Today I managed to attend a conference dedicated to the world of yokai and Japanese monsters/supernatural issues!
The conference introduced the book of this young Italian scholar, Marta Fanasca, dedicated to the symbology and sociology behind the development of Japanese "unknown". It's incredible how much one can learn about a civilization by taking into consideration its folklore!
Here's a picture of the author and her book, and the two professors of Oriental Studies of "Sapienza" University, that followed Marta through her academic career and were there to give their contribution to the discussion (it mostly ended with the professor of Japanese and Chinese literature talking about his adventures with ghosts in his childhood LOL).
The location for the conference was the garden of the restaurant/gallery Doozo, in Rome. It was very cute, but it was also hot and the place was filled with mosquitoes D': I had one of those smoky mosquitoes repellent burning besides me, I wasn't touched by the mosquitoes but I was almost getting intoxicated myself D': *coughs*
--The place was quite crowded! It was nice to see so much interest about the subject :D
The discussion and the themes were extremely interesting!
It started with professor Sadun introducing the idea of turning the conference into a Hyaku Monogatari Kaidankai, then the author started her explanation of the book.
The book was extremely interesting (or at least, the way it was explained was, since I couldn't buy it) because the author developed her studies in Japan focusing on the history of art, so everything returned to one of my most beloved themes ever: UKIYO-E!
The existence and development of yokai accompanied Japanese people during their whole history.
Must be said that the words "yokai" and "mononoke" don't really refer to "monsters" as we may intend, but mostly to the "scary premonitions" or "feelings" that someone may feel in certain situations: for example, the childish fear of the dark, the impression that someone is watching you when you enter an empty room, or the sensation of being followed when walking down a silent street.
So you can say that the "first" stage of our yokailogy was the one connected to the mere influence of spirit and feelings and how they could deform reality.
During the Heian period (794-1185), this image of yokai was quite scary. There was the idea that old things may acquire some kind of spirituality, turning them cursed.
Whimpers filled the garden at the image of people killing their cats after they reached a certain age because they were afraid that they would turn into a bakeneko and curse them (without considering that killing them would curse them anyway) D':
--This thing reminded me of this ukiyo-e that I saw when I was a kid on a book about cats-- I had no idea about what it was, but what I felt was a mix of love for the pretty art and terror for the scary ghosts XD
--When you talk about Heian period, you talk about the Genji Monogatari too. The author illustrated us some of the "ghosts" of this story and other mononoke events, the most interesting being that of Lady Rokujo: she's so in love with Genji and so jealous of her rivals, that her spirit departs her body to attack them.
The Kamakura/Muromachi periods (1185-1573) were pretty rough times, characterized by the military government of the bakufu, famine and wars.
People reacted to these hard times by giving fun and parodic features to their yokai: Hyakki Yagyo and creatures with funny features started to show up to distract people from their troubles.
Differently from the previous era, yokai are not here to teach people how to behave and keep their feelings in place, they are here to entertain them.
The "boom" of yokai happened during the Edo period (1603–1868).
The censorship was extremely harsh, so people liked to get distracted and entertained by yokai and supernatural stories.
The game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai started in this period. Stories and rappresentations of ghosts become more and more scary and awe-inspiring, the destiny of samurai (both in history or fiction) merged with curses and monsters, and bypassing Tenpo reforms they even managed to criticize the government or the vices of the Capital.
By throwing the supernatural in real life, people denied the limitations of their daily life and habits.
In this period, following the development of prints and their lively market, the first encyclopedias dedicated to yokai started to appear, the most famous example in this sense is the Gazu Hyakki Yagyo by Toriyama Sekien: here, instead of being alligned in a mere procession, the yokai are rightfully catalogued and explained, thus giving a common definition and description for beings that were known all over Japan with different names or characteristics. It's interesting to see how even yokai contributed to the unification of Japan in this sense, but I guess that we can give this merit mostly to the printed matter and its divulgative features.
The Meiji period (1868–1912) showed a decline and "shame" concerning yokai and supernatural.
The contact with the West, the industrialization, the introduction of electricity and trains made Japaneses adopt the slogan Bunmei Kaika, "Civilization and Enlightment".
All busy with denying their roots, Japaneses didn't know how popular their culture was starting to get to the eyes of Westerners, eager to know and acquire more of it.
The top of this traditional rejection will show in some prints concerning the victory during the Sino-Japanese War in Showa period: the Chineses were rapresented as fearful, dumb yokai running away in terror or begging for mercy in front of the bright rays of the hinomaru.
As Japan started to face industrialization, its population would be reminded of the ancient discomfort in front of the changes in society. The idea of progress as an "enemy" showed in the image of "robotic mosters" of sort, the debate on psychology and mental disorders introduced a different kind of "fear" concerning the spirit.
The WWII arrived, made a mess and Japaneses answered with Godzilla and, most importantly, Yōkai Daisensō: when facing a foreigner invasor, what would help better than tradition..?
The discussion involved also Miyazaki (meh!) and other movies of interest: we got to talk about Sadako, Ju On, but even kabuki plays and we even found the time to get to know about the ghost stories involving the Italian Embassy in Japan and the Institute of Italian Culture in Japan-- Eeeh D'x The place where the Italian Embassy is placed is the one where the 48 ronin committed seppuku D': ?!!
All in all it was a really interesting discussion! I was pleased and motivated <3
...Now I just need to find that book so to buy it >3> !
Originally posted at http://daeva-neesan.dreamwidth.org/557696.html
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