Programs & Services

Y?kai: Ghosts and Demons of Japan

At the Museum of International Folk Art

Netsuke in the form of a Demon, Japan, late 19th–early 20th century. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John G. Meem, Museum of International Folk Art; Photo by Addison Doty.

Prepare for a spine-tingling experience in a haunted house featuring ghostly storytelling provided by Y?kai: Ghosts and Demons of Japan, a new exhibition at the Museum of International Folk Art (MoIFA). Yokai are supernatural beings — ghosts, demons, ogres, shapeshifters, and monsters linked to strange and unexplainable phenomena.

“While yokai are a big part of Japanese pop culture right now, they have been a part of Japanese pop culture as far back as the Edo period,” explains Felicia Katz-Harris, MoIFA senior curator. “It has been a lot of fun to research some of the Pokémon characters,” she continues, “and see their connection to creatures featured in scrolls, such as the Hyakki Yagyo (“Night Parade of 100 Demons”), painted hundreds of years ago.”

On exhibition at MoIFA from Dec. 8, 2019 through Jan. 10, 2021, Yokai: Ghosts and Demons of Japan explains how these icons gained popularity beyond religious contexts beginning in the late 1300s, how they appear throughout Japanese history, and how they continue to influence modern entertainment and culture. MoIFA is one of the first museums to present a large-scale y?kai-centered exhibition in the United States. It traces the interpretations of y?kai from original blockprinting to modern culture, tracking the development of y?kai imagery over four hundred years of Japanese culture.

Depictions of yokai, although often frightening, were also rendered comedically. As supernatural imagery grew in popularity, artists featured y?kai on garments, samurai weaponry, toys, and in theatrical characters. Artists imagined what yokai creatures looked like by referencing folklore and oral history, creating a visual narrative. Scholars believe that the act of naming and rendering visuals of these strange beings gave people a way to talk about shared experiences, contributing to the spread and popularity of y?kai and y?kai stories.

Open 10 a.m.– 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, closed Mondays for the months of November through April; from May through October, the museum is open daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Admission $7 for New Mexico residents with ID. $12 for non-residents, free for children 6 and under. The first Sunday of each month is free for New Mexico residents with ID. Wednesdays are free for New Mexico resident seniors (60+) with ID.

Also at MoIFA through March 7, 2021, Música Buena: Hispano Folk Music of New Mexico explores four centuries of inherited musical styles born of the many cultures at the roots of New Mexico music through video, sound instruments and live performance.

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