A Brief Comment on “Youkai” with Shinto


What is YOUKAI (妖怪)?

Yokai is an extraordinary and unscientific existence that has a mysterious power to cause strange and abnormal phenomena that exceed human understanding in the folk beliefs handed down in Japan. Also known as a youkai, a mononoke, or a demon.

妖怪 - Wikipedia

Eight Million Gods and Yokai

Youkai are deeply rooted in ancient Japanese animism, the thoughts of eight million gods, human daily life, and providence in the natural world. While that idea finds the existence of God in the universe, there has been a two-sided relationship that negatively grasped existences and phenomena can become youkai.

妖怪 - Wikipedia
Eight million gods could exist where there was a widh or fear of man. Even if it is not a “god”, if an existence or phenomenon that people feel strange occurs and is shared, it becomes a “youkai”. The boundary between gods and youkai is actually ambiguous, and youkai are often enshrined in shrines.

Youkai, this and that

A youkai that was only shown in books in ancient Japan. In the Middle Ages, concrete images came to be shown in picture scrolls and picture stories such as Otogi-zoshi. Furthermore, in the Edo period, it became the subject of ukiyo-e, and was actively used as the subject of original works such as “Kusazoshi” and “Yomihon”.

『画図百鬼夜行 Gazu Hyakki Yakou』

A collection of Toriyama Sekien’s youkai paintings published in 1776. An art book like a “Yokai Encyclopedia” that depicts youkai one by one with scenes. It still affects the present.

Youkai still living

Youkai in folklore

Kunio Yanagita’s “Yokai Dangi” is positioned as the starting point for youkai research in Japanese folklore.

What was our most primitive form of awe? What and by what route did it combine with complex human error and play? I don’t think we can explain the essence of Japanese tengu, kappa, or ghosts (only with the various cultures borrowed from the neighboring great powers for a long time). (Kunio Yanagita “New Revised Youkai Dangi” (Kazuhiko Komatsu ₌ Collection&Editing) Kadokawa Bunko. Page 12)

Yanagita visits the most primitive forms of awe while youkai research. In other words, it also visits the roots of the Japanese faith under the consciousness of the people. He says he has to wait patiently for “the day when the country has the ability to know itself.” It’s better to say “each Japanese” rather than “country”.

Original youkai

A original youkai that follows the flow from the Edo period.

「ゲゲゲの鬼太郎”GeGeGe no Kitaro”」

Shigeru Mizuki draws humans and society from the perspective of youkai by superimposing his own experience in the battlefield and indigenous youkai. A group of works based on the original manga. Youkai Shrine and a museum are also built in Sakaiminato City, Tottori Prefecture, the hometown of Mizuki, and many people visit it as a tourist spot.

Youkai in entertainment works

「もののけ姫”Princess Mononoke”」「千と千尋の神隠し”Spirited Away”」

Many youkai also appear in Ghibli works. The various characters that appear there, including those other than youkai, and their relationships show one way of Japanese folk beliefs.

New development of Shinto

Let’s consider Shinto as a teaching of gradation. In other words, people’s fears and wishes are all wrapped in a gradation to soothe people’s feelings. If it is Shinto, then original youkai as entertainment can also be the target. If so, it can be said that youkai still play a role in the development of Shinto with the eight million gods that are infinitely widespread.