Books / Reviews | ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES

'Yokai Attack!' review: The Japanese creatures that go bump in the night

by Stephen Mansfield

Contributing Writer

If you thought Lafcadio Hearn’s books “In Ghostly Japan” and “Kwaidan” were creepy, this guide to the dark, supernatural forces that ooze from folk tales, superstition and local hearsay will produce an icy fissure through your spine.

Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide, by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt.
208 pages
TUTTLE PUBLISHING, Nonfiction.

The yōkai of the title refer to Japan’s crowded pantheon of supernatural monsters, ghouls and malign ethereal beings. Typical of the type are vicious karasu-tengu, a shape-shifting bird; odokuro, a giant, stalking skeleton; and akaname, a feral, red-skinned consumer of mildew and dead skin.

What might appear to be a sensational expose of Japanese horrors is the fruit of considerable research, including long hours spent poring over microfilm of 18th-century illustrations from the archives of the National Diet Library. Humor is added to erudition, each yōkai introduced with form-specific listings, such as gender, habitat and distinguishing features. Profiles proceed to “The Attack!,” chronicling forms of assault, and “Surviving an Encounter,” advice on combating or appeasing such vengeful monsters.

As a species, we have always liked to terrorize ourselves, but only on condition that a cordon sanitaire is erected between us and the monstrous. “Yokai Attack!,” a study in the menace that lurks beneath our assumptions of security, scratches at the paper-thin walls that keep the unknown at bay.

With phenomenally muscular illustrations by Tatsuya Morino, images that seem to pounce out of the book straight into our living rooms, you may prefer to switch up the lights for nocturnal readings of this book.

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