Shigeru Mizuki and the World of Yōkai

Shigeru Mizuki, Japanese comics artist and historian, is probably one of the best-known manga authors. A lot of his stuff has been translated into English, so when I started my timid forays into manga, his name instantly popped up. Mizuki’s area of interest (and expertise) was the Yōkai, or Japanese monsters, ghouls, goblins and other assorted bogeymen – right up my street, I thought!

Despite my interest in Japanese monsters, the first Mizuki book I picked up, NonNonBa,  failed to capture my interest. Since then, I’ve tried looking through a few others I’d spot in bookstores… and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Mizuki is just not my thing, whatever other people may see in his work.

That being said, I still really enjoy some of his illustrations, especially if they’re in colour – and I love the way they give us a peek into the rich (and quite scary) world of Japanese folklore.

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Gods of Pestilence or cute pets? Your choice.
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Hiratsuka-juku is a post station in Tōkaidō. A famous painting by Andō Hiroshige depicts a part of the road that leads to it. Mizuki took the painting as a basis and added a « small » detail: a Gashadokuro, one of my favourite Yōkai (and man, there’s a lot of cool Japanese monsters to vie for that spot). The Gashadokuro, literally « starving skeleton », is a gigantic pile’o’bones held together by sheer malevolence, created from skeletons of people who died of starvation. It starts its rounds after midnight… and is invisible until it bites your head off. If you ever hear bells ringing in your ears, congratulations, you’ve about to be eaten by a Gashadokuro!
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« Umibozu », from Graphic World of Japanese Phantoms, 1985. These ‘sea monks’ seek to destroy ships and won’t rest until the crew is at the bottom of the ocean.
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Is this a Akaname, the filth licker? Readers versed in Yōkai, please let us know!

Futaba Kikaku Co.,Ltd.

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A Suiko, or ‘water tiger’, although this one looks more like a balding dinosaur.

In the 1960s, Shigeru Mizuki released Yōkai Daizukai, an anatomically-oriented guide to traditional monsters from Japanese folklore. I don’t think it’s ever been released in English, but a French version came out in 2018 (and I fully intend to purchase it when I come across it).

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A Kuro-Kamikiri, or hair cutter, which doesn’t sound so terrifying… unless you live in a society where long hair is a status symbol and loss of it means disgrace.
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A Fukuro-sage, a type of Tanuki (or
Japanese raccoon dog),  who has the ability to transform itself into a bottle of sake. «The Fukuro-sage usually wears a large potato leaf or fern leaf on its head and carries a bag made from human skin. The bag contains a bottle of poison sake. Anatomical features include a stomach that turns food into sake, a sac for storing poison that it mixes into drinks, and a pouch that holds sake lees. The Fukuro-sage’s urine has a powerful smell that can disorient humans and render insects and small animals unconscious.»
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The pillow-flipper or Makura-gaeshi move pillows about, occasionally suffocating people with them or even stealing their souls.

For a further assortment of monsters, click visit the Pink Tentacle blog.

And a final morsel – Craig Thompson‘s hommage to Shigeru Mizuki. The little boy depicted is from GeGeGe no Kitarō, Mizuki’s 1960’s series.

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~ ds