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October 2005

Yokai Craze Haunts Kids in Japan

Characters from Gegege no Kitaro appear in the town (Sakaiminato City, (c) Mizuki Production)

Kids around the world have always been fascinated with ghosts, monsters, and other things that go bump in the night. But Japanese kids are unusually crazy about ghosts and monsters these days.

It all started last summer with the release of an animated film titled Yokai Daisenso (The Great Yokai War). The movie was filmed in a town that offers a lot of ghostly attractions - Sakaiminato, which is in Tottori Prefecture, in southwestern Japan. Sakaiminato is the hometown of an artist named Mizuki Shigeru, who created the famous comic strip Gegege no Kitaro (Spooky Kitaro). Sakaiminato has a museum dedicated to Mizuki. The Mizuki Shigeru Museum is packed with exhibits related to yokai (monsters and ghosts from Japanese folklore who like to play tricks on people).

A parade of monsters down Mizuki Shigeru road (Sakaiminato City)

Another popular attraction in Sakaiminato is Mizuki Shigeru Road, where over 100 yokai lurk, just waiting to jump out at unsuspecting visitors. The yokai are actually just bronze statues, so they don't really jump, but they're pretty scary just the same! If you want to meet yokai, Sakaiminato is a good place to start. The town is visited by many tourists because of its ghostly attractions.

Sakaiminato celebrated the release of Yokai Daisenso by hosting a number of special events for kids. These included a costume parade, a yokai-hunting tour, and a sandal-throwing contest (Kitaro, the main character in the film, uses his geta, or wooden sandals, as a weapon against his enemies). Yokai-related exhibitions and other special events were held elsewhere in Japan, too.

Legends of various monsters and ghosts have been handed down from generation to generation in many parts of Japan. In most cases, these yokai appear not to frighten unsuspecting victims but to punish those who have done wrong. The yokai in Yokai Daisenso are on the side of the good guys. Teaming up with a boy who is picked on at school, they fight evil and save the world.

Why do people tell ghost stories? Some people think that ghosts and monsters represent our fear of nature. This theory makes sense when you think that a lot of ghost stories take place in forests and other wild places. Because of this connection between yokai and the natural environment, yokai stories are now being used as a way to get people interested in protecting the earth.

Expo 2005 Aichi, which ran from March 25 to September 25, 2005, featured a haunted forest based on the theme of "Harmony with Nature." And in June, fantasy writer Aramata Hiroshi and other members of the Yokai Daisenso production team appeared in a live talk show as part of Tottori Prefecture Day at the Expo. The discussions focused on the relationship between yokai and the natural environment.

Ittan Momen ((c) Mizuki Production)

One local newspaper invited its readers to vote for the most environmentally friendly yokai. Ittan Momen, Kitaro's comic-book sidekick, was voted number one. This yokai comes from a local legend in the Kagoshima Prefecture town of Osumi. It is a traditional sort of ghost made of white cotton and can float across the sky. People voted for Ittan Momen because it is an environmentally friendly mode of air travel. (After all, a sheet doesn't emit any carbon dioxide or other pollutants!)

There seems to be a deep connection between yokai and the environment. We'd all better do our part to protect the earth, or something might jump out and frighten us when we least expect it!

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