Monster of the Week: A short explanation

After a long break, Inari Press is back and we decided to start with something new. Starting today Inari Press will have a column called “Monster of the Week” where we will write an article about the vast variety of monsters that exist in the Japanese folklore or in modern media. These articles will tell you all there is to know about Kappa (河童) or will discuss the evolution of the role of Gojira (ゴジラ) or Godzilla. We will also of course still have other articles beside these “Monster of the Week” articles where we discuss other Japan-related stuff.

 

Bakemono Zukushi

A typical Japanese monster from Bakemono Zukushi

For the first article we wanted to tell you more about the various kinds of monsters that exist. Japanese monsters, or bakemono (化け物), exist in wide varieties and can mostly be divided into two different groups, the yōkai (妖怪) and the yūrei (幽霊). The first group, the yōkai, is the biggest group and can be described as all of the supernatural monsters that exist. One of the most famous yōkai is the kitsune (狐), a fox that possesses supernatural powers and can shapeshift into a woman.

 

A group of kitsune by Hiroshige

A group of kitsune by Hiroshige

The second group, the yūrei, are spirits or ghosts that didn’t go to the afterlife because something kept them here. One of the most famous yūrei would be the onryō (怨霊) or the avenging spirit.  Beside these two groups there are also other forms of monsters like the yōsei (妖精) which can be compared to the Western fairies.

 

Sadako from Ringu, a typical onryo

Sadako from Ringu, a typical onryo

In the modern media another big group of monsters exists, the kaiju (怪獣). This group of monsters is used in live-action films or television dramas and also has different subgroups. The most famous kind of kaiju is the daikaiju (大怪獣), these are giant monsters that often attack cities and fight other daikaiju. The most famous one is of course Gojira.

 

Gojira or Godzilla, the most famous kaiju

Gojira or Godzilla, the most famous kaiju

The group of yōkai is so big that it can be divided into even smaller groups. The names of these groups are obake (お化け), oni (鬼), tsukumogami (付喪神), tengu (天狗), human transformations and others that are very specific in their habits. Obake are monsters that have the ability to shapeshift and can be evil, good or neutral. Oni are demons and ogres that most of the time have red, blue, brown or black skin and two horns. They often carry big weapons and are depicted as evil. Tsukumogami are a totally different kind of yōkai , these yōkai are household items that have come alive after a 100 years. Tengu are a form of goblins that are known for their supernatural powers and skill in martial arts. The human transformations are yōkai that have a human form, but are still monsters due to their deformities or killing habits.

 

The Hanadaka Tengu

The Hanadaka Tengu

Finally the group of the yūrei is also divided into smaller groups by way of death. The most important of these groups are onryō (怨霊), ikiryō (生き霊), ubume (産女) and funayūrei (船幽霊). The first group are the avenging spirits that haunt people because they were wronged during their life. Ikiryō do the same things as the onryō but have one difference, the person is still alive and aches for revenge so bad that their spirit manifests in the real world to take revenge. The ubume are good spirits, they are the spirits of mothers that died during or after childbirth that remain here to take care of their children. The last kind of yūrei are the spirits of those that died on a boat and haunt the waters where they died.

 

The spirit of Okiku who was thrown in a well.

The spirit of Okiku who was thrown in a well.

 

Starting next week, we will look at all these different kinds of monsters one by one and tell you all about them.