The Yōkai in the Database
Supernatural Creatures and Folklore in
Manga and Anime
Many Japanese anime and manga narratives draw on Japanese folklore,
reimagining tales for a modern audience, and contain references to or exam-
ples of supernatural creatures, or yōkai.1 As in Western culture, yōkai, which
can be translated as monsters, spirits, or demons, are a rich source of material
for contemporary pop culture narratives, especially for stories in science
fiction, fantasy, action, and adventure genres. Many websites and books for
non-Japanese fans list the references to folktales and yōkai in popular manga
and anime, to help make them accessible to foreign audiences. But how else
can we talk about them besides simply explaining the references to traditional
culture? What is the deeper connection between yōkai and anime or between
modes of anime and yōkai discourse?
Popular discourse on both anime and yōkai seems to have an affinity for the
creation of databases, or vast compendiums of knowledge, wherein each data
point is equally important. In this article I explore the tendency toward the
creation of databases in both yōkai and anime and show how the database makes
yōkai available for modern narratives and encourages interaction with those
narratives by fans. My primary examples will be Gegege no Kitarō and Inuyasha,
two of the most popular manga and anime series to draw extensively on folklore.
The database is one way to talk about both anime and yōkai more productively
and to expand the ways we talk about how texts are produced and consumed.
The Database and the Encyclopedic Mode
In his book Dobutsuka suru posutomodaan (The Animalizing Postmodern,
translated into English as Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals), Azuma Hiroki
Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2 (2013), pp. 276–289. Copyright © 2013 by
Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MI 48201.
THE YŌKAI IN THE DATABASE
claims that otaku, or obsessive fans of anime and manga, are no longer
interested in the grand narrative of their favorite fictions but focus instead
on organizing details of the characters and fictional world into a database.
As his example, he looks at the TV anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion
(1995), in which the greatest impact, Azuma argues, was not the complex
fictional world of giant robots, alien invasion, or Kabbalah-inspired mysti-
cism but the character Ayanami Rei, whom the obsessive fans or otaku found
attractive. Her appearance and personality were broken down into discrete
units of moe (affective) elements and copied in the designs of many other
characters used in other manga, anime, video games, figurines, and so on.
Azuma claims that this is not merely a matter of imitation but a database
model of consumption; every time a popular character like Rei emerges,
aspects of that character are recombined to create new characters (51–52).
He relates this to the dating simulation video games also favored by otaku, in
which players can construct girlfriends based on desired moe elements.
Azuma writes, “The surface outer layer of otaku culture is covered with
simulacra, or derivative works. But in the deep inner layer lies the database
of settings and characters, and further down, the database of moe elements”
(58). This is part of Azuma’s larger argument, which is that otaku are the
forerunners of a new postmodern mode of consumption in which originality
and immersion in a complex fictional world are not valued; instead, otaku
are primarily concerned with constructing and mastering the database. But
are otaku really the first to engage with their favored text in a database mode?
The database model of textual engagement and the ways in which yōkai
have been historically codified appear to be similar. Discussion of yōkai in
the premodern tradition often begins with the work of Toriyama Sekien
(1712–1788), because his four catalogs of supernatural creatures, published
between 1776 and 1784, codified a loose set of folk traditions and made
them available as discrete points of information for later writers. As Michael
Dylan Foster explains in his study of folklore in Japan, Pandemonium and
Parade, Sekien was not the first to set down text or illustrations of yōkai;
earlier precedents in both Japan and China influenced his work
(Pandemonium, 55). But what made Sekien’s work unique and influential
was that it was presented in book rather than scroll form, with one page of
text and illustration dedicated to each creature, minus any narrative linking
them together (Pandemonium, 56). In other words, Sekien’s books are like
encyclopedias rather than novels or tales and contain units of information
that can be studied, learned, and applied to other contexts. As Foster writes,
“The shift which made possible his [Sekien’s] separate encyclopedia of yōkai
also established the creatures as free agents, pliable metaphors, to be used
for all sorts of purposes” (Pandemonium, 72). Furthermore, Foster argues,
Sekien’s “encyclopedic mode” of presenting information in discrete units
became the dominant mode in which yōkai were presented and discussed
The database Azuma posits and the encyclopedic mode Foster discusses
seem to be similar. Foster claims that the encyclopedic mode was not merely a
means of taming the supernatural, that is, of presenting yōkai in an easily
digested format, but was part of a larger approach to knowledge common in
the Edo period (1603–1867) as book publishing flourished. Foster defines the
encyclopedic mode as follows:
As a discursive and practical method, the encyclopedic mode signi-
fies the serious undertaking of collecting and codifying, of pinning
things down and labeling them. It emphasizes the presentation of
an inclusive collection of knowledge about a subject; the compres-
sion of this knowledge into compact, self-contained units; and the
listing and organization of those units. As “items” of knowledge are
compressed into smaller and smaller units, they come to have a
certain degree of maneuverability: they can be shuffled and manip-
ulated as separate entities by those who have mastered them.
Of course, on a literal level an encyclopedia is somewhat different from
a digital database. Azuma links the database to video games and a comput-
erized approach to fiction, which breaks narrative down into levels, stages,
or interchangeable character traits, which he claims allows fans to focus on
these details rather than on narrative. However, both the encyclopedia and
the database present modular units of information that can be categorized,
rearranged, or used to create new narratives. Furthermore, as Azuma’s
examples make clear, the concern with authorship is relevant only in a
context in which originality is valued (61), that is, when readers seek
immersion in a fictional grand narrative. The encyclopedia, on the other
hand, by nature is concerned with the repetition and transmission of units
of data and often has many authors.
Although Azuma’s description of database consumption is limited, it
may be that this encyclopedic or database mode of acquiring knowledge or
interacting with fictional texts is not specific to any one point in time or
subculture. There are other examples of database construction in pop
culture besides the video games and TV anime of the 1990s that Azuma
describes. For instance, Tom Gill points out in his study of the Ultraman
and Super Sentai television series that the main viewing pleasure for the
THE YŌKAI IN THE DATABASE
young boys who are the target audience is not so much any individual story
but mastering the knowledge of a vast set of characters, monsters, weapons,
and machinery, what he calls “the classificatory impulse” (50–51). Manga
artist Tezuka Osamu also created his own database, treating all the charac-
ters in his vast body of work as actors who could be “cast” in different roles
(Power 66). Tezuka’s notebooks reveal that he created names for these
actors and assigned them imaginary studios and salaries (70). This informa-
tion was not incorporated directly into his manga but was left for fans to
decode on their own; part of the reading pleasure for his fans is recognizing
“actors” and knowing when they are cast against type (72).
The catalogs of yōkai, such as those created by Sekien and other artists
through the Edo period, make up one of the most productive databases for
Japanese fiction of all kinds. Foster argues that Sekien’s contribution to the
popular understanding of yōkai is that he made a vague set of beliefs visible, by
giving them physical form in his codices, and that he freely added yōkai he
invented himself, giving his work a playful quality (Pandemonium, 74–75). The
result is a malleable, large, and diverse pantheon (or as Foster calls it, pande-
monium) that modern texts can draw on while adding layers of modern
ideology. As Charlotte Eubanks discusses, in the Meiji period (1868–1912)
preservation of folklore was often tied to romantic ideas of nationalism (2).
Foster argues that certain yōkai, such as the kappa (water sprites), have been
co-opted by commercial interests, stripped of their frightening or awesome
nature, and remade as cute mascots to sell goods and encourage tourism
(“Metamorphosis,” 18). Noriko Reider charts a similar trajectory for the oni
(151–52). Whereas Foster and Reider lament the loss of the yōkai’s earlier,
more powerful nature, it is easy to see why advertisers make use of copyright-
free characters that are instantly recognizable and have a strong emotional
appeal. The ease with which yōkai are assimilated into modern culture along-
side more recently invented cartoon characters such as Hello Kitty speaks to
the power and creative possibility of the yōkai database.
Mizuki Shigeru and the Modern Yōkai Database
Aside from advertising, the presence of the yōkai database in postwar manga
and anime is largely due to the work of artist Mizuki Shigeru. His manga
series Gegege no Kitarō (1959–1969), along with the long-running television
anime adaptation (beginning in 1968, with new seasons appearing every
few years up to the present), have made yōkai familiar to generations of
children since the 1960s (fig. 1). Although Mizuki’s contributions to the
contemporary discourse on yōkai have been discussed in depth by Foster
Fig. 1. Kitarō with Medama Oyaji (Eyeball Dad) and other characters from the 2007
version of the Gegege no Kitarō TV anime. © Mizuki Shigeru and Toei Animation.
and Papp, it is worth reviewing his work briefly because Gegege no Kitarō
has not been fully translated into English and is not well-known in the
Mizuki recorded his autobiography in several manga versions, so it can
be difficult to separate his creative process from his self-mythologizing, but
he is generally seen as both a preservationist and a believer in yōkai; for
instance, Okazaki Kenjirō not only compares him to Yanagita Kunio but
also states that Mizuki himself is yōkai-teki (yōkai-like) (168). In his manga
autobiography Nonnonba, Mizuki describes learning about yōkai as a child
from an elderly woman nicknamed Nonnonba, in his rural village of
Sakaiminato. As a young man, he was drafted during the Pacific War and
stationed at Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. Although he suffered from malaria
and lost his left arm in a bombing raid, he fell in love with the local inhabit-
ants and their culture, which he perceived as retaining folk traditions that
he feared were becoming lost in modern Japan (Rosenbaum 355, 372).
Mizuki also claims to have had a supernatural experience in the jungles of
New Guinea, encountering the nurikabe (plaster wall), a yōkai that suddenly
blocks one’s path at night (Foster, Pandemonium, 168). In writing about his
childhood and his war experiences, Mizuki consistently emphasizes the
role of folklore and belief in the supernatural as a determining factor
in his life.
After returning from New Guinea, Mizuki found work as a cartoonist,
first for kami shibai (paper theater) and kashihon (rental books) (Suzuki 231),
which were the forerunners of postwar manga. It was while working as a kami
shibai artist that Mizuki first encountered the character Kitarō, a monstrous
child born in a graveyard to a dead mother (Kyōgoku 114). Zília Papp outlines
the connection between Kitarō and similar medieval tales, in which a child
born to a dead mother develops extraordinary powers (58). Mizuki later
turned this tale into his most famous manga serial, first as Hakaba no Kitarō
and then later as Gegege no Kitarō. In Mizuki’s version Kitarō is born to a
THE YŌKAI IN THE DATABASE
dying race of yōkai; the series revolves around his adventures among an ever
expanding cast of yōkai characters as he attempts to mediate between the
human and yōkai worlds.
Some of these yōkai are Mizuki’s own invention, but many are drawn
directly from folklore, from a variety of sources. Papp documents many of
the sources Mizuki uses and demonstrates that most derive from Sekien’s
catalogs, in some cases with the drawings replicated nearly identically
(66–110). Although Mizuki does not cite Sekien as an influence, instead
emphasizing the tales he heard from Nonnonba, Foster writes that Sekien’s
influence on Mizuki is clear (Pandemonium, 182). Not only does Mizuki
take Sekien’s yōkai and put them in a narrative, but he also creates his own
codices of yōkai. In a series of encyclopedic articles for the manga magazine
Shōnen Sunday in 1965, Mizuki cataloged yōkai for young readers, complete
with manga-style illustrations and short descriptions of their names and
properties.2 Sometimes he uses an ethnographic format, with yōkai super-
imposed on a map of Japan, indicating the region from which the yōkai
supposedly originated (Mizuki Shigeru yōkai daigahō, 24, 30), although like
Sekien, Mizuki may have invented some of them himself. Western tradi-
tions also have a place in Mizuki’s taxonomy; he includes brief descriptions
of vampires, witches, werewolves, and other European yōkai (Mizuki Shigeru
yōkai daigahō, 52, 109, 116) and a large map of the world detailing super-
natural creatures from every corner of the globe, along with a list of the top
five most popular yōkai from East and West (120–121).3 In creating his own
catalog of yōkai, modeled on Sekien’s, Mizuki vastly expanded the number
and variety of yōkai in pop culture by drawing on many sources, both within
Japan and from abroad.
Mizuki’s influence on the contemporary understanding of yōkai cannot
be overstated. Gegege no Kitarō has been tremendously popular in Japan,
and each new version of the television anime brings in a new generation of
young fans. In 2007 a live-action film also targeted a young teen audience.
Kitarō and the other yōkai characters lend themselves easily to replication as
toys, and their images grace countless consumer goods. Foster has also
discussed how images of Kitarō have been used to promote tourism to
Sakaiminato (“Haunted Travelogue,” 165). If Mizuki’s intention in his work
is to pass on the folklore of Japan to future generations, he has been spec-
tacularly successful. Although many manga and anime creators draw on
Japanese folklore, because of his long-term popularity and the media satu-
ration of his many creations, Mizuki has been the most influential. Part of
Mizuki’s influence on modern popular understanding of yōkai is the contin-
uation of the encyclopedic mode since the Edo period.
The Yōkai Database and Inuyasha
Inuyasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale (Sengoku otogizōshi Inuyasha) is perhaps, after Gegege
no Kitarō, one of the most popular manga and anime series in recent years that
draws consciously on Japanese folklore. Written and illustrated by Takahashi
Rumiko, the manga series was published from 1996 to 2008 in the magazine
Weekly Shōnen Sunday, running to fifty-six volumes in reprints. The television
anime series originally aired from 2000 to 2004 for a total of 167 episodes, and
the final 26 episodes were aired in 2009 and 2010 under the title Inuyasha: The
Final Act (Inuyasha: Kanketsuhen). There have also been four animated feature
films. The series’ longevity is one measure of its popularity (fig. 2).
Inuyasha is set in the latter half of the Muromachi period (1392–1573),
also known as the Sengoku (Warring States) period (1467–1573), a time of
weak central government and frequent battles between feudal clans. In this
fictional version of the Sengoku period, magical beings of all sorts dot the
countryside, many (but not all) drawn from folklore traditions. The origin
myth of the series is that Inuyasha, a half-demon, seduces the miko (shrine
maiden) Kikyō and steals the Shikon Jewel (Jewel of Four Souls), which had
been placed under her protection. In the resulting fight, Kikyō shoots Inuyasha
with an arrow from her catalpa bow, sealing him to a tree in an enchanted
sleep, and she dies soon thereafter. At Kikyō’s request, the jewel is cremated
along with her body, only to appear in the body of modern-day high school
Fig. 2. Inuyasha TV anime. From left: Naraku, Kagome, Inuyasha, and Kikyo.
© Takahashi Rumiko and Sunrise Animation.
THE YŌKAI IN THE DATABASE
student Higurashi Kagome, whose family tends to the shrine that still stands in
the same spot. A centipede yōkai seeking to steal the jewel draws Kagome into
a well at the shrine, bringing her back to the fifteenth century, and rips the
jewel from her body. In defending herself, Kagome awakens Inuyasha and
frees him from Kikyō’s spell, but she accidentally smashes the jewel into
hundreds of fragments, which are scattered far and wide but still contain fear-
some power. The overarching plot of the series is Inuyasha and Kagome’s
quest to find all the fragments so that the jewel can be destroyed.
Although Takahashi draws extensively on yōkai and folklore, she tends
to stay away from better known elements, particularly regarding the main
characters. This can be seen most clearly in the title character, who refer-
ences some folk traditions but is largely an original creation. Inuyasha is a
half-demon, the son of an inugami, or dog demon, and a human woman.4
Inuyasha is less a name than a descriptive title, literally meaning “dog
demon.”5 The dog is an unusual choice for a yōkai, because it does not
appear in Japanese folklore as prominently as foxes, snakes, tanuki (raccoon
dogs), kappa, or cats; as more fully domesticated animals, dogs figure in
fewer supernatural tales.6 Inuyasha’s father and older brother Sesshōmaru
can shape-shift between dog and human form, but as a half-demon,
Inuyasha appears as a human with some canine characteristics: fangs, claws,
and dog ears (fig. 3). In the earliest panels of the manga his face has a mark-
edly canine look, with a snout, but the anime makes his face appear more
rounded and human. However, with their long white hair, both Inuyasha
and Sesshōmaru bear a strong resemblance to the White Lion (Renjishi)
character of Noh and Kabuki theater, perhaps not surprisingly because lions
(shishi) are often conflated with dogs in Japanese Buddhist iconography
(fig. 4).7 The wolf, a creature that appears frequently in folklore as an inter-
mediary between humans and nature, is also frequently conflated with the
dog; in many regions wolves were called yamainu, or mountain dogs
Fig. 3. Inuyasha holding the Shikon Jewel, as he appears in the TV anime. © Takahashi
Rumiko and Sunrise Animation.
Fig. 4. Inuyasha’s half-brother Sesshōmaru. © Takahashi Rumiko and Sunrise Animation.
(Knight 135). Indeed, the character arcs of both Inuyasha and Sesshōmaru
are primarily about them gradually giving up their wild, destructive nature
to become more involved with humans: Inuyasha in his love for Kagome
and Sesshōmaru through his adoption of an orphan girl named Rin.
The supporting characters also are a mix of the original and the
traditional deployed in new ways. The generic rules of this kind of serial-
ized adventure story demand a group of five main characters (Gill 41), and
in Inuyasha the ensemble is rounded out by Shippō, Miroku, and Sango. Of
these, Shippō, a shape-shifting fox, is the only yōkai, but as a child, he is the
least powerful of the group and is frequently relegated to comic relief.
Sango, a demon hunter, is entirely invented, although her double-tailed cat
(nekomata) is a familiar yōkai character. Miroku, the lecherous monk, is also
a comic figure who does not correspond to any single folkloric character,
but (Western romanticizing of Japanese Buddhism aside) ransō (rowdy
monks) and akusō (evil monks), who took wives, ate meat, and engaged in
mob violence and organized armed uprisings, were a major social problem
in the Sengoku period.8 As religious figures well-known for lapses in their
sacred vows, Buddhist monks, like Christian monks in medieval Europe,
were frequent targets of satire. Miroku also has a tanuki friend named
Hachiemon, another familiar yōkai, who, like the tanuki of folklore, is capa-
ble of shape shifting but is rather dim-witted and lazy. However, Hachiemon
appears in the story only rarely. The major characters are for the most part
Takahashi’s original inventions; she avoids using the more familiar folklore
characters or relegates them to supporting roles.
Unlike Mizuki, who bases nearly all his characters on existing yōkai or
legends from around Japan and documents those legends in guides for young
readers, Takahashi takes a more modular approach. Only the second feature
film, The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass (Kagami no naka no mugenjō, 2002), is
based on an existing narrative, in this case “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”
(“Taketori monogatari”). More commonly, she takes individual yōkai, such as
yuki-onna (the snow woman), ninmenju (the tree that drinks human blood), or
THE YŌKAI IN THE DATABASE
noppera-bō (no-face) and inserts them into her own story. Even when a narra-
tive exists, she extracts elements in a modular fashion rather than referencing
the entire text. For instance, Inuyasha’s distinctive red outfit is identified as the
Robe of the Fire Rat, one of the magical items that appears in “The Tale of the
Bamboo Cutter.” This is mentioned solely as an explanation for the garment’s
supernatural powers of protection; the robe itself is merely part of the database
of folklore elements that Takahashi can draw on at will.
Asked in an interview which folktales in particular influenced her,
Takahashi names “The Cauldron of Kibitsu” (“Kibitsu no kama”), which,
she acknowledges, is not strictly speaking a folktale, but a short story writ-
ten by Ueda Akinari and published in his folktale-inspired anthology Tales
of Moonlight and Rain (Ugetsu monogatari) in 1776.9 This story of a wronged
wife turned vengeful demon is echoed in the character of Kikyō, who dies
believing that Inuyasha seduced and then betrayed her. Kikyō returns from
the dead several times over the course of the story, at first to seek vengeance
on Inuyasha, but even after she discovers that Inuyasha’s supposed betrayal
(i.e., stealing the Shikon Jewel) was in fact orchestrated by the villain
Naraku, she remains a marginal, tragic figure, forced to cede her romance
with Inuyasha to Kagome.
“The Cauldron of Kibitsu” is reflected not only in the character of Kikyō
but in the main antagonist Naraku. The motif of strong emotions, particu-
larly lust, jealousy, or anger, causing an otherwise peaceful person to
transform into a vengeful demon or monster is a common one in Japan.
Frequently, as in “The Cauldron of Kibitsu,” it is a woman; another example
is the Noh play Dōjōji, in which the girl Kiyohime falls in love with a priest
and transforms into a giant snake. The film Princess Mononoke (Mononoke
hime, dir. Miyazaki Hayao, 1997) also references this belief when the
wounded and enraged animal gods transform into hideous monsters. In
Inuyasha Naraku, whose name is a term for the Buddhist hell, is formed
when a human man named Onigumo falls in love with Kikyō and, succumb-
ing to lust and jealousy, allows a horde of lesser demons to possess him. The
resulting composite, Naraku, seeks to increase his power by gathering all
the fragments of the Shikon Jewel, but he is also driven by his desire for
Kikyō. Takahashi adds originality to her story by inverting the sexes of the
familiar tale of lust leading to monstrous transformation.
Takahashi also plays with the tradition of the miko (shrine maiden or
female shaman) in the characters of Kikyō and Kagome. Female practitioners
of Shinto rituals, miko still exist today, although historically their roles and
functions have varied widely by time and place (Groemer 46). Kikyō repre-
sents some of the more common aspects of the miko in that she wears the
distinctive red trousers (hakama) and white kimono, carries a catalpa bow
(azusa yumi) and sacred arrows, practices healing and exorcism, and serves as
a medium between the supernatural and human worlds and between the living
and the dead. Miko have also frequently been portrayed as sexually appealing,
perhaps in part because some of them were vagabonds, detached from social
institutions. In recent manga and anime miko have been conflated with other
types of powerful fighting girls and frequently appear as sexy hybrid charac-
ters, as Azuma notes (14). Both Kikyō and Kagome are similarly sexualized
characters. Kagome in particular, with her sailor suit uniform is a hybrid of
two popular anime figures, the miko and the high school girl.
The use of folklore elements is a common theme in much of Takahashi’s
work. Her first big hit, the series Urusei Yatsura (manga, 1978–1987; anime,
1981–1986), is a slapstick comedy featuring a sexy space alien girl named
Lum who has a crush on a Japanese high school boy. Despite Lum’s
extraterrestrial origin, she is clearly modeled on the oni, indicated by her
horns, fangs, and tiger-skin clothing. Her ability to fly and shoot lightning
and her fearsome temper are also attributes of oni (Reider 150). Indeed, her
race of invading aliens is called the Oni Tribe (Onizoku), and the series
begins with an epic game of tag, or oni-gokko. Most of Lum’s alien friends are
also based on yōkai, including yuki-onna, hone-onna (succubus), tengu (bird
demon), and a ghost cat. The series also features a lecherous monk and a
miko as secondary characters. In addition, the second theatrical-release film,
Beautiful Dreamer (Byūtifuru dorīmā, written and directed by Oshii Mamoru,
1984), is based on the folktale “Urashima Tarō.” The success of Takahashi’s
work is in her ability to make familiar motifs fresh and new. In the case of
Urusei Yatsura this meant reimagining yōkai as space aliens, which allowed
Takahashi to play with folklore traditions about the oni without being
bound by them. In Inuyasha she avoids using the more familiar yōkai as
main characters and instead uses the dog, which has more flexibility
The encyclopedia or database nature of yōkai has made it easy for them to be
used in contemporary popular culture narratives. The modular nature of many
yōkai and the fact that many are not attached to any specific tale allow for them
to be used flexibly in various kinds of stories, whether the author hews closely
to tradition, like Mizuki, or creates variations, like Takahashi. Moreover, the
database, as Azuma discusses, is a powerful means of engaging an audience.
Although Azuma discusses the database in only a narrow way, it is clear that
THE YŌKAI IN THE DATABASE
this approach predates otaku culture, appearing in genres as diverse as Tezuka’s
manga, television shows such as Ultraman, and Sekien’s and Mizuki’s treat-
ments of yōkai.
Azuma, drawing on the work of Jean-François Lyotard, sets up a
dichotomy between a database and a narrative-centered consumption of
popular culture texts; more specifically, he claims that older generations of
fans prefer the grand narrative of a complex, overarching storyline, whereas
fans since the mid-1990s focus instead on the database, or what he calls the
grand nonnarrative (34). But are the database and the narrative mutually
exclusive, or is it possible for fans to engage with both? In creating a codex
or database composed of imaginary facts, whether it is fantastic creatures or
the technical specifications of giant robots, one is consciously playing with
the boundaries between reality and fantasy. In other words, classifying the
imaginary in the same way that is usually reserved for the factual is a kind
of play similar to pseudodocumentary or self-conscious fiction, wherein the
author asserts that the fictional narrative is true while revealing its fictional
aspects to the informed reader. This kind of narrative play is not solely
found in postmodern texts; Karen Ní Mheallaigh discusses pseudodocu-
mentary narratives from ancient Rome. She writes that this kind of narrative
“tests the limits of the reader’s grasp of the rules that govern make-believe.
The finer the line distinguishing fact from fiction, it seems, the keener the
frisson of readerly pleasure becomes” (404). The construction of the
fictional database also plays with these rules and invites the same tension
between the real and the make-believe. Ní Mheallaigh points out that these
narratives usually have a humorous or satirical element (421), as they are
often engaged in undermining the authoritative texts they mimic (410).
Humor has historically been part of the encyclopedic yōkai discourse; as
Foster discusses, Sekien adds an element of satire by inserting his own
invented creatures in his codices (Pandemonium, 71).
The database or encyclopedic approach in manga and anime also invites
a kind of playful interaction between authors and fans. For instance, in
Inuyasha Manga Profiles, a professionally produced encyclopedia of the
series for fans that provides details of characters and plot, Takahashi offers
the following observation: “Inuyasha’s ears feel the same as five uncooked
Chinese dumpling shells atop one another” (27). This is an unusual detail
to add in a text that generally is more concerned with cataloging weapons,
attack styles, and plot points. It indicates that Takahashi has thought about
the physical embodiment of her fictional characters in minute detail and
furthermore that she knows her fans will be interested in that kind of detail,
even if it is unmentioned in or irrelevant to the diegesis. Indeed, it is that
kind of detail that makes the fictional world so engaging, even if, or
especially if, it is presented extradiegetically. This is how the database
functions to enhance and encourage the fan experience.
A version of this essay was presented at the Association for Asian Studies
Conference in 2012. I am grateful to the audience members for their feedback.
1. The word yōkai is difficult to render accurately into English. The term yōkai
(a compound containing kanji meaning “bewitching” and “mysterious”) is a blan-
ket term that encompasses shape-shifting animals, demons, minor deities, mon-
sters, spirits, ghosts, and even disembodied supernatural phenomena. For a more
detailed definition of yōkai, see Foster, Pandemonium, 2.
2. These articles were collected and reprinted as Mizuki Shigeru yōkai daigahō (2008).
3. Mizuki’s list is as follows: from the West, (1) Dracula, (2) mummy, (3) werewolf,
(4) witch/wizard, and (5) Gorgon/Medusa; from Japan, (1) Botan dōrō (The Tale of
the Peony Lantern), (2) bakeneko (monster cat), (3) Oiwa (the vengeful ghost of
Yotsuya Ghost Story), (4) hyakume (hundred-eyed monster, a creature probably
invented by Mizuki), and (5) kappa (water sprite).
4. Inugami in folklore were usually tragic, vengeful creatures, created by their
human masters through suffering and cruelty. Inuyasha does not reference this
tradition; the father is represented as a powerful but neutral force.
5. The word yasha is derived from the Sanskrit term yaksha, indicating Buddhist
guardian deities, but in the Japanese tradition the term also came to be used for
6. One text in which dogs feature prominently is Nansō Satomi Hakkenden
(The Eight Dog Chronicles), written by Takizawa Bakin from 1812 to 1842.
The head of the Satomi clan is cursed by the wife of a defeated rival to have
descendants like dogs. As a result of the curse, his daughter Fusehime marries
a dog and spiritually gives birth to eight warriors, each of whom has the char-
acter for dog in their names. Each is also born with a jewel inside his body
inscribed with a Confucian virtue. The jewels in Hakkenden and the Shikon
Jewel in Inuyasha bear some similarity, and it seems likely that Takahashi is
familiar with the story. H owever, the warriors in Hakkenden are human, not
yōkai, despite their connection with the supernatural, and the story is a novel,
not a folktale.
7. Because lions are not native to Japan, the iconography appeared by way of
Chinese and Korean art, and the kara-shishi, or Chinese lion, and koma-inu, or
Korean dog, appear interchangeably in statuary.
8. For more on rowdy monks and warrior monks in this period, see Adolphson
9. The Takahashi interview was originally published in the journal Quarterly S in
2009 and is reprinted at http://www.furinkan.com/takahashi/takahashi12.html
(accessed June 1, 2013).
THE YŌKAI IN THE DATABASE
Adolphson, Mikael S. The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sōhei in
Japanese History. Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 2007.
Azuma Hiroki. Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. Trans. Jonathan Abel and Shion Kono.
Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2009.
Eubanks, Charlotte. “On the Wings of a Bird: Folklore, Nativism, and Nostalgia in
Meiji Letters.” Asian Folklore Studies 65.1 (2006): 1–20.
Foster, Michael Dylan. “Haunted Travelogue: Hometowns, Ghost Towns, and the
Memories of War.” Mechademia: War/Time 4 (2009): 164–82.
———. “The Metamorphosis of the Kappa: Transformation of Folklore to Folklorism
in Japan.” Asian Folklore Studies 57.1 (1998): 1–24.
———. Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yōkai.
Berkeley: U of California P, 2009.
Gill, Tom. “Transformational Magic: Some Japanese Superheroes and Monsters.” The
Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture: Gender, Shifting Boundaries, and Global Cultures.
Ed. D. P. Martinez. New York: Cambridge UP, 1998. 33–55.
Groemer, Gerald. “Female Shamans in Eastern Japan During the Edo Period.” Asian
Folklore Studies 66.1–2 (2007): 27–53.
Knight, John. “On the Extinction of the Japanese Wolf.” Asian Folklore Studies 56.1
Kyōgoku Natsuhiko, ed. Zusetsu yōkaiga no keifu. Tokyo: Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 2009.
Mizuki Shigeru. Gegege no Kitarō: Yōkai tanmono, 9 vols. Tokyo: Chūkō Bunko, 2007.
———. Hakaba Kitarō: Kashihon manga fukkokuban, 2 vols. Tokyo: Kadokawa
———. Mizuki Shigeru yōkai daigahō. Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2008.
———. Nonnonba. Trans. Jocelyne Allen. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2012.
Ní Mheallaigh, Karen. “Pseudo-Documentarism and the Limits of Ancient Fiction.”
American Journal of Philology 129.3 (2008): 403–31.
Okazaki Kenjirō. “Hitori no naka no yōkaitachi.” Eureka 37.10 (2005): 168–77.
Papp, Zília. Anime and Its Roots in Early Japanese Monster Art. Kent, UK: Global
Power, Natsu Onoda. God of Comics: Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post-WWII
Manga. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2009.
Reider, Noriko T. “Transformation of the Oni: From the Frightening and Diabolical to
the Cute and Sexy.” Asian Folklore Studies 62.1 (2003): 133–57.
Rosenbaum, Roman. “Mizuki Shigeru’s Pacific War.” International Journal of Comics Arts
10.2 (2008): 354–79.
Suzuki Shige. “Learning from Monsters: Mizuki Shigeru’s Yōkai and War Manga.” Image
and Narrative 12.1 (2011): 229–44.
Takahashi Rumiko. Inuyasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale, 56 vols. Trans. Gerald Jones and Mari
Morimoto. San Francisco: Viz Media, 2003–2011.
———. Inuyasha Manga Profiles. Trans. Hidemi Hachitori and Ian Reid. San Francisco:
Viz Media, 2007.
———. Sengoku otogizōshi Inuyasha, 56 vols. Tokyo: Shōkakukan, 2008.
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