Storytelling in Japanese Art — Onmyoji and Raiko: Super Heroes Team-Up vs. More Japanese Demons

The Drunken Demon

by Christopher Agostino

see also: The Eye of the Demon — a StoryFaces Performance to learn about the stage presentation I do based on the legends of the samurai and the demons that they fight

I ran into a couple of old friends at the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday in the exhibit Storytelling in Japanese Art. In an “emaki” (handscroll) illustrating the story of “The Drunken Demon” I found the hero samurai Raiko (who I know from a folktale I tell of his battle with the Goblin Spider) and Abe no Seimei (my favorite Onmyoji, or yin/yang magician)—both in the same story like a Spiderman/Dr. Strange crossover in an issue of Marvel Team-Up.

Marvel Team-Up — Twice as Many Pages! Twice as Many Thrills!

Emaki are like the original comic books or animated movies, telling a story through text and sequential illustrations. A scroll might be 30′ long, and to read it you would look at about two feet at a time, unrolling it with your left hand while simultaneously rolling it up again with your right. “The Drunken Demon” version in the exhibit was told over three scrolls from the Edo period by Kaiho Yuchiku (1654-1728). A boyish demon becomes terrible when drunk, stealing all the beautiful women. When he captures the daughter of an aristocrat, Abe no Seimei uses his powers to find where the girl is held, and the Emperor orders Raiko and his warrior companions to rescue the girl—which they do with the help of three gods disguised as men, a tree that grows across a chasm to become a bridge, some poisoned saki and a golden helmet. In the climactic illustrations, after a wild feast featuring human sashimi, the sleeping demon is depicted as filling an entire room (described in the text as 10′ tall, but illustrated as if 30′ tall) before Raiko cuts his head off, blood spraying out in a fine mist just like in the modern samurai movies like “The Warrior’s Way” (a fun one I watched last night).

Ibaraki Demon fleeing with her arm

One of Raiko’s companions is Watanabe no Tsuna, described as the most legendary samurai of all, and the exhibit includes an illustration of him from another tale in which he battles the she-demon Ibaraki on a bridge—a different tale than the demon on the bridge story I tell   . He cuts off the demon’s arm. Later the demon disguises herself as his aunt in order to trick him and get her arm back, and the illustration shows her running away holding her arm. Researching the tale, I also found an illustration by my favorite Japanese printmaker, Kuniyoshi.

from Kuniyoshi


The exhibit was full of inspiration for a storytelling face painter. Another highlight was “The Great Woven Cap“, a tale featuring Japanese heroes, Chinese armies, the Eight Great Dragon Kings and their Asura warrior army of men with dragon and demon heads, the seductive Dragon Princess and an undersea battle between a dragon and a heroic woman pearl diver—all of which was exhibited in three forms: a set of emaki scrolls, an illustrated book and on a six panel painted screen. There were also scrolls depicting “The Battle of the Twelve Animals” featuring animals in samurai armor, and a couple of versions of “The Night Parade of 100 Demons” with demons in every possible form imaginable. Finding all this exciting stuff and two of my favorite Japanese folklore characters was all icing on the cake, really. I had gone to the museum with a real live friend to see the exquisite exhibit of The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini (closing March 18, hurry!). See the Metropolitan Museum of Art Storytelling in Japanese Art exhibition site. And check out the wonderful (and wonderfully inexpensive) catalog they have pout out, which includes many gatefold illustrations to recreate the appearance of the handscrolls. For an extended description of the exhibit and related materials: Prufrock’s Dilemma

Drunken Demon’s entourage, eating human sashimi and drinking maidens blood

Night Parade of 100 Demons

Battle of the Twelve Animals

Raiko tormented by the earth spider

Raiko Tormented by the Earth Spider -Image via Wikipedia

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