Saturday 26 March 2022

Book Review: The Book of Yokai by Michael Dylan Foster (Folklore & Myth)

Title: The Book of Yokai
Author: Michael Dylan Foster
Publisher: Uni of California Press
Publication Date: 2015
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Genre: Folklore & Myth
Source: Bought Copy

Monsters, ghosts, fantastic beings, and supernatural phenomena of all sorts haunt the folklore and popular culture of Japan. Broadly labeled yokai, these creatures come in infinite shapes and sizes, from tengu mountain goblins and kappa water spirits to shape-shifting foxes and long-tongued ceiling-lickers. Currently popular in anime, manga, film, and computer games, many yokai originated in local legends, folktales, and regional ghost stories.

Drawing on years of research in Japan, Michael Dylan Foster unpacks the history and cultural context of yokai, tracing their roots, interpreting their meanings, and introducing people who have hunted them through the ages. In this delightful and accessible narrative, readers will explore the roles played by these mysterious beings within Japanese culture and will also learn of their abundance and variety through detailed entries, some with original illustrations, on more than fifty individual creatures.
The Book of Yokai provides a lively excursion into Japanese folklore and its ever-expanding influence on global popular culture. It also invites readers to examine how people create, transmit, and collect folklore, and how they make sense of the mysteries in the world around them. By exploring yokai as a concept, we can better understand broader processes of tradition, innovation, storytelling, and individual and communal creativity.


The author describes The Book of Yokai as a blend of scholarly research and monster encyclopedia, and I would say that is accurate, though the leaning is more towards the scholarly side of things. It was interesting to hear about the history of the depiction of yokai in text and image. Meanwhile, the second half of the book offered information on a few of these creatures, in some instances just a brief paragraph, in others several pages including key tales in which they feature. The accompanying illustrations by Kijin Shinonome were a nice addition and helped give a sense of how the creatures are thought to look. Anyone interested in Japanese folklore and myth should find this book of interest. It gets 4 stars from me.

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