To the Japanese, yokai are mysterious phenomena and weird creatures that have inhabited the country’s landscape, homes, folklore and imagination for many centuries. They can be evil or benign spirits, ranging from shape-shifting animals like foxes and badgers, who adopt human form to trick, bewitch or reward humans, to the vengeful ghosts of warriors killed in battle or women wronged by their husbands. Yōkai can also be supernatural creatures from folklore like kappa (river imps that pull people and horses into the water), oni (demons that cause devastation, storms and plagues), and even objects like umbrellas and lanterns that mysteriously come to life.
In conjunction with Japan Foundation's Yokai video series on Doors to the Arts of Japan, Japanese art historian Meher McArthur will introduce this fascinating and often terrifying aspect of Japanese culture, using woodblock prints from the collection of Scripps College in Claremont.
Photo: Ghost of Okiku and Asayama Tetsuzan Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864), c.1850
Full-color woodblock print, ink on paper Scripps College, Claremont, CA, Purchased with funds from the Aoki Endowment, 2019.1.85
Meher McArthur is an Asian art historian specializing in Japanese art, with degrees from Cambridge University and London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She was Curator of East Asian Art at Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena, CA (1998-2006) and for over a decade has curated traveling exhibitions for International Arts & Artists (IA&A), most recently Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper (2021-2024) on view at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego until January 7, 2024. Her most recent exhibition SHIKI: The Four Seasons in Japanese Art opened at the Sturt Haaga Gallery at Descanso Gardens in February 2023. She was Creative Director for the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden, Pasadena (2014-2020), Academic Curator for Scripps College, Claremont (2018-2020) and Art and Cultural Director for JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles (2020-2022). Her major publications include Gods and Goblins: Folk Paintings from Otsu (PAM, 1999), Reading Buddhist Art (Thames & Hudson, 2002) and The Arts of Asia (Thames & Hudson, 2005), Confucius (Pegasus Books, 2011), Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami (IA&A, 2012), New Expressions in Origami Art (Tuttle, 2017), Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper (IA&A, 2021) and An ABC of What Art Can Be (The Getty Museum, 2010).
Let’s explore the world of “Yokai”. Since ancient times, Yokai have appeared in various stories in all regions of Japan, surprising and frightening people. This series introduces them as a Japanese culture, who are transforming into a friendly existence in the present day. Click Here!
The next ONLINE LECTURE SERIES will be about NETSUKE and will be held on Tuesday, December 12.