Toriyama Sekien’s Night Parade
‘Without knowledge of Far Eastern superstitions and folk-tales, no real understanding of Japanese fiction or drama or poetry will ever become possible.’
Lafcadio Hearn – Goblin Poetry 1905
Yokai: an overview
Japan is a land rich in folklore, and one of its most intriguing aspects is the presence of shape-shifting creatures known as yokai. These fantastic creatures take on various forms, ranging from demonic figures familiar to Western concepts, to humanoid, animal, or even plant-like entities. Some yokai are simply inexplicable phenomena, while others belong to a unique category known as tsukumo-gami. These are essentially haunted objects, such as tools, utensils, and even clothing, which develop their own consciousness. While tales of yokai have been passed down through the ages in oral tradition, it was Sekien who introduced the world to these creatures through the creation of his four books. These illustrated compendiums were not only groundbreaking in their time but have continued to inspire and captivate audiences for centuries.
In order to understand the significance of Sekien’s work, it is important to consider the religious and cultural context in which it emerged. Unlike the monotheistic religions predominant in the West, Japan’s indigenous faith, Shinto, and the later import of Buddhism celebrate a multitude of deities. Divine beings, called kami, can take countless forms and can inhabit anything, whether living or inanimate. From the natural elements like the sun and forests to abstract concepts like language itself, the presence of kami is believed to permeate every aspect of life.
While yokai are not part of the Shinto tradition and are not worshiped or venerated like kami, they exist as a distinct facet of Japan’s polytheistic worldview. Unlike the ethereal gods who reside in the heavenly plane, yokai dwell among humans and interact with them, often terrifying them in the process. Throughout history, these grotesque beings have been referred to by various names, including oni (ogre/demon), mononoke (strange things), bakemono (transformed things), and ayakashi (spooky things), among others. However, the term “yokai” has emerged as a more commonly used catch-all term to describe this diverse array of creatures.
Toriyama Sekien, an artist born in Japan in 1712, left a significant impact on the world of art and literature. Despite being trained in the traditional Kano style of painting, Sekien chose to explore his own artistic path. He introduced the innovative technique known as fuki-bokashi, which added color gradations to woodblock prints, revolutionizing the medium at that time. Moreover, Sekien generously shared his knowledge by mentoring apprentices, some of whom, such as Utagawa Toyoharu and Kitagawa Utamaro, achieved great renown and further expanded the artistic movement known as “Japonisme” in Europe. The wide reach of Sekien’s influence is truly remarkable.
Gazu Hyakki Yagyo (1776)
The Illustrated Demon Horde’s Night Parade
Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki (1779)
The Illustrated Demon Horde from Past and Present, Continued
Konjaku Hyakki Shui (1781)
More of the Demon Horde from Past and Present
Hyakki Tsuresure Bukuro (1784)
A Horde of Haunted Housewares
Sekien, in a pioneering endeavor, sought to systematically document and catalog yokai. Throughout his career, he authored four comprehensive encyclopedias exploring these fantastical beings. The first two books were released separately in 1776 and 1779, while the third and fourth books were published in 1781 and 1784, respectively. These books became popular and were reissued by a new publisher in 1805 and again later on.
Although Japan was in a self-imposed isolation period, restricting contact with the outside world to just a few designated ports, Edo itself was a bustling hub of activity. As the city and its residents flourished, the need for new sources of entertainment arose. Sekien’s books on yokai filled that void, appealing to the curious minds of the time and providing a fascinating glimpse into the realm of these extraordinary creatures.
Sekien’s legacy endures as a testament to Japan’s enduring fascination with yokai and its rich cultural heritage. These extraordinary creatures continue to captivate audiences, both in Japan and across the globe, serving as a bridge to the captivating world of Japanese folklore and as insight into Japanese culture.
(extract from Japandemonium Illustrated)
Ryujin Press is a newly born publishing house created by Leo Barada, argentinian tattoo artist. Interesting note: in Leo’s family tattooing runs in the blood. His brothers are also tattooers.
Focused on Japanese tattooing and imagery, this new company aims at offering quality visual reference from some of the most competent contemporary tattoo artists. Their last publication is a great compilation of dragons by Lukas Speich, recommended 👌
“The Buddhist concept of the Six Paths of Transmigration (J. rokudô) became popular at the end of the Heian period (794-1185) as the Heian court began to lose its power and social anxiety increased. The hells are one of the six realms to which a person is consigned after death as a result of his or her deeds during this life. The Hell Scroll (J. Jigoku zôshi) is an illustrated handscroll depicting the suffering of sinners who have fallen into this realm.
This scroll, which depicts four subsidiary hells within one of the Eight Greater Hells, was kept in the storehouse of Anjû-in Temple in Okayama Prefecture. It depicts murderers, thieves, adulterers, and so forth, who have fallen into the Hell of Cloud, Fire, and Mist. The naked men and women are in agony as they burn in an enormous fire. The writhing flames are vividly and effectively rendered with concise lines and black and vermilion tones. The painting probably caused its viewers to shudder with fear and foreboding, encouraging them to embrace the desire to be born into the Pure Land.
The text, a mixture of Chinese characters (J. kanji) and Japanese phonetic script (J. kana), is based on Chinese sutras written in Japanese style. It is thought that this scroll, together with the illustrated handscrolls of the Hungry Ghosts (J. Gaki zôshi) and the Extermination of Evil (J. Hekijae), is part of the Paintings of the Six Paths (J. Rokudôe) stored in the treasure house of Rengeô-in (commonly known as Sanjûsangendô) Temple, which was built by cloistered emperor Goshirakawa (1127-1192, r. 1155-1158).”