Adventures : Japan Tales (18)

The Stuff of Monsters

I must admit I’m pretty fascinated by monster lore – not so much because the creatures are fantastical… but more because I find it fantastical how these monsters became to be taken seriously in the first place. If they are not real in some way, what perpetuated their persistence across the generations as urban (and rural) legends? Often, behind the history of each monster is a tragic story based on a semi-mythical incident, which serves up certain morals. It’s a pity many of these lessons were lost in the ravages of time.

When you visit Japan, you will see many seemingly cartoonish mascots in its culture. Some are actually modelled after ‘yokais’ (Japanese term for ‘yao4 guai4’ in Chinese; ‘monsters’). Some monsters are not grossly ‘monstrous’ in the sense of the word; just rebellious or playful, while some are really malevolent. There are so many intriguing monsters in Japanese folklore that I’m having a hard time trying to pick one to comment upon. As such, I won’t! (For those interested in yokais, I recommend the book ‘Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide’ by Hiroko Yoda, Matt Alt and Tatsuya Morino.)

Here’s more solid food for thought. Many of the yokais were once humans, who gave in to their overwhelming defilements, and became the physical manifestations of them. To this extent, the real yokais spring from deeply flawed human nature. I was wondering… if the yokais of old were real and struck genuine terror into the hearts of the people, where did all the hoohaa disappear to? I think they didn’t really vanish into thin air. Human defilements simply express in more devious ways, minus the physical monstrousity. More terrifying than an obvious monster is one that looks thoroughly human. Just think of how normal most serial-killers look. The essential yokais are our inner Maras, the masters of disguise.

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