Translated and annotated by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt
Some readers will be familiar with the illustrated books of Toriyama Sekien (1712-1788), a scholar who studied painting under the Kanō artists Kanō Chikanobu and Kanō Gyokuen. Sekien, but used his studies in the development of woodblock print making. He blazed a trail by developing the fuki bokashi colour technique, whereby colour was stippled directly onto the print by blowing pigment through a small tube. He was a teacher to both Kitagawa Utamaro and Utagawa Toyoharu. He is best known, however, for his illustrated encyclopedia of yokai – phantoms and monsters of Japanese folklore, which were to serve as design books and inspiration for generations of artists, including Tsukioka Yoshitsohi and Kawanabe Kyōsai. Others will be familiar with Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt’s work from a light-hearted earlier publication: Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide.
This book, though, is an altogether more scholarly work showing the complete 4 volumes of Sekien’s encyclopedia of yokai. with translations of Sekien’s labels for each creature and explanatory notes from the compilers. This is the first time this work has been published in English and includes a detailed introduction. An invaluable source book for fans of the supernatural and Japanese legendary tales, it can at times help to identify some mystery creatures. This seems to be the case in the illustrated page shown opposite, featuring a yamabiko (mystical valley echo) where Sekien uses kanji which are a homophone for ‘mountain boy’. This appears to represent the same mystery creature featured in this netsuke of a chimera by Kokei which was included in the In a Nutshell exhibition held in London in 2013, and this illustrated example by Tomin *
Netsuke image © Rosemary Bandini Ltd
Comprising 320 pages, the book follows the Japanese pattern of pages running from right to left. The soft back book is published by Dover Publications of New York and is readily available on Amazon for just under £20.