Just before my trip to Japan, master manga artist Shigeru Mizuki passed away. Mizuki had been well-known for his lifelong love of “yokai,” the incredibly strange creatures of Japanese folklore, and perhaps because of this influence, I had decided that I wanted to find some monsters in Tokyo.
I asked around. Apparently an obscure Shinjuku ward museum in Yotsuya had a specimen of a “mermaid.” I had seen one of these before, specimens once widely shown around Japan in travelling freakshows. My friend who had seen it thought it might be a monkey sewn onto a fish. But sadly, when I researched more, I found the museum closed for renovations. Definitely one for when I get back.
I heard there was a yokai museum at the DECKS mall in Odaiba, but I never made it out there.
But nonetheless there were other strange beasts around town. A gigantic new Godzilla burst out of a hotel in Kabukicho – I saw its head unexpectedly peering through Shinjuku skyscrapers while walking home one day.
I also found this in Tokyo Cultuart, the funky UFO and paranormal-centric Tokyo giftstore in the Harajuku branch of BEAMS clothing boutique. It is a phone card (retro!) bearing the image of the briefly-famous “human faced fish.” This creature ,which lives (lived?) in a pond in Shizuoka, rose to fame with its own snack foods and Sega video-game, part of a long tradition of “human faced animals” in Japanese urban legend.
On the other side of Harajuku, the Dragon Museum is still there, in a backroom of a rockabilly fashion store on Cat Street.
And I had already been to the kappa shrine.
I also found this bar on the outskirts of Shinjuku Nichome, named after the baku, an elephant-like beast said to eat bad dreams. It is often carved under temple eaves and is said to have been inspired by the Malaysian tapir, now also called “baku” in Japanese.
But perhaps the best bet was on the night of New Year’s Eve, when according to legend, foxes from all over Japan gathered under a large tree in the Oji neighbourhood to transform temporarily into humans and join in the New year festivities. The fox was considered a mystical and shadowy creature by the Japanese and the Oji-jinja had been built to placate them, although it was “fake” in the sense that no real god sat on the altar – it was purely to keep the foxes happy. Today, the shrine marks this history with a midnight “fox parade” of revellers in masks and painted-on whiskers. Sadly, due to a google translate mishap, we arrived at the temple far too early, before the festivities had really begun, although we still glimpsed white fox masks on the back of heads around the district and fox lanterns being strung up on the streets. A tantalising near miss.
In the end though, I just had to be content my “little monster” – the cat – at home in Shin-Okubo.