• 2018.08.21
  • The Ghosts are Here!
This year marks exactly 150 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Spain with the conclusion of the Spanish-Japanese Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation in 1868. In commemoration of that friendship, numerous events are being held in both countries.
One of them is the Museo Del Prado Exhibition (*1) currently being held at the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art in Kobe, following on from the exhibition in Tokyo.

As part of the commemorations of the treaty’s conclusion, a delegation has come to Madrid from Japan. But it is one great delegation of ghosts, phantoms, specters, monsters, evil spirits, blue demons, red demons, and kappa (amphibious demons), which come to bring some coolness to Spain’s ferocious heat.
They appear in an exhibition (*2) by Hiroshima Prefecture of works including books, craftworks, color woodblock prints, and Edo-period woodblock prints featuring yokai (phantoms), mainly scrolls such as the Hyakki Yako Emaki (Scroll Depicting Nocturnal Procession of 100 Demons), and the Ino Mononoke Roku (Ino Monster Legend) from the collection of Koichi Yumoto, which is owned by Miyoshi City of Hiroshima Prefecture.

Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando), joint sponsor and exhibition venue (Museum website)

When I hear the word “yokai,” I tend to imagine a very macabre world, but the yokai I saw in this exhibition are somehow sweet, with many of the naughty characters getting up to mischief. I think the Hyakki Yako Emaki, which should be infested by evil spirits of the wild, is so full of characters (monsters) who are impossible to hate that it may be the original material for the alien characters who appear in the American movies Star Wars and Men in Black.

Ohaguro Okan (“black-tooth mama”) busily doing her makeup with a mirror that doesn’t reflect her image.

Could this be a relative of Jabba the Hutt from the George Lucas movies?

Of course, plenty of monsters appear in the ancient legends of the West, such as Cyclops and Medusa. You would also have to call the Sphinx, which protects the pyramids of Egypt from evil spirits, a type of monster or specter. And don’t you think the fairy Tinkerbell, Peter Pan’s lady’s maid, is like a cross between Rika-chan (Barbie) and an antlion?
The works of the Flemish Renaissance genius Hieronymus Bosch and other painters conspicuous in the Museo del Prado present us with “monsters on parade”.

The Bosch work Visio Tondaly (Museo Del Prado website)

Incidentally, the venue for this yokai exhibition, the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, has quite a history, with the Spanish master painter Goya being the director of the painting department, a role taken up in modern times by Picasso and Dali.

Goya is known for the masterpieces La Maja Desnuda (The Nude Maja) and La Maja Vestida (The Clothed Maja) as well as portraits of the royal family, tapestry designs, and so on, but if those were his only surviving works, then he probably would be ranked as no more than a tasteful painter retained by the royal family. But we have a body of works related to yokai, primarily the Black Paintings, which he painted in his later years, so he is still ranked as the master of Spanish painting, being the country’s last classicist and its first modernist painter.
It was the art museum attached to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando that collected most of those works by Goya, so you could say it is the most appropriate venue for the Japan-Spain ghost exchange and to host the Japanese yokai friendship delegation.

Goya’s painting El entierro de la sardina (The Burial of the Sardine) - In the hands of Goya, this fun event on the final day of the carnival is like yokai revelry.
(From the website of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where it is kept.)

La Romería de San Isidro (A Pilgrimage to San Isidro) - Goya’s version of Hyakki Yako (Museo Del Prado website)

Last, please allow me to express my deepest sympathies to the people of Miyoshi City, the victims of the flood disaster in western Japan and elsewhere, as well as all the people affected by it.

(*1) Velázquez and the Celebration of Painting: The Golden Age in the Museo Del Prado
Kobe Exhibition: June 13 (Wed) – October 14 (Sun) 2018
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art

(*2) Yokai: Iconography of the Fantastical
Madrid Exhibition: July 17 (Wed) – September 23 (Sun) 2018
Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid
Sponsored by the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando and the Japan Foundation


  • Susumu Yamada
  • AgeTiger( TORA )
  • GenderMale
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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