Japan’s Yōkai Folklore Returns!

“Fantastical monsters like the tanuki abound in Michael Dylan Foster’s The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore  one of several books about yokai that have hit American shelves this year…Why the recent crop of yokai books in the United States? Credit generations of Americans exposed to the creatures through a steady stream of Japanese cultural imports. Haruki Murakami has included several in his novels, while hordes have appeared in the films of Hayao Miyazaki (the clicking, bobble-headed kodama, or tree spirits, in Princess Mononoke; much of the cast of Spirited Away.” R. Ito-New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Hiyao Miyazaki's Spirited Away

Hiyao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away

Scene from Hiyao Miyazaki's Spirited Away

Scene from Hiyao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away

Excerpt: Reviving Japan’s Dreaded and Beloved Ghosts. Robert Ito NYT

“In June, Zack Davisson will publish Yurei: The Japanese Ghost (Chin Music Press), a critical look at the history of some of Japan’s most dreaded and beloved spooks. Both are scholarly texts enlivened by images of the beasts in scroll paintings, woodblock prints and original illustrations.

Zack Davisson's book Yurei- The Japanese Ghost (

Zack Davisson’s book Yurei- The Japanese Ghost (

And then there’s Matthew Meyer’s forthcoming The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits,  an encyclopedic look at yokai that includes notes on each creature’s appearance, behavior and favorite hangouts. Mr. Meyer’s paintings combine the vibrant colors of traditional Japanese woodblock prints with references to Asian horror movies and contemporary manga. The result is a coffee-table book (self-published) that doubles as an illustrated guide, full of legends and obscure yokai trivia.

Matthew Meyer’s The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits

Matthew Meyer’s The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits

Even more have crept into American homes through video games and trading cards. Pokémon, the multibillion-dollar toy and video game empire, bases many of its characters on yokai. So does the most recent challenge to Pokémon’s cultural dominance, the best-selling video game and anime series Yo-Kai Watch, which makes no effort to hide its creative sources.

Yokai Watch’s popularity increases in the US. Photo-GC Magazine

Yokai Watch’s popularity increases in the US. Photo-GC Magazine

All those monsters — altered and cuteified as they may be — have inspired fans to seek out the original texts…Fans love tracking these evolutions over time, as well as learning every bit of information about as many yokai as they can. This might explain why a lot of these books, scholarly or not, have the look and feel of illustrated encyclopedias, with detailed descriptions of scores of creatures.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

Pre-reading Organizer By Scholastic

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Tanuki is the badger-like creatures of Japanese lore.
  2. They are an impetuous bunch.
  3. Both are scholarly texts.
  4. The book’s illustrator, Chip Boles, seemed to have fun.
  5. Mr. Meyer’s paintings  have vibrant colors.
  6. They grow up with these things through anime.
  7. Stories about yokai have been popular in Japan for centuries.
  8. New texts and stories are still being discovered and translated.
  9. There are also beasts whose images remain.
  10. Among the creepiest of yokai are the yurei, spirits of the dead.
Color Vocabualry Map by Enchanted Learning

Color Vocabualry Map by Enchanted Learning

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.

  1. Yokai are mysterious creatures of Chinese folklore.
  2. Interest in yokai books have increased in the United States because of Japanese films, books, and video games.
  3. Tanuki, are types of Japanese food.
  4. In one tale, a tanuki playfully transforms into a steam train.
  5. The book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost looks at the history of some of Japan’s most dreaded and beloved ghosts.
  6. The yokai themselves are scarce in Japan.
  7. The Yokai Character Collection is more pictorial.
  8. A mokumokuren is a type of slipper.
  9. The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits takes an encyclopedic look at yokai that includes notes on each creature’s appearance and behavior.
  10. Pokémon is a multibillion-dollar toy and video game empire.

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. In June, Zack Davisson will publish his book.
  2. Both is scholarly texts enlivened by images of the beasts.
  3. It has the look and feel of a Dungeons & Dragons manual.

II

  1. The book’s illustrator is Chip Boles.
  2. The result are a coffee-table book.
  3. Pokémon bases many of its characters on yokai.

III

  1. All those monsters have inspired fans to seek out the original texts.
  2. Students is heavily influenced by popular culture.
  3. Why do the centuries-old monsters continue to fascinate?

III. Post Reading Tasks

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

1. The following  three statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each statement in your own words, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.

“The students who come into the fields of Japanese literature and folklore as undergraduates are heavily influenced by popular culture…They grow up with these things through anime and manga and want to know where they come from.”

“Stories about yokai have been popular in Japan for centuries, from the 11th-century classic The Tale of Genji in which they’re called mononoke, or mysterious things, to contemporary anime series. The yokai themselves are everywhere in Japan, in films and cartoons, on billboards and even on beer bottle labels. The latest yokai craze began in the 1980s and has been going strong ever since, part of a long history of booms that dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868).”

“Relatively few of the thousands of texts and scholarly studies about yokai have been translated from Japanese, which makes these latest books all the more valuable to nonfluent seekers of the original tales…Mr. Foster [a folklore professor at Indiana University and author of  Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai] draws from texts and folk tales dating back to Japan’s Heian period, from the works of the 10th-century writer Abe no Seimei (a midlevel bureaucrat who has been reborn in contemporary manga and anime as a young, beautifully androgynous sorcerer) to the tales of the early-20th-century scholar and avid story collector Kunio Yanagita, considered one of the founders of Japanese folklore studies.”

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about Japanese ghosts from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

Category: Literature | Tags: