Yōkai and its changes through time Essay

Yōkai are one of Japans most well-known folklore and continue to be one of the most universal characters that are portrayed in different ways all around the world. When encountering a Yōkai a person may experience a diverse range of monsters, spirits or demons in different shapes or forms, usually possessing animal features. Some may bring mischief while others bring good. This has allowed writers to be able to create stories out of these creatures and teach history because it has the ability to evade a definition. Yōkai has always adapted to changing lifestyles of the Japanese, whether in culture or a political environment. This paper will first explain the history of Yōkai and what there meaning was in pre-modern times. Secondly, how are Yōkai portrayed through anime, in particular, the popular children’s show “Yō-Kai Watch”. Lastly, this essay will discuss the reasons for and effects of these differences. This paper aims to understand the importance of Yōkai in both the history and present time for the Japanese people and the wider community.

When breaking up the word Yōkai, the definition found is that it is “monster, spirit, goblin demon, phantom, spectre, fantastic being, lower-order deity, or, more amorphously, as any unexplainable experience or numinous occurrence” (Foster, 2009). This is quite a big definition and obviously is unable to be narrowed down. This is because many terms are represented through the name Yōkai and it dates back to the deep rich history of Japan, as most Japanese myths do. Yōkai is from the oldest known work of Japanese literature, the 8th-century Kojiki. Where it was explained that energy was amongst the land, compressed within volcanoes or human emotions (Davisson, 2013). This comes from the origin of Japan and how the energy of the earth and outside forces have the ability to change reality. This was until it was surfaced as a menagerie that contained monsters and various shapes and creatures that the human mind would not be able to create (Davisson, 2012). Yōkai however, didn’t originate from one tradition, many tribes had their own gods and monsters. It held special meanings in different tribes and to the most part they were frightened of these Yōkai and didn’t understand them. This was not until unification and communication between towns began and regional folklore was known to many places (Davisson, 2012). Similar to the Brothers Grimm in Germanic Folklore, Yōkai was searched for around the country and illustrated into Encyclopedias. This was most popular in the Edo Period (1638-1868) but did lose traction due to modernization (Howard, 2011). But even after westernization, it grew, it was a way to teach the children about the mythical past of Japan. Mizuki Shigeru, a comic artist was able to influence other artist and create a great legacy around Yo-Kai (Davisson, 2012). There are hundreds of Yōkai that date back to the very start of literature. These Yōkai shaped Japan culture. For instance, Zashiki Warashi, this spiritual being inhabits a house and is said to bring good fortune (Tastuya, 2017). It is widely popular with the Japanese people and a number of celebrities are known to travel to places where they think these being lives. This being because it represents a culture of purity and their belief of luck and something that cannot be seen but can have a great impact on someone’s future. There is also a very popular creature named Kappa, this creature would lurk around rivers and if people were to swim around the creature, it would pull them down, drown them and remove the liver (Foster, 1998). This was viewed as a very dangerous creature and one to be feared. People claimed to have seen this creature. But over time as this paper will discuss later, the creature has become likeable and cute. They were also used politically. During the wartime, Yōkai was a great propaganda tool and was seen as very effective. Klaus Antoni’s “Momotarō (The Peach Boy) was immensely popular in the time of the Showa period where it focused upon the notion that Japan must defeat the foreigners. This illustrates nationalism as Momotaro showed great courage himself when he defeated the Oni which were enemies (Klaus, 2991). It is evident that Yōkai’s history is what makes up Japans culture as well as in their political movements. Yōkai was always taken very seriously but with a more modern world today, it will now be discussed how Yōkai has adapted while still remaining culturally important.

Due to the modernization of Japan, Yōkai has been exploited and used for various forms of entertainment. Due to being a form of entertainment, many changes have had to be made to the original history and characteristics of various Yōkai. Yō-kai Watch a popular video game and tv show shows the flexibility that Yōkai can have. Yōkai Watch is based around a boy who happens to come across a watch. This watch has the ability to catch the Yōkai and then use them for various tasks (Wikipedia, 2019). This is obviously one of the biggest differences from the history. To catch a Yōkai and use it for your own doing isn’t something that could be done as it isn’t energy that you can contain, but it can be similiarized to the Edo period when collecting and categorizing the Yōkai was popular (Howard, 2011). For a lot of the characters, they put them into ranks and tribes. These tribes are based on their main characteristic. One of the common occurring Yōkai is Whisper, this is the boys' butler and often assists him. Whisper is a ghost that can move through walls and move things. This can be seen as a more traditional friendly Yōkai. They encounter many different characters, many that aren’t seen as scary but mischievous. But through figuring out their weakness or making the Yōkai happy then they can befriend them. This is different from the history of Yōkai as befriending is not usually done due to the especially evil Yōkai having no compassion for humans. One of the episodes also has many Kappa’s. As I discussed before they know to be not the most friendly and tend to drown humans. However, in this show, they are seen as quite an awkward creature. They don’t seek to murder anyone and even one is dressed up all cute with a huge hat and with a water bottle around its neck to not dry up (Yokaiwatch, 2019). This show makes these Kappa’s seem very human-like and combines this with some traditional characteristics. It also often doesn’t go into the backstory or into the history of the character, the often simply explain the mischievous task that the Yōkai does. It can be seen as very much common knowledge. Another character that is very different is that of Jibanyan. This is a spirit of cat that was run over. This is a connection to the famous Yōkai of Nekomata. This is a two-tailed cat that are known to speak human languages and often behave but can summon fireballs that can kill many people (Young, 2015). They also have the ability to control and enslave humans (Yōkai, 2019). However, this particular Nekomata is quite small and cute. It loves music and chocolate but can hold some traditional characteristics such as a short temper and shows this many times. But for the most part, it is a loveable characteristic (Yokaiwatch, 2019). Now that is clear to see there are many similarities and differences, it is important to understand why and to what effect are they used.

The changes of Yōkai has not been accidental. The intended audience is one of the biggest reasons behind the changes. There has been a massive shift as this paper has explained, that anime has become one of the most popular art forms in Japan. Therefore, a lot of children and adolescents are the main viewers of these products. Therefore, characters and storyline must be aimed towards this demographic. This is the reason to why these Yōkai such as Nekomata have been modernised. Now Yōkai are seen has less scary and something that is small and adorable and something that can be marketed in tv shows, games and in toys. The effect of this is that it has allowed it has Yōkai to survive. Yōkai is now still well known around the country. Due to modernisation, such things as traditional Yōkai with a deep culture and horrifying beasts isn’t what people want to see or like. Yōkai has been able to remain a big thing in Japan. Now, children all over the country are now obsessed with Yōkai and all of its anime and quirky characterises. While also teaching the children Japans rich history. Which is one of the most vital things for Japan. Culture in Japan is very different and significant and must be learnt and taught in the future. It has also spread the history of Japan all over the world. Yōkai watch is a show that televised in countries in western countries such as Australia. In a world that is becoming so connected, Japan has been able to create a relationship with children all over the world. The changes in Yōkai were made to reach everyone and to share stories with any ethnicity or background. Although it is much different from the traditional Japan Yōkai that were initially created it can spark interest. Yōkai in anime sparks interest and people will want to know the deep and full history of Yōkai and Japan. It is evident that modernization was the reason for this change from traditional Yōkai and that it has had a profound effect on Japans future and preservation of culture.

In Conclusion, Yōkai is one of the oldest literary works in Japan and is held sacred throughout. The belief that there is an outside energy that lives in many forms is held very dearly with all Japanese people. It has also been through many changes and has adapted to its intended audience. It has held many definitions that have allowed it to constantly transform into whatever the imagination can create. The introduction of media and technology has given Yōkai a new opportunity to affect more than just Japan and fulfil the lives of many children and this is the reason as to why it has proven itself as an irreplaceable part of Japans culture. There will never be an end for Yōkai as authors have the ability to create new stories or tell old ones. It just depends on where Yōkai will go next.


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