From Eery to Endearing: Yōkai in the Arts of Japan
5 July – 28 August 2016
Since ancient times, “yōkai” has inhabited the world of Japanese folklore. The word covers a large spectrum of mysterious, spooky, otherworldly beings, from vague existences to anthropomorphic figures. Today, the darkness, which once nurtured those strange beings, yielded to light with electrification. Yet the supernatural creatures continue to live in our everyday life, perhaps not so much as haunting, but as more domesticated types – incarnated as characters of manga, for instance.
The present exhibition explores the world of Japanese yōkai, as represented in art works and figures, covering 4000 years of history. One can trace how their appearance and characters changed according to the need of the times:
In prehistoric Japan, during the Jomon period, the distinctive clay figurines called “dogu” were created, out of fear and awe of nature (the exhibits are from 2000 B.C.).
Coming into historical times, people felt the presence of intangible things and spirits (called “mononoke”) and believed in demons and ogres (“oni”). When Buddhism arrived in the 6th century and the Pure Land philosophy spread from the 7th century onward, they came to be personified as creatures of the hell (as portrayed in picture scrolls depicting hell, as well as “Rikudo” or Six Realms of Incarnation).
In the medieval age, these dreadful, horrific beings multiplied, taking a rich variety of forms. See some examples in masterpieces such as the picture scroll depicting the “Night Parade of a Hundred Demons” (the Muromachi period, 16th century, Important Cultural Property).
In premodern Japan, during the Edo period (17th – 19th century), the number of these beings skyrocketed. They are illustrated in picture books, counted in encyclopedia, adapted in folktales and novels, and elevated to art such as ukiyo-e paintings and kabuki theatrical dramas. These characters are not only creepy, but also pitiful, sad, comical and even adorable. Through yokai portrayals created by such masters as Hokusai and Kuniyoshi, you may be surprised to find a striking continuity from ukiyo-e to manga.
Finally, “Yokai Watch”, representing modern Japan, completes your “must” yokai experience.
page 1 “About” / page 2 “Info”