Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Michael Jones wanted to know what my favorite yokai is. For those of you wondering what the heck a yokai is click on the above picture. Combining the Japanese characters for "otherworldly" and "weird" yokai are a collective group of demons, monsters, transformed objects and people, goblins, ghosts, and spirits, though none of those words really does them justice. There are a lot of them too. So, when I told Michael it was going to take some thought, I wasn't putting him off, I really had to give it some thought because there are so many yokai that I like, and for so many different reasons. The main reason though is that they are weird, weird in a way that appeals to the same part of my brain from which my own strange creations have come forth to occupy various comic books I have written. Yokai are nothing like anything we have in the west. When we think monsters here things like werewolves, zombies, vampires and the Frankenstein monster tend to come to mind, but if Universal Pictures had used yokai as the basis for their movies they would have been a whole lot stranger and they would not have run out of material so quickly.
Among my favorites are a category of yokai called Tsukumo-gami, or "artifact spirits" or "haunted relics." These stem from Japan's animistic Shinto religion that believes that all objects, living, or no, has a soul. The Tsukumo-gami are objects that have given many years of service to their owners, whether they are a frying pan, screwdriver, umbrella or VCR who furious at being thrown away come to life to cause mischief. My favorites of these is Kara-kasa the one legged, cyclops umbrella with the long tongue and arms and Mokumoku Ren, the haunted shoji screen covered in dozens of eyes.
As much as I like these, and other yokai, when push came to shove, my favorite of them all is Rokuro-kubi the long-necked woman.
I'm not sure what it is about her that I like so much. Yes, she's visually interesting, but most of the other yokai are more visually interesting than she is. She's also not all that high concept in terms of yokai. Essentially her story is that she was once a regular woman who has been cursed and transformed into a ghostly creature. At night, often while the Rokuro-kubi remains asleep, her head takes on a life of its own, wandering her house at the end of an endlessly stretching flexible neck. It will head outdoors searching for insects to eat on, or will simply feed on some of the lifeforce of a sleeping man leaving him fatigued the next day. They also will drink oil out of lamps. One interesting facet of the Rokuro-kubi is that a person can be one without knowing it.
Again, I don't know exactly why I'm drawn to this particular yokai over any others, but I am. I wrote about Rokuro-kubi in SCOOBY-DOO #130 and have used other yokai in other Scooby-Doo stories as well as stories for THE SECRET SATURDAYS and THE HANGMAN.
If anyone reading this has a favorite yokai, I'd like to know which one and why. You can learn more about yokai by visiting the obakemono project, which is a great resource for all things yokai.