The Demons' Night-Parade: Splendid Japanese yokai (mythic monster) scroll found on eBay


A spectacular specimen of traditional Japanese yokai (mythic "monster") art has popped up on eBay. Wow, talk about where the wild things are! From what I can tell, this scroll may be a vintage copy of a centuries-old original, and really ought to be in a museum.

I hope the auction stays up for a while, and someone takes some time to copy the images elsewhere — each one of these detail shots is so full of personality and mischief! The "Buy it now" price? $15,000.

I asked Yokai Attack author Matt Alt to tell us what we're seeing in this monstrous tableau, and he kindly obliged. His analysis below (with more after the jump).

The Haykki Yako (百鬼夜行), literally "the night parade of a hundred demons," is one of the most famous tales in Japanese folklore. It first appeared in a Buddhist text in the 13th century, and is the story of a nightmarish evening during which legions of yokai, oni, and other fearsome creatures erupted from their usual hiding places to openly terrorize the world of the living. According to one version, they paraded down Kyoto's Ichijo-dori avenue in the late 1100s. The Hyakki Yako (also spelled "Yagyo") inspired countless generations of Japanese artists, including Toriyama Sekien, who penned an influential series of yokai guides in the 1770s; woodblock artists of the 1800s; and manga masters such as Mizuki Shigeru in the 20th century.

A handful of illustrated scrolls depicting the event are known to exist, mainly from the early Edo period (1603 – 1868). They weren't created as fine art but rather as entertainment, passed around and scrolled through together with friends, just as people enjoy comic books, television shows, or video games with friends today.

And now, somewhat incredibly, one has appeared on eBay — tattered, worm-eaten, but its yokai and creatures marching along the page clear as the day they were painted. The opening bid? A cool $15,000.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of seeing the original, authenticated Hyakki Yako scrolls when they were briefly displayed at the National Museum of Japanese History. (We covered the event for a special Yokai and Yurei episode of NHK's Tokyo Eye show: video part 1, part 2, part 3.)

This eBay specimen is very much in keeping with their style. The depiction of "tsukumo-gami," or "artifact-spirits" — everyday objects and tools taken haunted, sentient form — is a hallmark of the genre. And that is precisely why I have such mixed feelings about seeing it put up on the auction block.

Who painted this scroll? When did they paint it? Is it even real? If it really is a vintage scroll — something we won't truly know until a real expert authenticates it — it is a part of Japan's cultural heritage. To quote a certain archaeologist-adventurer, "it belongs in a museum!"

But that said, anyone have $15K they just have lying around and want to buy this for me, I promise I will get it authenticated and put it somewhere where the world will enjoy it instead of locking it away in my closet.

"Japanese Antique Rare Scroll : "HYAKKI-YAKO" @b666" (eBay, Thanks for the heads up, Darren Garrison!)