- Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yōkai
Michael Dylan Foster's Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yōkai is a provocative addition to the small body of scholarship in English on monsters, the mysterious, and the supernatural in Japan from the early modern period to the present. This timely book—currently grouped on Amazon with the recent bestseller Yokai Attack: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide (Kodansha International, 2008) and the new one-hundredth-anniversary edition of Yanagita Kunio's The Legends of Tono (Lexington Books, 2008)—offers English readers their first sustained consideration of yōkai, which Foster describes as "the word of choice" in contemporary discussions of supernatural creatures in Japan (p. 5), from the perspectives of folklore studies and anthropology. Engagingly written from its touching preface to its last sentence, Pandemonium and Parade draws on and converses with an extensive body of Japanese scholarship on yōkai, particularly work done since the 1980s by such major scholars in the fields of Japanese folklore studies and urban anthropology as Komatsu Kazuhiko, Miyata Noboru, and, more recently, Kagawa Masanobu. At the same time, it enriches its approach to this topic by incorporating the important contributions to the study of modern Japanese spiritualism made by the literary scholar Ichiyanagi Hirotaka.
The book covers an impressive range of subjects and historical moments. After opening with an analysis of mid-eighteenth-century discourse on yōkai, Foster goes on to consider the Meiji era and the early twentieth century and ends by bringing the reader up-to-date with a discussion of yōkai in the recent past. In the course of this ambitious project, he integrates both Western and Japanese scholarship and methodologies drawn from different periods and perspectives to present an expansive, complex picture of the culture of yōkai. By choosing to deal with particular historical moments spanning two centuries, he is able to show how discourse about yōkai in different sociocultural contexts has resonated with, reacted against, and revisited earlier treatments. Beautifully orchestrated throughout, the discussion is framed, on the one hand, by a series of abstractions figuring in the titles of chapters 2 to 5—"Natural History of the Weird," "Science of the Weird," "Museum of the Weird," and "Media of the Weird"—and, on the other, by more visceral, physical metaphors for the state of yōkai discourse, such as the powerful image, from chapter 4, of the body of a tanuki, that tricky old shape-shifter, lying dead by the railroad tracks. The metaphorical thrust of Foster's writing helps tame the pandemonium of his material into an attractive parade and will make his research accessible even to nonspecialists.
The uniqueness of this project lies, I believe, in Foster's focus on—and acceptance of—the liminality of yōkai: while the amorphous bodies of mysterious, supernatural creatures and phenomena have often been arranged in taxonomies, Foster shows us how new mysteries kept surfacing, just beyond the limits of this categorical knowledge. In the first chapter, "Introduction to the Weird," he begins by defining his subject of study. Foster distinguishes yōkai from Western notions of the supernatural, the uncanny, the fantastic, and the monstrous, and he also highlights the wide range of [End Page 405] meanings the term can have, encompassing phenomena, objects, and living creatures. Ultimately, however, he elects to leave the term undefined—or at least to "leave the definition open-ended" (p. 2). He does this both because he believes the history of yōkai can be seen as the history of attempts to define the term and also because one of his aims is to trace the negotiations between the tangible and the intangible that take place in all discussions of yōkai. This flexibility gives Foster's treatment of yōkai a special complexity and breadth as a site for the construction of knowledge.
The first of the four historical moments that Foster addresses extends...