Japanese Gallery (Honkan) Room T2
July 20, 2011 (Wed) - August 28, 2011 (Sun)
Japanese have been fond of yokai (supernatural beings) since olden times, with ghosts and demons often appearing in Japanese art and historical materials. For example, the “Kojiki” (Record of Ancient Matters), written at the beginning of the 8th century, refers to the “Yamata no Orochi,” a great snake with eight heads and eight tails. Also, picture scrolls from the Muromachi period depict everyday household objects transforming into yokai, who roam around the town late at night with staring eyes and little hands and feet. In the Edo period, the standard images of yokai were set down by Toriyama Sekien, a painter of all things ghostly and ghoulish. However, there has yet to be any actual yokai sightings.
So what kind of creatures are yokai? There is a long history of research into these supernatural beings. Kunio Yanagita, known as the father of Japanese folklore studies, defined yokai as the shape taken by fallen gods. The folklorist Kazuhiko Komatsu described yokai as creatures dreamed up by humans, who reside on the border between “this world” and “the other world”, between the known and the unknown.
But why is it, even in this modern age of scientific advances, that yokai still capture our imagination and refuse to let go? The reason is that we love mysterious things that defy our common sense, as well as unexpected, creepy things. Fascinated by these unsettling things, a small part of us is always hoping to encounter yokai.