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Youkai Country: Japan's Top Five Mythical Beasts

If you're an anime fan, or at least have watched one of the most popular Japanese anime films Spirited Away, you would know that Japan has some weird skeletons lurking in their mythical closets.

Monsters are a popular subject in many Japanese folktales. Beings with not just supernatural powers, but also terrifying appearances to boot. It must be an artistic decision to depict these monsters as hideously as possible to make people feel terrified. They seem to be the embodiment of fear itself.

By official count Japan is haunted by eight million gods and monsters, although in Japanese “eight million” is a euphemism for “waaay too many to count.” Monsters are the deep magic of Japan; part of the creation myth, legends tell of the god Izanagi-no-Okami emerging from a sojourn to Hell and bathing in a sacred spring.
As water fell from his body it soaked into the earth, infusing the soil of Japan with latent supernatural energy. This energy manifested as beings, forming kami (gods) if worshiped, and yokai (monsters) if left wild and untamed.

In other cultures, when tales of monsters are told, they usually have the intention of teaching children a lesson, something to remember or abide by but it seems that the monsters of Japan does not teach morals. They are simply there to give you the creeps.

Japan’s yokai rarely tell a moral story. They rarely explain natural phenomena or serve any didactic purpose. They are often spooky. Sometimes funny. If there is one lesson yokai teach, it is that the world doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes things are mysterious, and you can’t understand them. You just accept them. You allow yourself to be amazed, and maybe a little scared, but you don’t try to look for answers.

After probably sifting through millions of tales, Folklore Thursday gives us a list of the spookiest and weirdest of Japan's moster tales. Number one would definitely make me curious, disgusted, and anxious all at once.

(Image credit: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, The Heavy Basket, 1892. From the Thirty-six Ghosts series. Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain)


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