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The Japanese Monster Survival Guide

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By Kevin McGue

Let’s do a quick rundown of your Japan-related bookshelf. "Japanese for Busy People?" Check. "Making Out in Japanese?" Check. "Tokyo for Free?" "Lonely Planet Japan?" Check and check.

So you think you have everything you need to survive in Japan, do you? Well, would you know what to do if you were walking down a dark Tokyo alley and encountered a "kuchisake onna," a machete-wielding woman wearing a surgical mask to hide a deformed mouth stretching from ear to ear? What if a weekend jaunt to the countryside brought you face to face with a "kappa," a cute but ferocious river goblin known for disemboweling humans? What would you do if a giant and very dirty foot smashed through the ceiling of your apartment while you are watching TV?

This new “survival guide” by husband and wife team Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt gives you tips on how to get through such hairy scraps with your life and all your vital organs intact. In case you were wondering, the above encounters, respectively, can be survived by throwing some "bekko ame" (a hard candy), by bowing deeply to the "kappa," and washing the foot so it will go away.

"Yokai Attack!" offers background info, identifying features and survival tips for 42 "yokai," a word made up of the kanji for “otherworldly” and “strange.” This term has variously been translated as “demon,” “ghost,” “goblin” or “specter” — none of which captures the amazing range of the creepy crawlies of Japanese lore. Yoda and Alt wisely allow it to go untranslated.

"Yokai" began springing up in literature and illustrations in the 18th century, and enjoyed an all-out boom in the 19th century, with stories of chilling encounters between humans and "yokai" appearing in ukiyo-e prints by the great masters, scholarly studies and trading cards for kids, foreshadowing the recent Pokemon craze. They are still very much a part of popular culture, cropping up in manga and influencing the work of Oscar-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki.

This guide reviews classics such as the "kappa" and "tengu," digs up more obscure ghoulies such as the "akaname" (a wild red creature with tangled hair and a long tongue who lurks in Japanese bathrooms), and introduces more recent spooks such as "toire no Hanako," the ghost of a girl that haunts girls restrooms in schools throughout Japan. Many of these are much scarier than that creepy kid from "The Grudge." Consider the "onibaba," a haggard old woman on a mission to tear livers out of unborn children, or the "mokumoku ren," countless eyes that appear in shoji paper screens and follow you around the room. Some "yokai" seem relatively harmless, but are harbingers of ill fortune. Such is the case with the tofu "kozo," a boy in traditional garb carrying a plate of tofu laced with a fatal fungus.

The tongue-in-cheek information on how to survive a potential attack and the illustrations by manga artist Tatsuya Morino make this a fun outing. While never being overly academic, the book’s historical ukiyo-e and descriptions of the origins of these legends give interesting insight into local culture. Many of the creatures mete out punishment to those who fail to show proper respect to nature, their families or household duties. “'Yokai' aren’t created by random chance,” the authors note. “They inevitably have some connection to the way humans see the world.”

This review originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

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Re: "'Yokai' began springing up in literature and illustrations in the 18th century" as it should have, the Japanese adopted that word, and most of its own language (at least the written kanji's) from the Chinese.

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In Chinese, it is the same character, pronunciation is Yao Guai. Bet you could see the similarities on that one. Regarding the book though, you can also check out "Gegege no Kitaro," a fun series of manga adaptation that was made many many years ago, 'dai senpai' of this book. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GeGeGe_no_Kitaro or Jigoku Sensei Nūbē, English is Hell Teacher Nūbē, 地獄先生ぬ~べ~. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell_Teacher_N%C5%ABb%C4%93 Just offering up the funner alternatives for all you otaku brothers out there.

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I see a small market for this book. It represents a lost opportunity, though. Why no mention of the biggest Japanese monster attack of them all, when Godzilla destroyed Tokyo in the 1950s? Or at least the Gargantua Brothers' attack on Gunma. Seriously though, those Yokai seem to have manifested themselves in the real world, with the knife-wielding variety and family killing ones that have come out of woodwork, of late.

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Toire no Hanako sounds too scary. I will never loiter in the girls' toire again.

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Hm. They should've published a Monster Survival guide for all those attacks by 600 meter Kaiju every Saturday and Sunday in Tokyo. How to acquire Monster Insurance for your house or business. How to run screaming down the street. What to do about huge, rotting dead monster chunks in your neighborhood after Ultraman blows the darn thing up...

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