What is a youkai?
A youkai is a blanket term for a Japanese monster. It may or may not include demons and ghosts, as these have their own terms, but they also get included in the general mix of inhuman creatures who make up much of Japanese folklore and who are responsible for mysterious happenings. Kami (gods) are similar in that they are spirits who influence our daily lives and may be angered or pleased, but while a kami might be considered pure, a youkai would be a more impure, occult creature–many look like deformed humans or objects, and this strangeness can make them quite unsettling. However, that also makes them interesting, and has driven people throughout history to name and classify them.

More recently, Japan has gone off the kawaii deep end, and has a culture of cuteness now. Those youkai have turned into more friendly, amusing creatures with unique characteristics that might interfere or interact with our lives, however innocently or maliciously. In fact, I believe that we wouldn’t have gotten Pokemon if not for Japan’s history of classifying varigated monsters and being driven to collect and organize them–and, more recently, to make them cute.

Mizuki Shigeru, however, has presented youkai in such a way that they are popular and lovable, while still menacingly creepy. He is one of the first manga artists to write about youkai (among other topics), and even in his old age now, he continues researching monsters and spirirts in cultures around the world and writing about them. He is best known as the creator of GeGeGe no Kitarou, which is worth introducing in a separate entry. Mizuki-sensei himself has a very interesting history, and which is worth a seperate entry as well.

For now it will suffice to say that he was born in Sakaiminato, a port town here in the San’in region. When he was very young, he loved spending time with the old, very religious woman who assisted his family. He affectionately referred to her as “Nonnon-baa” (“Religious Granny”). She told him stories about various youkai, including Betobeto-san.

This story originally came from Nara Prefecture, but it seems Betobeto-san (“Mr. Footsteps”) has been heard all over Japan. If you’re walking along at night and you hear the sound of clacking geta sandals, beto beto beto, coming from behind you, it means you’re being followed by this youkai. So long as you stop and politely say, “Betobeto-san, after you!”, it will pass by and leave you alone.

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