Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Book Review: The Book of Yokai
Author: Michael Dylan Foster
Illustrations by: Shinonome Kijin
Published: 2015 by University of California Press
Amazon Purchase Information
Last month I finished up what I am calling my favorite book of 2017...and possibly my favorite 'paranormal' nonfiction book in a long, long time. But before I get into the book itself, a little history on why I even chose this title...
For the past couple of years, my son has really enjoyed the show, Yokai Watch. He has binge-watched all the episodes offered by Netflix SEVERAL times now, plays several video games featuring Yokai, and has read several of the easy readers devoted to the series. I started watching the show with him and found it absolutely delightful! It's cute, its funny, it has some humor that adults can appreciate without being crass, AND its about a subject that is near and dear to my heart. As you know, I absolutely LOVE anything considered strange and unusual within the paranormal realm.
Each summer, I have Luke pick a topic that he's interested in. As part of summer 'Mom School,' we take a really in-depth look at the subject and do all sorts of fun activities associated with it. It's a way to keep him learning all summer long without making it feel like he's actually learning anything. This summer he chose real-life yokai as his topic, and of course, I was thrilled. To help prepare for our studies, I added The Book of Yokai to my Amazon cart.
While we did use the Yokai Codex to look up particular yokai, but life got in the way, and I never got around to reading and utilizing the other half of the book. That is, until early December!
If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, "yokai" is a pretty broad term used in Japan to denote a wide variety of paranormal entities. Ghosts, monsters, spirits...these things are all considered yokai. And if you ever wanted to know ANYTHING about yokai, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of this book!
The Book of Yokai is divided into two sections. The first part of the book is a scholarly and pretty thorough exploration of the yokai culture. While these beings are considered supernatural, they actually hold an extremely prominent place in Japanese history. Their stories have been passed down from generation to generation, changing with the changing times. Some yokai are known throughout the country, while others are not known outside their small villages. Yokai star in movies, manga, television shows and video games. They even promote tourism and act as mascots for product brands. Yokai truly are ingrained into the Japanese culture and there have been many prominent academics and folklorists who have dedicated their lives to their study.
The second section of the book is the Yokai Codex---a sampling of different yokai one may encounter. Enhanced by both historical artwork and original drawings by Shinonome Kijin, each entry gives as much as history and as clear as a description as possible. You'll learn about the Kappa, a water yokai who loves cucumbers, Kasa-Bake, who is an umbrella monster, and the popular Slit-Mouthed Woman who terrorizes children walking home from school...just to name a few.
Obviously, this is a topic that can never be fully exhausted in just one book or one list, but Foster does an excellent job in choosing some iconic and well as some obscure yokai to discuss. He also does a fantastic job in explaining the topic of yokai to a western audience. Again, this isn't something easily done, nor possible to exhaust in one book, but The Book of Yokai is a great introduction as well as a useful resource for the more knowledgeable researcher. There are times where it gets a little repetitive, but overall, its well-written, entertaining, and full of wonderful information about a fascinating topic.