OKAYAMA – Five-year-old Mana Umemoto has become the youngest person ever to receive the title Doctor of Yokai Monsters.
Umemoto, from Bizen, Okayama Prefecture, has passed the beginners’ level exam that tests knowledge of the yokai creatures of Japanese folklore. These are spiritual beings that inhabit tales and cast specific influences, often malevolent.
The beginners’ exam tests candidates on their knowledge of some 50 yokai monsters, requiring them to name the creatures’ birthplaces and characteristics.
“It was easy,” said Umemoto, who scored 76 out of 100 in the exam. She started preparing for the test only two weeks before taking it in Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture, on Oct. 25 — when she was still aged 4.
The exam was started by the Sakaiminato chamber of commerce and the Sakaiminato tourism association. Shigeru Mizuki, the late author of the popular “GeGeGe no Kitaro” yokai comic and animation series is a native of Sakaiminato.
Umemoto, who was among 127 successful candidates, was 10 months younger than the previous youngest recipient of the monsters doctorate. She first developed an interest in yokai when she saw them in an atlas at the age of 3.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to teach her hiragana characters and the geography of Japan,” Umemoto’s mother, Madoka, said.
She used stuffed toys to help her daughter understand the complex history of yokai monsters and made eight trips with her to Mizuki Shigeru Road in Sakaiminato, where more than 100 bronze statues of Mizuki’s cartoon characters are displayed.
Mizuki died of multiple organ failure just a few days after Umemoto received notification of her test result.
Her mother said Umemoto is a determined little girl who always follows through on her quests. She has been studying English since the age of 2 and last October passed Grade 4 of the Eiken practical English proficiency test, a level aimed at junior high school students.
During the Tanabata festival held at her kindergarten last July, when it is customary to write one’s wishes on a piece of paper and tie the paper to a bamboo tree, she wrote that she dreamed of being Kitaro, one of the yokai monsters.
“Because he is strong and cool,” she later told her mother.
Her other dream is to become a doctor so that she can care for her grandparents who live next door.