12.Dec.2010 Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide by Hiroko Yoda & Matt Alt (Kodansha)

Last time I wrote I was heading off to Japan for the school holidays. We survived that trip with the help of this handy and fun little guide. We even managed to spot some of the monsters contained within along the way!

Yokai Attack! is the kind of book that as a 9 or 10 year old I would have pored over for months.

Short, written in a ‘vital statistics’ style, and for those who just want to dip in and out from time to time, it details roughly 40 strange Japanese monsters, or more accurately, ‘spirits’. Some of these are from traditional folklore like Onibaba, the mad old woman who ate her daughter and grandchild, and the Kappa, the cucumber-obsessed flatulent amphibian that drags unsuspecting people under in Japan’s waterways (and after whom cucumber sushi rolls – kappa-make are named!). While others are better known from Manga and Japanese horror films.

If you’ve watched Miyazaki’s wonderful animations Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro or Pom Poko, then you will know a fair number of these creatures already – which is why this book is equally fun reading for young and old. Spirited Away features, amongst other spirits, a Nopperabo (“no face”) who visits the bathhouse and Pom Poko is all about the antics of the Tanuki, the magical Japanese racoon dogs with unfeasibly large testicles (!) who play shapeshifting tricks on humans and like to party and drink themselves into a stupor. My children had great fun pointing out the Tanuki statues we saw outside of noodle bars in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo!

The book is illustrated by Tatsuya Morino with amusing cartoons of each monster. Here’s the bath dwelling Akaname. This one uses its tongue to attack and clean all those who bathe in dirty bathrooms . . . .

For younger children these monster stories need adult supervision. Quite a number are creepy in a Japanese horror movie kind of way. But if you are planning a visit to Japan with children then I’d highly recommend it as it provides many new ways to view the many odd things your children will encounter and ask about (even if your only questions relate to the omnipresent Tanuki statues).

Similarly if your children are fans of Miyazaki’s films the book offers an additional layer of interpretation, pitched just right for their attention span and curiosity.

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