By Nick Castle

As Halloween draws nearer, so does our fanatical obsession with all things spooky and scary, peeking their heads around the corner like ghosts behind a gravestone. Why not indulge in some vintage scares at the OSU Libraries?

Japanese Studies invites you to learn about the mythology and artistic culture of Meiji Japan (1868-1912) through the newly acquired Kyōsai Hyakki Gadan (暁斎百鬼画談), a color woodblock print by eccentric painter and manga forerunner, Kawanabe Kyōsai (河鍋 暁斎, 1831-1889). The long, accordion book (orihon) depicts a parade of all manner of weird and wicked yōkai (妖怪), spirits and demons from Japanese mythology. This particular scene is evocative of the hyakki yagyō (百鬼夜行) idiom, a historic theme in Japanese visual representation wherein a procession of legendary creatures sets foot upon the communities of mortal men and women.

A view of the book’s cover with title
Kyōsai hyakki gadan


Kyōsai was a colorful figure in the Japanese art world active between the culturally rich Edo period (1603-1868) and the tumultuously transitional Meiji period (1868-1912). A child prodigy, Kyōsai joined the Kano school (狩野派) of painting at the age of ten and earned the nickname “the demon of painting” from his teacher. Kyōsai’s two loves were Edo-period traditions and sake, which gained him an infamous reputation among the firebrand elite of early Imperial Japan, whom he often satirized.

Several unfolded pages revealing two groups of yōkai charging each other.

In part because of his considerable skill in caricature, which helped him use humor to comment on the society he lived within, and his masterful grasp of action and energy in a still image, some scholars consider Kyōsai to be one of the earliest manga artists (Arn, 2018). Although scorned by the powerful, he was a popular creator with widespread appeal. There is no lack of storytelling in Kyōsai’s many crowded scenes as well–obsessively detailed with whimsical characters like alcohol-fueled illustrations from the book Where’s Waldo?

A brilliantly vibrant detail on two of the book’s open pages

Whether you’re excited by Japanese art history or just by creepy paintings of strange ghouls, have a look at some of the materials about Kyōsai and other Meiji artists that you can find at OSU Libraries. While many of our materials circulate, this special piece will be stored with other distinctive materials at the Billy Ireland Comics Library and Museum.

An article about Kyōsai’s artistic life and relationship with manga can be found here:

Arn, Jackson. “The Japanese ‘demon of painting’ who invented manga in 1874.” CNN, December 14, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/japanese-manga-kawanabe-kyosai/index.html

Catalogues and exhibitions of Kyōsai and other Japanese Woodblock Artists:

Demon of Painting: The Art of Kawanabe Kyōsai by Timothy Clark (London: British Museum Press, 1993)

A Descriptive Catalogue of an Exhibition of Japanese Landscape, Bird, and Flower Prints, and Surimono from Hokusai to Kyōsai by Louis V. Ledoux (New York: The Grolier Club, 1924)

Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers, and Masterworks, 1680-1900 by Andreas Marks (Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle Pub, 2010)

Art and culture in Meiji Japan:

The Commercial and Cultural Climate of Japanese Printmaking edited by Amy Reigle Newland (Amsterdam: Hotei, 2004)

Inexorable Modernity: Japan’s Grappling with Modernity in the Arts edited by Hiroshi Nara (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2007)

Modern Japanese Art and the Meiji State: The Politics of Beauty by Dōshin Satō; translated by Hiroshi Nara (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2011)