In Japan, everything has its own pet. Smiling enemas guide people with gastrointestinal problems in pharmacies to find the right medicine. Each prefecture has its entertainer , usually a regional dish or a tourist attraction. Even the Self-Defense Forces use them for disclosure.
At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the Government released the first personification of the quarantine, QuaranEquipped with a shield, glasses and a Q-shaped back to prevent the movement of prohibited items at the border and protect the Japanese from any illegal activity. Some of these creatures have become famous in the west, such as Pikachu, Hello Kitty and in general the universe of Pokémon or Digimon.
All of them are the result of a long tradition started with the yokai . The word can be translated as “spirit”, “demon” or “monster” and its origin comes from the Shinto religion, which believes in nature and in a multitude of gods and protective spirits.
Some are humanoids, other animals, others can even be objects that, when discarded, acquire a soul. This polytheistic version of the world claims that up to eight million gods exist on the islands of Japan.
“It is difficult to pinpoint the origin of the yokai, ” says Junya Kono, who leads an artists’ collective in Kyoto, the Yokai Art Group Hyakuyobako.. “The animists believe that it has had a great influence on Japanese thought. The idea is that the soul resides not only in natural objects, such as trees and rocks, but also in artificial objects, such as everyday tools, “he adds.
Throughout its history, the Japanese country has faced many fatal waves of diseases, such as smallpox, plague and cholera. The yokai have long served as weapons against epidemics, a kind of talisman to protect the population from extermination.
One of them, known as Amabie, has been reborn again during the coronavirus crisis, with one difference: “The yokai can be considered an ancient superstition, since from the beginning of modern times they have become characters in popular entertainment. Painters like Katsushika Hokusai, who is very famous abroad, work with the yokai . They also appear in anime , mangaand in the works of the Ghibli studio. In other words, today the yokai is not only a form of folklore, but also entertainment, ”says Kuno.