The Book of Yōkai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore
Michael Dylan Foster
University of California Press, 2015
That title is clickbait.
Actually though, Foster does talk about furniture and appliances that gain supernatural powers after a hundred years. These yōkai are called tsukumogami (付喪神). Foster doesn't just tackle attacking furniture, however. he Book of Yōkai analyzes the history, theory, and main players in yōkai studies, plus an illustrated bestiary.
Yōkai is a catch-all term for supernatural creatures. These could be mountain goblins, animals and household objects that have lived a hundred years and gained powers (or extra legs, or tails), shapeshifting fox demons, ghosts, witches... Yōkai are the things that go bump in the night. But there are many different bumps in the nighttime. Are you hearing tapping on your walls? Are you hearing sawing in the distant woods?
There's a yōkai for that.
Michael Dylan Foster is a professor of folklore at the Indiana University. He studies the supernatural, yōkai, tourism, and folklore in Japan. This is his most recent publication, reflecting the freshest supernatural-related research in English.
Foster breaks The Book of Yōkai into three parts. First, he introduces the concept of yōkai and their appearances in historical scrolls, and books. He also touches upon the men who dealt with the supernatural, like the wizard Abe no Seimei who wielded invisible familiars, and the legendary Susanoō, who got a monster serpent drunk before chopping off its head.
At a breakneck pace, Foster summarizes the development of folklore yōkai-ology in Japan. (There is such a thing!!) Starting point: when Japan began to modernize, some found yōkai something to be rationalized away. Others sought to learn more about them. This has continued to develop to the present day.
In his second section, he addresses the theory concerning yōkai. One important and interesting element of the book is Foster's studies of modern yōkai, such as a woman who appears in a city wearing a surgical mask (commonly done in Japan when one is sick), but beneath the mask is a slit mouth. In the U.S., we would consider such stories urban legends. Foster points out how such urban legends a continuation of a long yōkai tradition.
The last section of the book is a "codex" or sort of yōkai bestiary with entries on all sorts of yōkai. The smooth and entertaining writing is complemented nicely with original drawings by Japanese artist Shinonome Kijin. This lends the book a fun, casual feel. But the research and information is substantial. I enjoyed reading the codex in bites, or flipping through and reading an entry that caught my eye...
Seriously though, fun book.
Question: which of your household appliances would you fear most if it became possessed?