My 2.5-year-old daughter first introduced me to Yokai – mythical creatures in Japanese folklore. Some are mischievous while others are known to bring good fortune. There are many different kinds of Yokai and although I hadn’t been familiar with the word itself, I was actually more acquainted with Yokai than I realised.
For example, having grown up in the 80’s in Australia, I spent many TV hours following the journey of a certain magical monkey and his 3 companions (well 4 if you really want to count the horse, but he never made that much of an impression on me). You see, in Monkey, the Japanese TV series to which I refer, Sandy the river monster was in fact based on the mythical Yokai called Kappa. If your memory is failing you at this point, he was the green bald guy with a plate on his head.
More recently while living in Japan, I had unknowingly been sharing my kitchen with a Yokai! Actually it was just a picture of the Yokai known as Tengu on my okonomiyaki sauce bottle, but Yokai none the less.
Now my daughter in her exploring ways, had found an old, tattered tourist brochure at her Grandmother’s house, complete with pictures of Yokai statues. The amusing looking statues immediately captured her attention and the brochure became a welcomed tool in our arsenal of distractions.
She took a liking towards Betobeto-san – a body less Yokai with a tremendous smile in a head barely supported by its skinny legs.
Looking at this brochure nearly every day, I learned that it had originated from a small town called Sakaiminoto in Tottori prefecture.
A town that is the birthplace of Mr Shigeru Mizuki, the creator of a 60’s cult manga called GeGeGe no Kitaro. It was a series that really popularised Yokai and reintroduced them into the modern Japanese culture.
His works have won multiple awards and a stretch of road in his hometown bears his name as recognition for his achievements. And lining this street are no less than a hundred bronze Yokai statues – the very ones which graced the brochure that eventually led me to visiting them.
The reactions from my daughter when meeting every Yokai (and I do mean everyone) was priceless. And it’s not just statues, but the whole town is under a spell with shops and even the local buses emblazoned with Yokai. So if you’ve ever wondered what a town of monsters looks like, this is the place to go. Kids will love it – even the big ones.