What Are Yokai?

Yokai (妖怪) are, simply put, supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore. 

They come in all shapes and sizes from villages, mountains, and forests all across Japan, encircled by rich spiritual traditions, legends, and myths. Like the mythical and folkloric creatures of other cultures, there are ‘good’ yokai, ‘evil’ yokai, mysterious yokai, you name it.

Chances are, if you’ve ever been exposed to Japanese culture, literature, or popular media such as anime or manga, you’ve likely seen some variation of yokai. There are countless examples of yokai throughout modern Japan, and there is a long history behind the origin of yokai and their status in Japanese culture.

One of my favourites are the kodama (木霊; forest guardians/spirits) from Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, but the most well-known yokai are probably kappa (河童; mischievous turtle creatures), tengu (天狗; bird-like demons), and oni (鬼; hulking ogres or trolls).

“Kodama” – Image from Studio Ghibli’s film, “Princess Mononoke.”

The first record of “yokai” in Japanese literature appeared during the 8th century, although the term was not particularly popular until the mid-Edo period (so around the 17th century) and did not become the standard for ‘strange, supernatural creatures and occurrences’ until the 19th century (the Meiji period).

Before “yokai” was popularized, such creatures were often referred to mononoke (物の怪; something spooky or unexplainable), oni (鬼; demon; although in this sense more generally vicious creatures, not just ogres and trolls), bakemono (化け物; goblin, ghost, phantom, monster), or obake (お化け; very similar to bakemono).

Yokai are also connected to kami (gods) and Japanese folk religions predating Shintoism and Buddhism. But if I’m being completely honest, that’s about the extent of my knowledge regarding the origin of yokai.

My personal belief (and my favourite of all the yokai “theories” I have read) is that yokai exist as the embodiment of human struggles and emotions.

What better way to keep children from wandering alone in the woods than to say demon-birds will fly down from the trees and kidnap them? Although not quite the same, we see similar storytelling in perhaps more familiar fairy tales such as Red Riding Hood.

It is this theory that makes yokai so interesting to me, and why I’ve sought to incorporate them into the Japanese-inspired world of Wyvern Wars.

Yokai in the Wyvern Wars Universe

“Wyvern Wars” is the name of the novel series I’m working on, which is prefaced by my novella series “Yokai Calling.” More broadly, I refer to the world where these series take place as the “Wyvern Wars Universe,” as it will be the home of many other novels with the same (and later, different!) characters and stories.

Within this world, however, yokai are no longer creatures of folklore and myth. They are “as common as fish or birds,” as Hidekazu would say; people live alongside them, fight them, and in some cases, worship them as children of the Dragon Goddess.

Shirashi, the Dragon Goddess, created yokai thousands of years before present-day. Although I say “created,” only the kodama, tengu, oni, kappa, and ryuu (dragons) were her true creations, alongside humans. And indirectly, the Goddess gave some humans the power to create more yokai from their dreams, nightmares, life issues, etc., eventually allowing hundreds of other kinds of yokai to appear and roam around the world.

This really builds off my love of that theory I mentioned–and the Goddess’ initial yokai further play into this by representing different desires or personality traits of the Goddess herself!

Now, I could go into a lot more detail about the Goddess, her initial yokai, yokai created by humans, and more, but that would go too deeply into the Wyvern War’s lore, and I’d like to avoid that. There’ll be a time and place for my world’s lore, but not today!

For now, I hope you enjoyed this post on yokai. Up next I’ve got a post on dragons, so stay tuned!

 Erynn

 

Dragons in Mythology Part One

People all over the world have always been fascinated by dragons. They appear within the mythologies of over two dozen cultures and even today are a common within popular literature, television, and more.

Yes, yes, yes, to some degree, the popularity of dragons has led to an overabundance of them within the fantasy genre.

Dragons in Mythology Part Two

I find the dragons of the East fascinating, but my favourites are of course Japanese dragons. They are beautiful, elegant creatures with the power of storms and rain behind them, but their nature is not purely benevolent or malevolent like Chinese or Western dragons, respectively.

What Are Yokai?

Yokai (妖怪) are, simply put, supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore.

They come in all shapes and sizes from villages, mountains, and forests all across Japan, encircled by rich spiritual traditions, legends, and myths. Like the mythical and folkloric creatures of other cultures, there are ‘good’ yokai, ‘evil’ yokai, mysterious yokai, you name it.

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