JJRS 48/2 Traversing the Natural, Supernatural, and Paranormal: Yōkai in Postwar Japan

Hirota Ryūhei 廣田龍平

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Yōkai is an elusive category in Japanese history, folklore, and popular culture. It consists of mysterious phenomena that can exercise extraordinary agency in their interactions with humans. Attempting to grapple with this amorphous category, Japanese folklore studies has defined yōkai as malevolent supernatural beings. However, a survey of these studies reveals that most instances of yōkai do not fit this definition. This article discusses the supernaturalization of yōkai and their relegation to the “otherworld” as a process that primarily occurred in three stages: developments in kokugaku cosmology during the early nineteenth century, the import of the concept of the supernatural at the turn of the twentieth century, and the yōkai boom of the late 1960s. In particular, this article emphasizes the importance of the yōkai boom that straddled a premodern folk community and a modernized popular society, leading to a conflation of the concepts of the supernatural, the otherworld, and yōkai.