Ghost Stories


I can’t tell you how many mostly-disembodied eyeballs are found in gift shops around the San’in region. They’re popularity is all thanks to the influence Mizuki Shigeru has had on popular conceptions of youkai, a somewhat frightening, somewhat endearing cast of Japanese goblins and ghouls. He is most famous as the manga-ka who wrote GeGeGe no Kitarou (introduced in this entry last Halloween), but he would introduce himself first as a world explorer and folklore researcher. Wherever I go looking for youkai information, I always find his name in the works referenced! As beloved as his comics are and as much as you see them everywhere around here, his life has been very unique and merits special introduction.

The manga-ka/explorer/folklorist himself, either surprised by his fame or surprised by… well… who knows what.

Mizuki Shigeru (whose real name is Murai Shigeru) was born in 1922 in the port town of Sakaiminato in the little part of Tottori nestled close to the Shimane peninsula. There was an old lady who helped take care of his household, and she was very religious and told little Shigeru about the monsters that lurked in their midst. He was captivated by these stories, also remembers being captivated by an illustration of hell populated by demonic creatures. As you can imagine, it was the kind of art deemed not appropriate for children, but once seen, children may carry it with them forever.

Little Shigeru listening to ghost stories from “Non-Non-Ba” (Religious Granny).

He encountered real terror later on when he was drafted into the military in 1942 and sent into combat on Papua New Guinea. In addition to watching his comrades die, he caught malaria, lost his left arm in an air raid, and become a prisoner of war. While everyone else was growing thin in their poor wartime conditions, his commander found it odd that young Shigeru seemed so well-fed. This was because he had a knack for getting along with the natives. He got along so well, in fact, that they offered him citizenship, land, and a bride.

He was highly tempted to accept their offer, but the military doctor guilt-tripped him into returning home to see his parents once the war ended. He did so with the intention to return to life with the natives on Papua New Guinea, but his post-war predicament back in Japan prevented him from doing so. Instead, the one-armed man worked in a movie theater until 1957, when he made his debut writing super hero comics. Later, he began writing the early adventures of his most famous character, Kitarou.

Like any good Japanese citizen at the time, his accepted an arranged marriage. Her name is Nunoe, and I believe she is from the nearby town of Yasugi. Together they scraped by through poverty and manga deadlines, and at some point, Kitaro exploded with popularity. With its catchy theme song and years and years of anime remakes about the montrous encounters of the title character and his band of regular cast members (everything from what remains of his father (an eyeball), a floating bolt of cotton, an old couple, a cat girl, and a rat man), you could say that it’s like the Scooby-Doo of Japan, except that–as far I know–Scooby doesn’t have an airport named after him. Kitaro is the kind of thing that pretty much every Japanese person has been exposed to in one remake or another, and it is particularly celebrated in and around Sakaiminato, Mizuki-sensei’s hometown.

In addition to his years of research, manga, and fame in regard to youkai, he has also written historical manga about the atrocities of WWII, and has recently been releasing his manga take on the Kojiki (I only noticed this after I started writing my own. As you can imagine, it makes me feel quite inadequate). Busy though writing manga probably keeps him, his interests do not keep him in Japan. Although he is one of the most thorough researchers of youkai in Japan, he has also traveled all over the world studying folklore and making friends with the locals. His fame has drawn more attention to his life story, and the the memorial museum dedicated to his life and works has exhibits about both his world travels and collections, as well as his life story illustrated by both photographs and illustrations from his autobiography. The museum also brings to life his research on Japanese youkai, and even has a model of what his house was like when he lived and struggled there with his young bride. There was even more interest generated in their lives when she released her own autobiography, “GeGeGe’s Wife”, which later had two live action adaptations.

As of my posting this on Halloween 2013, Mizuki-sensei is 91 years old and resides in Tokyo, still busy as ever. He sometimes returns to his hometown and provides original illustrations on the walls of his memorial museum and along the road of youkai statues and youkai-themed products and costumes characters that lead from Sakaiminato Station to the museum. I already admired him and had heard the basics of his life story before paying a visit there, but I left with a much deeper appreciation. Theoretically, since he’s still alive and comes back to visit, I suppose it would be possible to meet him someday. But what would I say or ask first to such a wizard, besides “this lowly worm is unworthy of calling herself a comic artist and purveyor of culture in your great presence”? I get the feeling he’d laugh that off, though.

Matsue is considered a rather large city in the sparsely populated San’in region, and life in the center of town is easy. I have a ten minute walk to work or to Matsue Castle, and a plethora of grocery shopping options that are easy to get to. A car ride twenty minutes in any direction, however, will take you the outskirts of town where life is simplier. Nature is abundant, as are farmers. Agriculture is still a major industry for this reason, and it’s hard to see remnants of Japan’s burst bubble because the bubble economy didn’t reach this region much. In many ways, Shimane and Tottori seem to follow their own train of history which goes at a more leisurely pace than the better-connected areas of Japan. On that note, the Chuugoku mountain range makes it unlikely a bullet train route will ever be built out here.

In addition to being a place where rustic nostalgia paints the landscape, this is also the land of myth. Many of the Kojiki myths are tied directly to the geography of this region, and I’ve spent a handful of weekends getting my JET friends in the inaka–the rural areas–drive me around to go hunt down places associated with the Kojiki myths. On one particular September afternoon, I met up with a friend in Shinji, a southern district of Matsue on the banks of Lake Shinji which borders the town of Unnan. While driving along to where we think we’re going to find the shrine in my guidebook, we make small talk.

“So, how’s life in the inaka?”

“It’s good.”

“Ever see any tanuki around here or anything?”

“No, this is my third year, but I’ve never seen a tanuki. I’ve seen monkeys chilling by the side of the road, though!”

“I see nutria where I live sometimes, but never monkeys!”

Around this time of year, the rice is harvested when it turns the right shade of gold. Throughout the inaka of Japan, you’ll also notice the air is hazy with the smell of burning waste from the harvest.

When the maps on our phones are no longer helping, we look around on foot. We can’t find the shrine, but we can see the figs are ready for picking soon! These are a local product of the Izumo region (some Japanese friends in bigger cities didn’t even know that figs were grown in Japan).

We finally asked for directions from a group of ladies who were taking a break from their harvest, who very cheerfully informed us we were on the wrong side of the hill. Shimane is known for having record numbers of centenarians, and these ladies are perhaps the oldest looking people I have ever met in Japan. Furthermore, they spoke with the thickest Izumo dialect I have heard yet. Through toothless smiles and leathery skin they point up the road and give us detailed directions, and off we go, much better off having asked.

It took a bit longer than we expected, but we found the shrine, and I gathered material for a future post to go with a future manga myth rendition, with only a few autumn mosquito bites to show for it. As we were heading off to go meet up with friends for a dip in the onsen, I got one more glimpse of Shinji’s charming sights.

“STOP!!!! IT’S A TANUKI!! BACK UP! LOOK! LOOK, WE FOUND ONE!” – Buri-chan, the shotgun driver

Not everything in the inaka is so charming, though. Unlike my encounter with a mujina/nopperabo, however, I have photographic proof of this disturbing encounter! It’s as if she follows you all the way from Unnan back through Shinji, waiting on the side of the road just to jump out and startle you.

This is what I’m used to seeing. This happy child is something I’ve encountered all around Japan, a friendly warning to drivers to watch out for children who might dash out into the street. Brightly colored and noticable, he seems to do alright at his job.

But one day, she appeared.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t driving, or I might have crashed in surprise to suddenly see a disturbingly unhumanlike human suddenly accost me from the side of the road. She wasn’t just in one place, either–she was everywhere, lurking along the sides of innocent looking streets. As I was started to adjust to her presence, suddenly we really did see a real child standing at the side of a neighborhood road with a similarly wide stare. Though this was a good little girl who did not dash out into the street to give us the heart attack of our lives, both the driver and I were startled that time to see something live in the place of this soulless girl we had expected to be standing there.

She’s watching you…

Despite the San’in region being a land of ghosts and goblins, I’m not a very superstitious person. That said, I did have a freaky experience once at my local convenience store. As I was leaving, I saw a large man standing right behind me reflected in the glass door, but there was nothing remarkable about his face. He looked like an anatomically correct human, but his face seemed to be missing human features. It was too brief a moment to even react, and before I could even turn back to get a better look he had walked the other direction and all I could see was his back.

Perhaps in Western ghost-story-telling tradition this sounds a little lame–so I didn’t get a good look at a reflection that suddenly showed up behind me. Big deal! And what kind of setting is a FamilyMart for a ghost story anyway? However, people familiar with the folklore of Japan have immediately responded, “ah, so you saw a mujina!”

If I had to find a term for what I saw… then yes, it would be a mujina or nopperabo!

The terms tend to be used interchangably, but they are not the same. A mujina, the name you tend to hear most often, is referring to a tanuki-like (but not necessarily tanuki) mammal, who shapeshifts into human figures in order to deceive humans. A nopperabo is more human in origin, the main characteristic being that they have blank skin for faces. Part of the reason mujina may be in wider use as a term for a faceless being is because of Lafcadio Hearn’s influence on Japanese tales and their retention today, however close or not close they may be to the originals. While he is widely credited in Japan for committing to public memory many ghost stories, many modern Western Japanologists are critical of his work partly because of his less than reliable grasp on the Japanese language. He collected ghost stories from all over Japan, but many of them were told to him through his wife Setsu, who didn’t speak much English. It is possible that what he wrote of the mujina in Kwaidan (1904) was actually supposed to be about nopperabo.

…But she continued to weep, hiding her face from him with one of her long sleeves. “O-jochû,” he said again, as gently as he could, “please, please listen to me! … This is no place for a young lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you! [O]nly tell me how I may be of some help to you!” Slowly she rose up, but turned her back to him, and continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve. He laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder, and pleaded: “O-jochû! O-jochû! O-jochû!… Listen to me, just for one little moment!… O-jochû! O-jochû!”… Then that O-jochû turned round, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face with her hand; and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth, and he screamed and ran away.
Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and ran; and all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he made for it. It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant soba-seller, who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the old soba-seller, crying out, “Aa! aa!! aa!!!”…
“Kore! Kore!” roughly exclaimed the soba-man. “Here! [W]hat is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”
“No, nobody hurt me,” panted the other, “only… Aa! aa!”…
“Only scared you?” queried the peddler, unsympathetically. “Robbers?”
“Not robbers, not robbers,” gasped the terrified man… “I saw… I saw a woman, by the moat; and she showed me… Aa! I cannot tell you what she showed me!”…
“He! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the soba-man, stroking his own face which therewith became like unto an Egg… And, simultaneously, the light went out.

(Source and complete passage here. “O-jochû” is a polite form of address for a lady you don’t know.)

One of the other big local names that is famous world-wide for recording creepy stories is Mizuki Shigeru, the manga author of Gegege-no-Kitaro and many other thoroughly researched works. In his hometown in Tottori, Sakaiminato, is home to over a hundred bronze statues featuring Mizuki’s characters and his interpretations of Japan’s varied cast of youkai. This is his take on a nopperabo.

Click for photo source (Japanese)

A notable difference many people bring up between Japanese ghost stories and Western ghost stories is that they are more about creepiness than horror. Ghostly encounters do not necessarily have to spell your doom (though many do), but they are bothersome at some level or another. I can understand the creepiness of mujina/nopperabo as they are so humanlike, but any striking or even only slightly noticeable difference will send off messages in our brains that something is very wrong. If you’re looking for new ways to freak yourself out this Halloween season, search around the internet for things in the Bukimi-no-Tani.

If you’d rather just learn about some interesting tales of creepy things without needing to burn bothersome images into your memory, then read Lafcadio Hearn‘s Kwaidan or any youkai-related work of Mizuki Shigeru. As I was opening WordPress to write this entry I also noticed Cristy at Takeshita Demons had just made a nopperabo reference as well in a recent entry, and Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai is always a good source for youkai talk, too.

In Japan, summer is considered the perfect time to indulge in some spooky stories or visit haunted houses. This rationale behind this is that when you encounter something creepy, it sends chills down your spine and makes your shiver, thereby being an effective way to beat the heat. There is a rich culture of creepiness all throughout the islands, but the San’in region–particularly on either side of lake Nakaumi, right in the middle of the region–actively retains this culture throughout the year.

While Sakaiminato may be a youkai-researcher’s heaven and Matsue’s ghost tours and lectures with Prof. Bon Koizumi (Lafcadio Hearn’s great-grandson) draw visitors from all over Japan, I haven’t been writing as much as the haunts here as I thought I would. I think its because I feel inadequate. Mizuki Shigeru and Lafcadio Hearn are the experts and have already poured their energy into recording these tales, and it feels as though my own writing on the topic wouldn’t compare!

One of the more recent writers to join the story-telling scene is “Frogman”, the creator of a flash animation called “Taka no Tsume” (Eagle Talon). For what I’ve seen of it, it’s a rag-tag group set on conquering the world for the sake of world peace… I think. It goes so fast that English subtitles probably wouldn’t help, especially with many references that might need explaining, so I don’t foresee this getting very popular abroad. That said, it’s the kind of thing that people recognize all over Japan right now.

Frogman is originally from Tokyo, but is in love with Shimane and has lent the fame of his nationally famous characters to the prefecture’s public relations. In a region rich with folklore and stories, he uses “Yoshida-kun” to tell those stories in his slapstick style of seemingly severely caffeinated humor in a very limited span of time. There is even a line of souvenir t-shirts out here in the San’in region, one with Kitaro and an outline of Tottori, and the other with Yoshida-kun and an outline of Shimane. Respectively, they say, “Tottori: It’s to the right of Shimane” and “Shimane: It’s to the left of Tottori.” I find this hilarious, but I live here.

The most recent Frogman–Shimane project is now debuting at the Matsue History Museum–3 minute (or in one case, 1-minute!) retellings of the haunting stories Lafcadio Hearn wrote about!

Salutations: “I had always thought that animating Lafcadio Hearn’s ‘Kwaidan’ would become my life’s work. To think that it would take shape in such a wonderful place as this…!! I am really, truly grateful. I hope you all will enjoy getting scared!” – Frogman, 2013.7.27

This is just one part of the summer Kwaidan festivities going on this summer. Besides overnight ghost story activities for kids, there are also ghost tour scavenger hunt activities that I’ve seen kids on summer vacation walking around with guides for.

The syrup-buying woman


The human-eating turtle

The history museum also has a small haunted house set up themed around Hearn’s writings. What better way to cool off than to visit Yuki-Onna? Take a lantern, listen to the startled screams of people going ahead of you, and then watch your step as you enter the darkness. From the outside, you can hear the amused giggles of the people running the exhibit.

And then you can chill at the museum cafe, Kiharu, with both a cold drink and spooky stories.

Rokuro-kubi

Speaking of Hearn’s “Kwaidan,” perhaps you’re already familiar with the 1964 film of the same title. In case not, here are links to a few of the most famous stories (these are also ones the Eagle Talon team did their own retellings of) on Project Gutenberg, in Hearn’s own words:

Yuki-Onna (The Snow Woman)
Rokuro-kubi (The Long-necked People)
Mimi-nashi Hoichi (No-ears Hoichi)

Hoichi is pretty popular here. This is a statue by Lake Shinji, and I’ve seen a number of costumes and retellings of this story.

While there is hardly any need for me to make my own renditions of the tales, I do find that while I’m showing people around Matsue I frequently say things like, “this is the bridge where this one ghost hates this one song and this one samurai sang it and then…” or “this is the cemetary where…” or “this is the temple where…” as I’m pointing out the sights. I suppose we dohave a lot of ghost stories, don’t we? Seeing as this is the final day of O-bon, I’ll just post this piece of Hearn’s “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan” to explain why there is no official Bon-odori (O-bon dance) in Matsue proper, though most places usually have a local style of it.

The grim castle has its legend.

It is related that, in accordance with some primitive and barbarous
custom, precisely like that of which so terrible a souvenir has been
preserved for us in the most pathetic of Servian ballads, ‘The
Foundation of Skadra,’ a maiden of Matsue was interred alive under the
walls of the castle at the time of its erection, as a sacrifice to some
forgotten gods. Her name has never been recorded; nothing concerning her
is remembered except that she was beautiful and very fond of dancing.

Now after the castle had been built, it is said that a law had to be
passed forbidding that any girl should dance in the streets of Matsue.
For whenever any maiden danced the hill Oshiroyama would shudder, and
the great castle quiver from basement to summit.

As interpreted by Mizuki Shigeru (statue located in Sakaiminato).

Another youkai* that comes from the sea, this one has typically been sighted around the Hirata area of the Shimane Peninsula (now a part of Izumo City).

Not to be confused with a mermaid (a big distinction is made in this part of Japan), she is the hideous half-fish, half-woman “wife of the sea” (or the wife of Umibouzu, a sea monster that has been spotted throughout Japan). She is capable of living on land for several days at a time and even speaks the local dialect, and she walks around carrying her offspring with her. With fish scales all over and long, human-like hair, it is said that she took the form of a women who had drowned in the sea. More specifically, in Iwate Prefecture in northern Japan, she was said to have brought to shore the corpses of fishermen supposedly killed in a storm at sea, and their wives were so distraught that they threw themselves into the sea–only to turn into Uminyoubou themselves. Another story goes that a young boy lost his father when he was very young, and his mother went missing. Years later the boy became a fisherman, and when he went out to sea, an Uminyoubou appeared. She had tears in her eyes and said, “You’ve grown up well.”

In the Izumo sightings, she is said to enter peoples’ houses while they are out, and holding her baby in one hand she uses the other hand to steal and eat salted fish, which she shares with the baby. Apparently she prefers it salted rather than catching it fresh herself.

There was also an account of a man in Uppurui (which would later be a part of Hirata), who returned home early and noticed the Uminyoubou from outside as he approached his house. He peered in and saw her and her baby eating the fish, and she grumbled, “Where is the man? I wanted to eat him first.” Sounds a little like an old mountain lady we know.

* – “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.

The Ushi-Oni (“cow demon”) is said to be found in many different areas of Japan, but the San’in region is haunted by an aquatic version of this monster.

According to The Obakemono Project:

On the coasts of Northern Kyūshū and the San’in Region adjacent to the Sea of Japan, the ushi-oni is thought to dwell in the ocean. Its appearance on the shore is preceded by that of a woman, who may be the monster called nure-onna or iso-onna or a transformation of the ushi-oni itself. She holds a child which she presses on passers-by, asking them to take it and give it something to eat. In the usual ubume pattern, the child becomes enormously heavy and stone-like when held, impeding the unfortunate person’s movements and giving the ushi-oni a chance to attack.

Given its proximity to water, the San’in region has long held many beliefs about youkai that live in the ocean. Similarly, there are many Kami-sama associated with safe sea travel and fishing.

One the JR Sakai Line in Tottori, (the train line between Yonago and Sakaiminato), many of the stations are themed around different youkai. This is how I first learned of this particular one–so as to say I have not had personal experience.

I kid you not, that is exactly how it happened! I heard the Kodama (tree spirits)! If you have not seen this movie, this is all you need to know:

This would make a great story, expect that I remembered it wrong. Hayao Miyazaki’s movie “Princess Mononoke” didn’t take place in Higashi-Izumo. It took place in Oku-Izumo!

I was really excited about the unidentified sounds and certainly appreciated the five-minute walk through the forest near Yomotsuhirasaka for it, but I thought about it more later and what I remember of the Studio Ghibli film. The geography wouldn’t make sense with the time period, so I checked–sure enough, I was wrong! Oku-Izumo makes more sense, giving the iron production history there. I feel a little disappointed, but whose to say forest spirits wouldn’t spread out to the surrounding areas?




I see a lot of piles of rocks like this in forests around here, and they always remind me of Lafcadio Hearn‘s essay about another Shimane sight, “In The Cave of the Children’s Ghosts”:

From the sea the ribbed floor of the cavern slopes high through deepening shadows hack to the black mouth of a farther grotto; and all that slope is covered with hundreds and thousands of forms like shattered haka. But as the eyes grow accustomed to the gloaming it becomes manifest that these were never haka; they are only little towers of stone and pebbles deftly piled up by long and patient labour.

‘Shinda kodomo no shigoto,’ my kurumaya murmurs with a compassionate smile; ‘all this is the work of the dead children.’

(Buri note: Haka = grave(stone), Kurumaya = driver)

Given the circumstances, these rocks made me think more of Kodama!

…but maybe the nearby neighborhood puppies lived here instead?

Thus ended my charming visit to the gateway to the underworld. Given it’s ties to Yomi, the story of Izanagi and Izanami is rather dark and places associated can be on the somber side, but other Kojiki stories that took place in the San’in region tended to have happier endings. Now that we have this tragedy out of the way, look forward to more love stories and heroism ahead.

Does Gegege no Kitarou ring any bells for anyone outside of Japan? Here in the San’in region, he’s a very familiar face.

If I had to draw a comparison, then Kitarou is like the Scooby-Doo of Japan. He’s been around for decades as the star of a cartoon filled with ghoulish creatures, has had multiple incarnations over the years, and enjoys a wide audience. However, as far as I know, Scooby can’t shoot his knuckles like missiles. And Scooby probably has more left of his father than just a walking eyeball (that’s not Kitarou’s missing eyeball!). Not to mention Scooby probably doesn’t have a whole city covered in statues and memorabilia of him.

Scooby probably doesn’t have an airport named after him either.

Kitarou’s creator, Mizuki Shigeru, is from the port town of Sakaiminato in Tottori Prefecture. They will find any way to put Kitarou and other youkai (monsters) on anything.





There is more to Sakaiminato than just Kitarou, but a first glance around town would imply it’s just Kitarou. For instance, one of the first places you’ll see after leaving Sakaiminato station is Mizuki Shigeru Road, which has 133 statues of Kitarou, other youkai Mizuki-sensei has compiled research about, characters from other Mizuki series, and Mizuki himself. Almost every business on Mizuki Shigeru Road either is full of Kitarou merchandise or finds some way to incorporate Kitarou into the theme. A normal barber shop is very quickly a youkai barber shop, and a bakery sells bread shaped like Kitarou characters. And because anything goes as long as it has Kitarou, you also find places like this:

Of course no normal item would be acceptable. If it can be made to fit the theme, it will fit the theme! You see these water bottles being sold everywhere, but I only saw this warning once. Even if you can’t read Japanese, you can probably figure it out.

I haven’t actually seen that much of Gegege no Kitarou myself, but I know it well enough to have thoroughly enjoyed visiting. It would have been faster just to take a bus from Matsue, but I took the trains–and even once you get to Yonago station, you know you’re on the right track.

He’s best known for the various versions of the anime “Gegege no Kitarou” but he was the hero of several different related manga Mizuki-sensei wrote (which is not to say he was in every manga!). With a character design consistent but flexible enough to appeal to newer audiences, Kitarou is a classic (although frightening) hero–rather calm and collected, he does his best to beat the bad guys with his set of powers and comrades, and he generally gets along with everyone. Medama-Oyaji–his eyeball father–is also rather popular. Purely because his name means “Rat Man,” I have a soft for Nezumi-Otoko too.

I also learned a lot more about Mizuki-sensei himself, though I had heard the basics a few years back. His introduction, however, merits a separate entry some other time.

Of course, no introduction to Kitarou would be complete without hearing the theme song. Thankfully they’ve retained the same song (just in updated styles) throughout the various Gegege remakes over the years.

And on that note, Happy Halloween!

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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