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Oh hey only three hundred books left to read. Cool.

After yesterday's Infinity Of Tristram Shandy I wanted to read something relaxing and, above all, short. This is a cute little guide-book to Japanese youkai (the word has concepts of spirit, demon, ghost, goblin, revenant, etc., but is essentially untranslatable). I know a fair number of youkai categories and classifications from anime and other books and having done some gruntwork for an Utagawa Kuniyoshi print show at the Boston MFA a few years back-- this is my favorite of the prints they had-- and I have for some time been wanting an English translation of Shigeru Mizuki's youkai encyclopedias, which are actually based on him having gone out into the countryside in the late 1960s and asking people in extremely rural areas for stories.

However, this book does meet my basic criteria for success in its field: it has information I did not know, and its illustrator was one of Mizuki's assistants. And it has an impeccable bibliography.

So yeah, this has a lot of neat trivia about the circumstances under which household objects come to life if they reach more than ninety-nine years old, and why demon cats drink lamp oil, and why you should never eat a block of tofu offered to you by a small child in the road because it may well be full of demonic spores that will eat you within minutes. Spirits of foxes and otters, spirits of rice paddys and antique cutlery, spirits that are dangerous and spirits that are silly and spirits that are simply totally inexplicable (there's this one kind of monstrous giant that bestrides a distance of twelve miles and is only ever seen washing its hands in a river between its feet; it never interacts with anybody). Giant disembodied feet. Giant invisible sentient walls. Things that are attested folklore and things that were made up by one author in one anthology and things that are modern urban legends that have seriously caught on.

I'm happy with this. It does exactly what it should and intends to in a mildly cheesy but not annoying format, and it's entertaining without sacrificing accuracy and clarity. And the illustrations are very good and make continual reference to various ukiyo-e artists, sometimes as outright citation. Goodness knows, I have seen far worse reference books: this is a useful one.


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October 2017

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