Yōkai are mysterious phenomena and bizarre beasts that have inhabited Japan’s landscapes, homes, folklore and imagination for many centuries. They can be evil or benign spirits, ranging from shape-shifting animals to vengeful ghosts. Many of these creatures and their activities have been described in folklore, legends and historical texts, gradually becoming the subjects of paintings and theater. This exhibition presents over 40 works—featuring woodblock prints and printed books (e-hon) spanning over 200 years—that explore the realm of the supernatural, with a focus on women and transformations.
In the Edo period (1603-1868), the spread of woodblock printing fostered a highly literate population, spurring publishers to mass-produce woodblock prints and illustrated books depicting scenes of the modern world as well as popular literature and legends. By the 19th century, characters and scenes of the supernatural became hugely popular, and books and prints made them accessible to a wide audience. Celebrated artists like Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) filled their designs with creepy – and sometimes comical – creatures, devilish demons and grotesque ghosts. Many of their yōkai have inspired depictions in manga and anime today.
The prints and printed books in this exhibition are from the Scripps College collection and are used in classes to teach students not only the history of Japanese art, but also traditional literature, theater and belief systems. We would like to acknowledge the vision of Japanese Art Historian and Curator Meher McArthur in gathering this coterie of creepy creatures and revealing their secrets.
Organized by Margalit Monroe, Academic Curator at The Williamson Gallery
Installation by Kirk Delman, Collections Manager & Registrar and by T Pacini, Gallery Installer at The Williamson Gallery
Educational Guide created by Mica Barrett SC ‘23
Glossary Research performed by Netra Bhat USC ‘23
Special Thanks to John Trendler, Curator of Visual Resources at the Williamson Gallery and to Emma Dubery SC ‘19.