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A Summer Journey into the World of Yokai

From ancient times to the present day, there has been an idiom in Japanese folklore called "Hyakki Yakō", where all kinds of yokai would roam the human world in late nights every summer, creating a lively atmosphere. In April and May this year, these fascinating yokai visited the Hong Kong Arts Centre (HKAC) and took audiences on a captivating journey transcending generations and borders. Through a series of exciting art and cultural events, it aimed to not only explore the profound mystery of Japan's supernatural heritage, but also facilitate exchange between local and overseas art and cultural sectors.


'Yokai Parade: Supernatural Monsters from Japan' Touring Exhibition: Unveiling the Mystery of Japanese Yokai

Since 2021, the Japan Foundation has organised a long-term world touring exhibition, 'Yokai Parade: Supernatural Monsters from Japan', showcasing the long-standing and diverse yokai culture in Japan to audiences around the world. As Hong Kong is the first stop of the touring exhibition in 2024, HKAC collaborated with the organiser and the Consulate General of Japan in Hong Kong to relocate the exhibition to the Pao Galleries, showcasing the mystery of yokai culture to local audiences and appreciating the diversity and creativity of yokai artwork. 

Curated by Yumoto Kōichi, Director Emeritus of the Yumoto Koichi Memorial Japan Yokai Museum, the exhibition features a series of precious collections that unveil the journey of yokai culture from the Edo period to the present day, including masterpieces in picture scrolls and nishiki-e by renowned artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Kuniyoshi, as well as everyday toys and films. Through these exhibits spanning a wide range of media, audiences can catch a glimpse of the images of yokai such as Tsukumogami, Tsuchigumo, and Ningyo in different times, witnessing their transformation from fearful entities to charming and friendly presences. 

Since the opening of the exhibition, the public response has been overwhelming. To provide a deeper understanding of the unknown stories behind the exhibits, Chau Chan, the Associate Director of the Centre for Asian Language and Cultures at the Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, has lead a public guided tour, during which he shared surprising connections between popular culture work and yokai legend, leaving a great impact on the audience and discovering that yokai culture is more closely related to their daily lives than they may have thought.


'One Hundred Tales: Stories of Hong Kong Yokai' Exhibition: Creative Reinterpretation of Local Ghost Stories

Yokai culture is not unique to Japan; Hong Kong also has a rich history of ghost stories, reflecting the city's history and culture over the past century. During the 'Yokai Parade: Supernatural Monsters from Japan' exhibition, the Hong Kong Arts Centre (Comix Home Base) also held the 'One Hundred Tales: Stories of Hong Kong Yokai' exhibition. A local art group, We Are The Pigs, was inspired by the Japanese 'Hyakki Yakō' and created an illustrated guidebook that compiles and reinterprets Hong Kong supernatural tales creatively, leading the audience into the fantastical world of local yokai.

In the exhibition, We Are The Pigs presented their artwork created in a humorous style on the theme of local ghost legends, including drawings, Shokugan stickers and miniature figures. Audio exhibits are also featured to tell Hong Kong ghost stories, creating a multi-sensory experience for the audiences. In addition, HKAC collaborated with We Are The Pigs and Keeto Lam, a local screenwriter, animator and film critic, to hold an artist talk, where they not only shared interesting experiences of creating the book 'One Hundred Tales: Stories of Hong Kong Yokai', but also took a deep dive into occultism and the relationship between ghost tales and Hong Kong history and custom. Their discussion also sparked audience memories of different folk stories.


HKAC Late Night Series 2024 - Art X: An Art Feast to Savour the Charm of Yokai

To complement the 'Yokai Parade: Supernatural Monsters from Japan' exhibition, the Hong Kong Arts Centre Late Night Series 2024 - Art X adopted 'yokai' as the theme, offering a series of nighttime art experiences and a multifaceted exploration of yokai culture's allure to the public.

During the 'Double Bill – Wicked Cities: Hong Kong x Tokyo' event, HKAC presented a double bill of the classic OVA, 'Wicked City' (1987), directed by Japanese animation master Kawajiri Yoshiaki; and another adaptation, 'The Wicked City' (1992), produced by Hong Kong director Hark Tsui, and directed by Peter Mak. Each screening was very successful with full attendance. In the post-screening talk 'Yokai in Urban Sci-fi', HKAC invited Keeto Lam, Roy Szeto, the screenwriter of 'The Wicked City', and Honkaz Fung, the animation supervisor, special effects designer and art director, to share their creative experiences and cultural observations with the audience, delving into an in-depth discussion on the influence of Japanese art and culture on Hong Kong films. 

Moreover, HKAC held the 'LARP Game: tsukumogami つくもがみ' at the exhibition venue of 'Yokai Parade: Supernatural Monsters from Japan'. The plot of the game is closely related to the exhibits, providing a unique immersive exhibition and gaming experience for the audiences. There were also three workshops where participants could create yokai mini lanterns, wagashi, and neon lights using different mediums, making them a part of reinterpreting yokai culture.


Through a series of art and cultural events ranging from exhibitions, talks and film screenings to art workshops, HKAC has provided an in-depth showcase of yokai culture in Japan and Hong Kong, and demonstrated the cultural exchange between local and overseas, as well as traditional and modern art. We sincerely thank all the audience for their participation and support, making this a memorable journey into the fascinating world of yokai.


Text: Caily Mak (Hong Kong Arts Centre cross-disciplinary programme Cultural Masseur apprentice)