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Yokai as the Edge of The World

Author: Koda Retsu 甲田烈

Source: Global Perspectives on Japan (GPJ), No.4 (2021), pp.122-140
Publisher: Forum Tauri Press
Keywords: Inoue Enryō, Yōkai, Mutual Inclusion, Folklore, Mystery Studies


Today in Japan, people continue to show considerable interest in yōkai. In the past, a yōkai craze centering on MIZUKI Shigeru’s work GeGeGe no kitarō, had swept the country. However, more recently in 2014 the role-playing game Yōkai Watch (launched by Level-5 Inc. in 2013) was turned into a television anime and is boasting explosive popularity. In addition, while kaidan (yōkai stories) used to be transmitted orally, now they have appeared on the internet, and unique tales continue to be spun. In this way, by continuing to encounter yōkai in some form or another, fixed images of them have been formed amongst people today. In most cases, these images are of grotesque things with a specific appearance, for example, an ‘umbrella-shaped ghost’, a ‘painted wall’, or a ‘haunting cat’. However, these popular images of yōkai are hindrances when engaging in academic research on the subject. Compared to those found at the popular level, researchers’ definitions of yōkai are not uniform. The aim of this paper is, while referring to efforts to reconsider the concept of yōkai in contemporary folklore studies, to decipher INOUE Enryō’s philosophically motivated Yōkai Studies (or, Mystery Studies), and above all, to inquire into its limits and possibilities through his late-year “Mutual Inclusion” theory. By taking as an unconscious ontological premise the non-existence of yōkai, yōkai research in contemporary folklore studies has come up against the ontologies of folklorists that speak of actual existence of yōkai. For this reason, we must newly inquire into the ontological premise of the yōkai concept. However, this requires not something that results in an ‘anything goes’ perceptual relativism, but rather a pluralistic methodology that allows the co-existence of diverse ontological viewpoints while unifying them on a meta-level. In this sense, the perspectival conception of the interrelated structure of matter, mind and principle in Enryō’s Yōkai Studies and his late period philosophy of the Mutual Inclusion of the ‘front’ and ‘back’ offer considerable clues. A research approach that is not partial to a specific view of yōkai and makes use of folklorists’ worldviews can provide a metatheory for yōkai research. However, Enryō did not fully traverse this path. In his own Yōkai Studies, he did not choose to adopt the perspective of the superimposition of time, space, mind and matter within mutual inclusion, or approach yōkai phenomena as the edge of the cosmos that is formed within this perspective. Drawing from Enryō’s ideas, the paper proposes to newly define the concept of yōkai as the edge of the cosmos. Yōkai are things that continually threaten the concepts of the cosmos that researchers and folklorists hold. Having inquired to this point, our questions reverse themselves. Perhaps it is us humans who are interrogated by yōkai.