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Weird monsters of Japanese folklore

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Ubagabi—the ghost of an old woman that appears as fireball.
 
There’s an ancient Japanese legend of the one hundred yōkai—monsters, ghosts, apparitions and demons—who parade through the streets on hot summer nights. If anyone is unfortunate to see these creatures—or to be caught up in it—then they will perish away or worse be taken captive for the twisted pleasure.

If you’ve ever watched the enjoyable trilogy of movies Yokai MonstersOne Hundred Monsters (1968), Spook Warfare (1968), and Along With Ghosts (1969)—then you’ll have a good idea what these demons look like—ogres, goblins, ghosts, sprites, spooky umbrellas and dangerous women with ever-extending serpentine necks.

All of these incredible monsters have long been a part of Japanese folklore. They were first codified in the supernatural bestiary—Gazu Hyakki Yagyō (The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons) by artist and scholar Toriyama Sekien in 1776. It’s a kind of fabulously illustrated Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them but far, far more beautiful and eerie.

In 1881, artist Nabeta Gyokuei updated this incredible volume when he produced a picture book or e-hon of Sekien’s 100 demons. The Kaibutsu Ehon or Illustrated Book of Monsters features beautiful woodblock prints of each of the yōkai and its special powers.

The whole book can be viewed here.
 
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Kasha—a fiery yōkai—or phantom-in this case a cat that steals or devours corpses.
 
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Aoi no Ue—fictional female character from ‘The Tale of Genji’ who is possessed by demons.
 
More fabulous monsters, demons and ghosts, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Bizarre and beautiful Japanese prints depicting the giant catfish who causes earthquakes

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While most catfish are harmless—well, apart from the ones that sting—in Japanese mythology giant catfish were believed to be the cause of earthquakes. These giant Namazu (鯰) lived in the mud under Japan. They were guarded by the god of thunder Kashima who kept them in check with a large stone. Of course, it didn’t always work. And when the catfish escaped, it thrashed freely in the waters causing the most terrible earthquakes.

This belief became very popular after the Great Ansei earthquake on November 11th, 1855. The earthquake struck near Edo (Tokyo) with a magnitude of 7.0. The quake caused a tsunami. Seven thousand people were killed.

In the aftermath, the catfish or namazu was feared and worshipped. Prints of this giant beast—called namazu-e—became very popular with residents of the city. It was claimed some of these pictures would give the owner protection from earthquakes. Others depicted the battles between Kashima and Namazu. And there were even satirical prints depicting the builders, roofers, plasterers and carpenters who prospered from others’ misery. These colorful woodblock prints are incredibly beautiful and very surreal.
 
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Victims of the earthquake attack the giant catfish Namazu.
 
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A mob takes revenge on Namazu.
 
More beautiful prints of Namazu, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment