Some of the most famous images of monsters from Japanese folklore issued from the fertile imagination of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), one of the greatest woodblock artists of the nineteenth century. Starr Library owns an original set of fifty-nine Kuniyoshi prints from the series titled Genjikumo ukiyo e-awase (Ukiyoe Comparison of the Cloudy Chapters of Genji), which the artist produced around the years 1845-1846. Nominally, the series takes as its theme the literary classic Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji; ca. 1000), devoting at least one image to each of its fifty-four chapters. However, only the insets at the top of each sheet directly portray episodes from that tale. The main focus of the prints lies instead on memorable scenes from the kabuki theater as played by famous contemporary actors. It is speculated that Kuniyoshi resorted to this subterfuge in order to circumvent shogunal regulations prohibiting the sale of images of courtesans and actorsthe two main denizens of the "floating world" (ukiyo)which had grown stringent in the early 1840s as part of a campaign to uplift public morality.
Kabuki was the most spectacular form of visual entertainment available to early-modern Japanese, and drew huge crowds in the nation's prosperous metropolitan centers. To be knowledgeable about the leading actors and latest plays was de rigueur for the sophisticated urbanite, and even if one lived in the countryside, one could still gain an appreciation of the stage's grand spectacle by looking at popular prints, perhaps bought by a neighbor on a trip to the city. In this sense, woodblock depictions of the contemporary marvels of the kabuki stage, or of the equally popular bunraku or puppet theater (properly called ningy˘ j˘ruri), may be seen as a precursor of the film posters that would whet consumer appetites for motion pictures in the twentieth century. Both kabuki and bunraku, moreover, were enjoyed in part for their ingenious visual effects, presenting actors who flew through the air and puppets that suddenly transformed from ordinary humans into frightening demons. Although celluloid is a Western invention, the visual trickery and monstrous themes that animated the genre of kaijű eiga beginning in the 1950s had deep roots in Japanese popular culture.
The two prints in the case are in superb condition, and highlight Kuniyoshi's mastery of color as well as his taste for the bizarre. They were featured in a 1992 exhibition at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery titled "Actors, Courtesans, and Famous Vistas: Japanese Art from Columbia Collections." The exhibition catalogue introduces the print on the left (ITEM 1) as follows:
In the print on the right (ITEM 2), Kuniyoshi offers his imaginative interpretation of a "dirt spider" (tsuchigumo), a creature that receives mention as early as the eighth-century imperial chronicles Kojiki and Nihon shoki. Some scholars suggest that the term originally may not have referred literally to an arachnid, but rather to groups of humans on the archipelago who lived in sunken dwellings (not unlike burrowing spiders) and who resisted imperial authority. Whatever the case, Japanese artists over the centuries have depicted spiders as possessing somewhat human features, most prominently a pair of bulging eyesrather than the zoologically correct eightand a toothy mouth. The same characteristics are evident in the special effects created to portray Kumonga (a.k.a. Spiega), the giant spider that battles Godzilla and his son, Minya, in T˘h˘'s 1967 film Kaijűt˘ no kessen: Gojira no musuko (Son of Godzilla, 1969).
The word kumo has two meanings in Japanese"spider" and "cloud"and it is on this basis that Kuniyoshi makes punning allusion to the "Wisps of Cloud" (Usugumo) chapter of the classic Tale of Genji that appears in the print's formal title. The two male figures are S˘ma (or Taira) Yoshikado and Ut˘ Yasukata, famous warriors of the tenth century. The spider in the background is the spirit of Yoshikado's dead sister, Koch˘, whose name literally means "butterfly"a far less gruesome insect. The celebrated playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725) introduced this metamorphic twist into the Yoshikado legend in his 1724 play Kanhasshű tsunagiuma (The Tethered Steed and the Eight Provinces of Kant˘), written originally for the puppet theater. The scene, which lends itself to impressive special effects, was a favorite among both bunraku and kabuki audiences. Art historian Matthew McKelway notes that a kabuki version of the story was performed at Edo's Ichimuraza theater in the winter of 1844, just a year or two before the publication of this print.
The word manga, or comic book, has become part of today's global lexicon of pop culture. Few who use it probably are aware that the term, written originally with Chinese characters () that literally mean "random pictures," derives from the title of a fifteen-volume woodblock-printed book that was published during the early nineteenth century by the artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Like its latter-day descendants, Hokusai's pictorial miscellany featured numerous images of ghosts, monsters, and demons, and circulated widely among the general populace, enjoyed by young as well as old. Hokusai's supernatural imagery drew from many sources, including native folklore, Chinese legend, Buddhist cosmology, and contemporary popular culture. Starr Library is proud to own several editions of this classic.
Godzilla's twentieth-century creators were deeply influenced by the modern science of paleontology, but giant reptiles have haunted the cultural imagination for millennia. Dragons took various shapes and carried many different associations in Chinese and Japanese traditions. At the middle left of the left page of ITEM 3, for example, is an amary˘, a dragon that lived in the skies and was believed responsible for generating rain and thunder. To its immediate right is the dary˘, a marine variety that, according to one 1795 source, appeared from time to time in the seas off Kyushu, and might reach a length of ten to twenty feet. Hokusai's marvelous rendering of an "ash-puffing dragon" in ITEM 4 incorporates a visual pun: not only does the creature exhale smoke from its mouth, but its tail dips into a tray of tobacco utensilsanother form of puffing that involves ashes. Tobacco had been introduced into Japan by Portuguese missionaries during the sixteenth century, and was widely enjoyed in Hokusai's time, particularly in the entertainment quarters. Another old and pervasive association of dragons in East and in South Asia is with a magnificent undersea realm ruled over by a serpent deity. In ITEM 5, on the right page, Hokusai depicts a "city in the sea," complete with a swimming dragon, masterfully giving both the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't air of a mirage. This particular type of dragon, called a shin,was believed able to summon up visions of fantastic architecture with a mere puff of its breath. Coupled with this image on the opposite page is another marine phantom: "ship ghosts" (funayűrei), silhouetted almost imperceptibly in white against a slightly darker background. They are the spirits of dead boatsmen who continue to haunt their watery grave.
Well into the nineteenth century, Japan bestiaries (encyclopedic representations of animals) routinely mixed imaginary creatures with actual living ones. Hokusai's animal prints provide many examples, and even some of the real species he depicts resemble their zoological counterparts only rather tenuously. In ITEM 6, a reasonably lifelike sea cucumber (right page, top left), otter (to its right), seal (directly below), and pangolin (directly below) share their habitat with a more fanciful walrus or "sea horse," here literally imagined as an aquatic equine (left page, top), and a "water rhinoceros," which is a designation that in fact probably referred to a water buffalo (left page, bottom). Meanwhile, a mermaid or a merman (right page, top right) and a water imp (kappa; right page, bottom right) swim not too far away. The "three-eyed [or three-jeweled] turtle" of ITEM 7 is somewhat of a mystery. Could this be a precursor of Gamera, the monster tortoise that Daiei Studios developed in the 1960s in order to rival T˘h˘'s reptilian star, Godzilla?
Buddhism, which was introduced into the Japanese archipelago during the sixth century, brought with it not only new beliefs but also new creatures of fantasy. One ubiquitous mischief-maker was the oni or demon, which populated the numerous hells of Buddhist cosmology. Demons in Japan can be distinguished by the two horns that grow atop their heads, although judging from ITEM 8 (right page), they sometimes have one or three eyes instead of the usual pair. The owner of another copy on display here, ITEM 9 [DETAIL], seems to have used the image for drawing practice, sketching the outline of a demon on the back of the page. The most effective way to get rid of demons, as ITEM 10 illustrates, is to scatter beans, a custom associated in Japan even today with the beginning of the lunar new year (setsubun).
In ITEM 11, Hokusai depicts, counter-clockwise from the top left, a ghost (yűrei); the mountain hag Yamamba; a "baboon" (hihi); and a tengu or mountain goblin. Ghosts in Japan are more often depicted as female than male, and noticeably lack feet. Various legends surround the figure of Yamamba, an old woman said to live in the mountains with her son Kintar˘, the wild boy. This same son appears as an adult in ITEM 12, identified here with Sakata Kintoki, a warrior active around the end of the first millennium. For Japanese of Hokusai's day, a baboon was no less fantastic a creature than a dragon or a mermaid, being known chiefly from continental sources. On the other hand, many might have claimed to have seenor at least heard of someone who had seena mountain goblin, which was a prominent figure in native lore. Tengu have long, sometimes beaklike noses, clawed feet (as do demons), and are fond of mischief. They are traditionally associated with mountain hermits as well as with military prowess (notice the sword in ITEM 11), which makes them apt playmates for the savage-born warrior Kintoki.
The early-modern Tokugawa period (1600-1868) in which Hokusai lived and worked saw an unprecedented flourishing of monster culture and commerce. Children as well as adults in such urban centers as Edo (today's Tokyo), Osaka, and Kyoto eagerly consumed, or at least coveted, a wide range of monster products that were available on the market or from lending libraries. Among them were picture books (ehon) that paraded an endless variety of strange creatures to a diversity of "readers" who were not always fully literate. Hokusai's Manga series offers a prominent example, but it only appeared many decades after an earlier monster boom in the pages of the eighteenth-century genre known as kiby˘shi ("yellow-cover books"), and shows clear traces of the latter's influence. This debt is particularly evident in ITEM 13, which captures the playfulness and parody typical of popular portrayals of monsters by predecessors such as the kiby˘shi author and illustrator Sant˘ Ky˘den (1761-1816). In this humorous image, Hokusai places two varieties of monster in a contemporary urban setting. A pair of rokurokubi, creatures with long, elastic necks, are serenaded by a player of the three-stringed shamisen, which is an instrument associated with the pleasure quarters, as is the tobacco that both the rubbernecks smoke. Perhaps the creatures are shown in bed because it was at night that the rokurokubi's neck was believed to extend in search of prey. The number of strings on the instrument is cleverly echoed by the three eyes on the forehead of the figure who faces the reader on the left page. Known in Japanese as a mitsume or "three-eyes," the creature appears in the ancient lore of China as well as of the ancient Mediterranean (most famously in Pliny's Natural History). Hokusai adds an up-to-date, comical touch by showing the monster being fitted for a pair of spectacles specially suited to his optical needs. Eyeglasses, which were invented in Italy around the thirteenth or fourteenth century, entered Japan during the Tokugawa period (1600-1868). Notice the spiderweb pattern on the three-eyed creature's garb, which adds to his spooky air.
The present-day descendants of Hokusai's Manga are the mass-produced and mass-marketed comic books known as manganow an English as well as a Japanese common noun. Two examples, ITEM 14 and ITEM 15, are on display here, their texts in Japanese and English respectively. Because Japanese manga typically read from right to left, rendering them into English often involves reversing the images as well as translating the words. On the cover of ITEM 15 is what Tokugawa Japanese would have called a mitsume or "three-eyes," which we have encountered already in ITEM 13. Here the creature is incarnated as a "triclops" hailing from a netherworld in the vicinity of Tibet. American comic books have different historical origins from Japanese manga, but they share many features with them, and on occasion have borrowed from Japanese monster traditions, both new and old. Stan Lee (1922- ), of Spiderman fame, introduced Godzilla as a Marvel Comics character in 1977, proclaiming in the first issue (ITEM 16): "Look out, America! The mightiest menace of them all is coming your way!" The following number (ITEM 17) placed the King of the Monsters atop Seattle's Space Needle, thousands of miles across the Pacific from his original home.
As growing numbers of Westerners began to visit Japan from the latter half of the nineteenth century, the ghosts, monsters, and demons of Japanese tradition gained a new audience overseas. One of the earliest stories to be translated into English was the tale of Momotar˘, the Peach Boy. Often regarded as quintessentially Japanese, the origins of the folktale may in fact be related to the ancient Chinese belief that peach wood has magical powers to drive away evil spirits. The tale recounts the adventures of a boy who is born from a peach found floating in the river by a childless elderly couple. Accompanied by a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant, Momotar˘ subsequently journeys to Oni-ga-shima, or Demon Island, where he vanquishes a wicked horde of oni led by the fearsome red-hued Akand˘ji.
The story first appeared in English in Tales of Old Japan (ITEM 18 [DETAIL 1] [DETAIL 2] [DETAIL 3]), an 1871 anthology authored by the British diplomat Algernon Bertram Mitford (later Baron Redesdale;1837-1916). Mitford had acquired his knowledge of Japanese folklore while serving as attachÚ to the British delegation in Japan between 1866 and 1870, where he witnessed the dissolution of the Tokugawa shogunate and founding of a modern nation-state. Illustrations "drawn and cut on wood by Japanese artists" accompanied Mitford's text, and are among the first examples of the hanga (woodblock print) tradition to be published outside Japan. Another early English rendition was the 1885 children's book Momotaro, or Little Peachling (ITEM 19 [DETAIL]), whose Tokyo-based publisher listed the work's translator as "Dabiddo Tamusan," presumably a foreign resident by the name of David Thom(p)son. A purely visual rendering may be found in ITEM 20, which draws on the tradition of kirigami, the art of paper cutting. Can you find Momotaro's three animal companions? [ANSWER 1] [ANSWER 2] [ANSWER 3]
Among early Western translators of Japanese monster lore, Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was not the first, but he was undoubtedly the most prolific and perhaps the most widely read. Giving up a modest career in American journalism, Hearn, who was British by birth, arrived in Yokohama to open a new chapter in his restless life in 1890. He eventually became a Japanese citizen, adopting the name of Koizumi Yakumo. Hearn/Koizumi's abiding interest in the uncanny and the supernatural found expression in ten collections of essays that he published between 1894 and his death a decade later. His renderings of Japanese ghost stories form the basis of Kobayashi Masaki's visually stunning Kwaidan (1964), winner of a Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1965. It is not an honor, incidentally, that has befallen any Godzilla film.
The "Goblin Spider" of ITEM 21 [DETAIL] is Hearn's name for the tsuchigumo, literally a "dirt spider." We have come across this creature already in ITEM 2, as interpreted by the woodblock master Kuniyoshi. In the present book illustration as well, by an unknown artist, bulging eyes and a voracious mouth distinguish the monstrous arachnid. The story Hearn relates is one of many concerning a quartet of legendary warriors at the turn of the first millenium, led by the valiant general Minamoto Raik˘. Among the four retainers is Sakata Kintoki, the ex-Wild Boy of ITEM 12. In the story, the samurai heroes pursue a bloodthirsty spider to its cavernous lair, which is hidden beneath the broken-down house shown in the illustration. The half-figure of a woman holding a lantern on the book's cover relates to a different story. Lanterns, along with certain other household objects, have been traditionally associated in Japan with monsters and spirits. One of the most famous ghosts of the kabuki stage, Oiwa, appears at one point in the play with a lanternlike visage, and there even was a traditional spook called the ch˘chin obakeliterally, a "lantern ghost"who was little more than a paper lantern with feet and arms. In a preelectrical society, a light glowing in the dark can quite easily convey a sense of the uncanny. One thinks, for example, of the natural phenomena popularly known as "will-o'-the-wisp" and "foxfire" as well as the enduring jack-o'-lantern of Halloween.
The spider is not the only insect that has over the centuries instilled fear and awe in many Japanese. Centipedes and caterpillars, too, have been the target of much revulsion. A court tale of the twelfth century describes an unconventional young noblewoman who indulges in such unladylike pastimes as playing with snakes and toads, and notes that her bushy eyebrows look shockingly "like caterpillars." This sort of cultural disdain for certain types of insect could easily metamorphose into a screen creature like Mothra. The centipede, meanwhile, plays a prominent role in a legend concerning Fujiwara Hidesato, a general famed for quelling the revolt of Taira Masakado (ca. 903-940), who was the father of the warrior Yoshikado depicted in ITEM 2. As recounted by the Briton F. Hadland Davis in his Myths and Legends of Japan (ITEM 22 [DETAIL]), a work from 1912, Hidesato slew a "great centipede" that had been tormenting residents of the region around Lake Biwa. As a reward, the benevolent dragon-king who lived at the bottom of the lake bestowed upon Hidesato a self-replenishing bag of rice that would feed his descendants down through the generations. The illustration was done by Davis's countrywoman Evelyn Paul (1870-1945), whose style was deeply influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite School of the late nineteenth century. One last spider may be seen in an illustration from Ancient Tales and Folklore of Japan (ITEM 23), a 1908 anthology by Richard Gordon Smith (1858-1918), who was a British animal hunter andfollowing a bitter marital disputea full-time traveler. The spider is here surrounded by a motley crew of monstrous apparitions, including a mountain goblin (tengu), a rubberneck, a dirt spider, and a monoculus. This "Procession of Ghosts" is what Japanese referred to as a hyakki yak˘, literally, a "night procession of one hundred demons." According to Smith, a certain "Mr. Mo-No-Yukiůdrew and painted the illustrations from sketches of my own."
English is not the only language through which Japanese monster lore has been transmitted across the globe. ITEMS 24, 25, and 26 are translations of Japanese folktales into French, Russian, and Dutch respectively. As cultural textswhether folklore or Godzilla moviestravel around the world, some of their original elements may become garbled or drop out entirely, while their new cultural environment introduces local elements into the mix. In ITEM 24, for example, the "eight-tailed serpent" (yamata no orochi) of the Japanese imperial chronicles has come to resemble a traditional single-tailed European dragon, and has taken on a new nameYatamathe original consonants having become transposed along the way. Similarly, Orientalized Roman letters appear alongside both real and made-up Chinese characters in the frontispiece by French illustrator Ferdinand Raffin. In the frontispiece of ITEM 25 [DETAIL], a Soviet edition of Japanese folktales, a water imp (kappa), a trio of demons (oni), and a badger (tanuki) share the page with a human skeleton, although the last of these figures is more an obsession of Western monster culture than of Japanese. In Japanese folk art, badgers, who, like their fox cousins, are tricksters capable of metamorphosing into humans, are typically depicted with enormous testicles, a detail that the Soviet artist has chosen to forego.
Books and prints are not the only form in which Japanese monster culture has received material, and mercantile, expression. Wealthy townsmen in Tokugawa-period cities, for example, prized netsuke, or purse toggles, which artisans carved into the shape of folkloric monsters, ghouls, and demons. In the twentieth century, Godzilla and his fellow kaijű offered similarly rich commercial opportunities. Among the most prolific of all kaijű goods are models or other toys made from plastic or other materials (see, for example, ITEM 28, top shelf), sometimes mechanized, as is the case with the hatching Godzilla (ITEM 27) on the top shelf. Notably, it was an American toy manufacturer, Aurora, not a Japanese, that marketed the first Godzilla model in 1964. By the early 1970s, Godzilla, along with Dracula and Frankenstein, had secured a prominent and probably permanent place in the plastic pantheon of American "movie monsters," making for a distinctly multicultural lineup (1972 magazine ad, ITEM 30 [DETAIL], top shelf). Godzilla invaded American and Japanese homes also in such diverse forms as eight-millimeter movies (ITEM 30, top shelf), phonograph records (ITEM 32, bottom shelf), pinback buttons (ITEM 29, top shelf), and keychains-cum-refrigerator magnets (ITEM 31 [DETAIL], top shelf). Kaijű commerce was by no means a phenomenon limited to Japan and North America. The toy machine gun (ITEM 33) on the bottom shelf, which was likely made in the 1950s or 1960s, comes from Argentina. Although, like the Taiwanese keychains above it, the product was probably not officially licensed by T˘h˘ Corporation, the graphic design on the box [DETAIL] depicts what surely must be Godzilla in the midst of his trademark urban rampage. The image of the neatly dressed matron fleeing the monster, firmly clutching her handbag, evokes some of the posters in the Kress Room next door. In a classic Oedipal configuration, the boy to whom the toymakers appealed presumably desires to brandish this gun so as to rid his world of a menacing masculine figure who would claim possession of the mother. But then again, sometimes a toy is just a toy.
From a merchandising standpoint, the fact that monsters are creatures of the imagination offers distinct commercial advantages. Because they do not actually existor at least so we hopemonsters are available only as representations. As such, they are eminently commodifiable, consumable, and collectible. Moreover, there is hypothetically no limit to the number of monsters that the imagination, and hence the monster industry, can create. Simply put, monsters multiply. Paradoxically, they also divide, for, in order to keep track of their proliferating numbers, it becomes necessary to differentiate among them, to distinguish their characteristic features and powers, to create, in effect, cultural order out of monstrous chaos. A taxonomic knowledge of monsterdom can itself become a form of commodity. It is a marketable asset that many generations of Japanese children, as well as adults, have prized, and that entrepreneurs have been quick to capitalize on. To know your monsters, perhaps even to own some, is bound to make you a popular kid on the block.
In Tokugawa-period Japan, one way of testing one's monster knowledge was through the game of obake karuta. Obake means "ghost" or "monster," while karuta derives from the Portuguese name for Tarot cards, introduced into Japan in the late sixteenth century. Players competed to snatch up colorful monster cards matching clues read aloud by the master of ceremonies. The individual or team who accumulated the greatest number of cardsthere was one for each "letter" of the Japanese syllabaryby the end of the game was the winner. The cards displayed on the top shelf (ITEM 34 [GROUP 1][GROUP 2][GROUP 3][GROUP 4]) are reproductions of a set that was marketed in the latter half of the Tokugawa period, perhaps in the early nineteenth century. The game itself was commonly played as late as the 1910s or 1920s. Among the monsters represented in this deck are several that feature elsewhere in the exhibition, including a "dirt spider," a rubberneck, "ship ghosts," a "lantern ghost," and a metamorphic badger (complete with large testicles) and fox. Can you find the matching cards? [ANSWER 1][ANSWER 2][ANSWER 3][ANSWER 4][ANSWER 5][ANSWER 6]
The principles of multiplication and taxonomization that fueled early-modern monster commerce may be recognized also in its twentieth-century equivalent. The giant movie monsters (kaijű) that T˘h˘ Corporation and other Japanese film studios developed beginning in the 1950s boasted clearly distinguishable traits and powersfrom their outward appearance to their weapons of choice to their signature soundsand to mistake Rodan for Ghidrah would be a ghastly faux pas in certain juvenile circles. One could also "own" them, whether in the form of trading cards or picture books or three-dimensional figures like the set that is laid out on the middle shelf (ITEM 35). Among the figures are several that hearken back to earlier manifestations of Japanese monster culture, including dragonlike beasts such as Godzilla (front center) and Ghidrah (left rear), and scary bugs such as Mothra (along the right edge).
More recently, the same taxonomic impulse has found expression in the PokÚmon phenomenon. Around the world, children clamor for trading cards (see ITEM 36, bottom shelf) bearing the image of Pikachű and his fellow "pocket monsters," animated creatures that made their debut as Game Boy characters in 1996. The cards, which are marketed in Japanese, English, and many other languages, provide vital statistics concerning the featured monsters, including their special powers and metamorphic abilities. Over the past seven years, a television series and six PokÚmon movies have captured a larger global audience than T˘h˘'s Godzilla flicks did over the last half-century. Testifying to the underlying continuity in Japanese monster culture, the corporation that was responsible for creating PokÚmon is Nintend˘, a company originally founded in 1889 as a manufacturer of gaming cards (hanafuda) similar to the obake karuta displayed on the top shelf. Some of Nintendo's "pocket monsters" draw on much older iconographic traditions. For example, Ho-oh or Sacred Wing (bottom row) is modeled after a phoenixlike bird (h˘˘) that was known to Japanese for well over a millennium and originated in the Chinese classics.
Godzilla (R), all related characters and the character designs are trademarks of Toho Co., Ltd.
© Gregory M. Pflugfelder