokai without a face). (If you’re a teacher looking for a creative writing activity involving Kwaidan, try this.)
- Japanese Fairy Tales, by Yei Theodora Ozaki
Also available free at Project Gutenberg, this 1908 book includes some classics, like the Tongue-Cut Sparrow, Momotaro, and my favourite, How An Old Man Lost His Wen.
2) THE BLOGOSPHERE
There are a great many talented people out there, all translating a lot of cool stuff about Japanese folklore and tales. I like:
My yokai monogatari
A year in the life of a JET in Ishigawa as he experiences Japan and learns about yokai. A nice introduction to some famous yokai, with the added bonus of being a bit of a journey across 12 months.
Hyaku monogatari Kaidankai
Another JET, translator and scholar of Japanese folklore (specialising in yuurei or ghosts) is Zack Davisson, who runs this neat blog featuring translations of strange and spooky kaidan tales.
If you’re interested in unusual snippets of art, culture and science about Japan, check out Pink Tentacle; it often includes choice info and awesome artwork feature yokai monsters. My favorites? Fake Japanese mermaids. Totally gross and completely inspiring.
Education in Japan Community Blog
Hasn’t been updated in a good while, but still full of great links to spooky stuff.
3) ART AND IMAGERY
The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: a Field Guide to Japanese Yokai, by Matthew Meyer
If you don’t have a copy of the book, you can follow its creation on Matthew’s blog, and check out some of his yokai artwork. It’s awesome!
I’m totally new to pinterest, but if you want any scary inspiration, check out this collection of modern yokai art.
There are a couple of super databases for those who can read Japanese, or those (like me) who can read *some* Japanese and are incredibly patient with a kanji dictionary ;-) Check here if you’re chasing mostly text and here if you’re searching for a wealth of yokai images.
The Obakemono Project: A gaijin’s guide to the fantastic folk monsters of Japan
A purple-flavoured monster wiki, the Obakemono Project has choice info on nearly 100 yokai, each with its own original purple-flavoured illustration. There’s also a forum for chatting with other obakemono fans. (This site was one of the early inspirations for Takeshita Demons: The Filth Licker, thanks to its gross but tantalising entry on akaname.)
Yokai Attack, by Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda
A fun ‘Japanese Monster survival guide’ with historical information and new illustrations by Tatsuya Morino (taught by Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro creator Mizuki Shigeru). Matt and Hiroko’s other books and blog are also worth a look: there’s a book dedicated to ninja and another specifically for ghosts. Too sweet!
5) GOOD OLD-FASHIONED BOOKS
I love these books for the depth they add to the ghostly tales I already know. There’s a lot of cultural depth and quirks of history and legend. Many tidbits made their way into books 3 and 4.
- Tales of Old Japan, A.B. Mitford (first published 1871 but republished by the Folklore Society in 2000)
- Pandemonium and Parade, Michael Dylan Foster (2009; the result of university research and a fascinating look at how yokai tales have influenced Japanese culture)
- Japanese Mythology, Juliet Piggot (1969; some incredible photos and art combined with Japanese myths and legends I had never heard of)
- Myths and Legends of China and Japan, Donald A. Mackenzie (1986; harder to plough through, but some really useful and in-depth chapters on things like dragons and stone-lore)
- Japanese Proverbs and Sayings, Daniel Crump Buchanan (1965; WOW! Pages and pages of Japanese proverbs, along with their cultural significance. This is gold!)(I’ve blogged about some of my favourite Japanese sayings here.)
This is really only the tip of the iceberg…I’d love to hear about other places to find myths and legends of Japan or other people interested in yokai. Please introduce yourself in the comments and point me in the right direction. THANKS!