The Seventh Day of Kitsune – Where Are They Now? Part 1

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Twelve Days of Kitsune

So for thousands of years, creatures of folklore and mythology have stalked the Japanese countryside, keeping wayward children in at night. But what about in the era of electric lights and digital cameras? What happened to the youkai, the bakemono, the monomo and ayakeshi — where are they now?

They’re glad you asked.

Pokemon cards
Pokemon cards (Photo credit: .michael.newman.)

Like the denizens of Western folklore — elves have morphed from terrifying baby-snatchers to Santa’s helpers, and vampires have left off mist-walking and hypnosis to star in paranormal romances — the youkai have found new roles and new appearances, and they are often not even recognized for what they are.

This obake karuta (monster card) from the earl...
This obake karuta (monster card) from the early 19th century depicts a kitsune. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When prints were become popular in Edo Japan, collections of youkai cards were produced in various card games called obake karuta. These games were popular until the early twentieth century.

The late twentieth century brought a new form of Japanese card game — the immensely popular Pokémon franchise, in which cards featuring various monsters (many based on traditional youkai) are traded and collected. Pokémon (from “pocket monsters”)  can be found in anime and video games and films, spreading the creatures’ reach considerably!

But youkai and popular art are still working together. Ukiyo-e and nishiki-e woodblock prints, popular for centuries, provided the aesthetic basis and sequential imagery for developing modern manga, or Japanese graphic novels.

Kusunoki Masatsura fights youkai
The young Kusunoki Masatsura fights youkai. It is not difficult to see the aesthetic relation between this 1886 woodblock print and modern manga or graphic novels.

Unlike comic books or graphic novels in America, which finds most of its audience within a particular subculture, manga is much more widely read in Japan, with options in all conceivable genres which combine to form a market worth nearly 6 billion dollars.

(In contrast, the best US figures I can find for graphic novels is roughly 35 million dollars, and our entire book industry is about 27 billion dollars.)

And that massive market includes a lot of mythological references, from Bakemonogatari (a pun on bakemono, a type of monster, and monogatari, a story) to Natsume Yuujinchou, about a boy who inherits name-bonds to a wide variety of creatures. And there are many, many anime based on those manga series or other original stories. (I do recommend Natsume Yuujinchou if you want a quick anime primer on youkai!)

Series Navigation<< The Sixth Day of Kitsune — On Kimono & Japanese ClothingThe Eighth Day of Kitsune – Where Are They Now? Part 2 >>
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