The Artistic Imagination Gives New Life to Monsters of Japanese Mythology and Folklore

By Yukihide Endo.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: March 13, 2014 $US5.00

This paper focuses on the monstrous creatures of Japanese mythology and folklore that have been created by the collective human imagination and artistically developed over many centuries. Japanese mythology abounds in stories of marginalized monsters that resemble beasts or insects, and often represent resistance by indigenous forces to hegemony in ancient Japan. Examples include the “emishi” (hairy barbarians) and “tsuchigumo” (spider-like dwarfish creatures with abnormally long limbs living in caves). Under the control of hegemonic powers, these anti-conformists were frequently depicted as extremely frightening monsters not only in authorized chronicles, but in legends and folktales as well. More importantly, while such monstrous representations of those who were unsubmissive, defiant, or rebellious continued to reinforce dominant power relations, they also encouraged the ancient and medieval popular imagination to come flooding into visual and literary art forms. Beyond the confines of a “politically correct” ideology, these depictions of monsters helped to create Tsuchigumo—one of the masterpieces of Noh theater, which was later adapted into a Kabuki dance piece. As Einstein once said, “imagination encircles the entire world,” and likewise, imagination embracing these legendary monsters serves to shed light on unseen aspects of human vulnerability and tragic beauty.

Keywords: Japanese Mythology, Human Imagination, Monster, The Interplay Of Life And Death

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 11, Issue 2, March 2014, pp.61-69. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: March 13, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 436.123KB)).

Dr. Yukihide Endo

Professor of English, Department of General Education, School of Medicine, Hamamatsu University, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Pref., Japan

I teach English at a Japanese medical school and do theatre- and film-related research focusing on artistic and futuristic representations of the human body. The academic culture at my workplace has helped me to explore new perspectives on the body, and thus I am interested not only female impersonation in Kabuki but also in prostheticized bodies and cyborgs. I received a BA and MA in English literature from Japanese universities. I also earned an MA from Northwestern University (1996) and PhD (2007) from UCLA both in theatre studies. Recently I've been an active participant in international conferences making oral presentation on the body and publishing articles.