Literacy 2008: Exhibition Round 2: Yokai Attack!

yokaiattackcover.jpgThere’s no way I’m going to finish my resolution to read 26 books by the end of 2008, but even out of desperation I can’t in good conscience include this book to pad out the list. But it’s still neat enough to be worth an exhibition round.

Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide by Hiroko Yoda, Matt Alt, and Tatsuya Morino

Like the excellent book The Field Guide to North American Monsters, but with yokai. Contains entries for several monsters of Japanese folklore, with information on their origins, habitat, and what to do in the event of an encounter.

Great introduction to yokai, making absolutely no assumptions about the reader’s familiarity with Japanese folklore, language, or pop culture. Includes the kanji name for each monster, a translation of the name into English, and notes on the etymology of the names and their use in idioms, which are great for people trying to learn the Japanese language. Each entry includes a full-page illustration of the creature done in the style of Shigeru Mizuki and the original source. Images from the original source material are also included wherever possible. Has an excellent bibliography and reference section, recommending plenty of related books and films. Mentions each creature’s “relevance,” indicating which creatures are the best-known and which are more obscure, or are only part of the folklore of certain regions.

Because the book is intended as an introduction, it’s pretty shallow. Each entry is limited to 2 and a half pages at the longest, the bulk of it dedicated to the height/weight/habitat information which keeps the “field guide” gag running. The descriptions keep a light “isn’t all this stuff wacky?” attitude, which can deflate the coolness of it all somewhat.

Although I personally prefer SHMorgan’s Obakemono Project website, both for the art style and for the number and depth of the entries, Yokai Attack! is a better general introduction. The book’s format and its use of popular expressions, idioms, and the monsters’ appearance in popular culture give a better sense of how this aspect of Japanese folklore fits into the country as a whole, and how many of them came about. It’s a fun book, highly recommended for anyone interested in this stuff. You should also check out the book’s official website.