Greetings! I would like to welcome everyone to the Art of Ninzuwu blog page. If this is your first time visiting us, please use this opportunity to review some of our previous article. Be sure to share some of your insights and experiences by posting a comment if you can. We wish you all the best in your earthly pursuits and spiritual endeavors.
I must say that it has truly been an honor to have a man of such caliber take the time to share some of his wisdom with us. His work has inspired some of my own and many others around the world. We are delighted to have the opportunity to interview Mr. Davisson. He is a great example of what can be accomplished when one puts their mind to work. Enjoy!
Warlock Asylum: Thank you so much for taking the time out to share some of your experiences and wisdom with us and our readers. Your work has truly been an inspiration to me in my personal studies and many of our subscribers. However, for some of our reader who may not be familiar with your work, how would you describe yourself? Who is Zack Davisson?
Zack Davisson: Thanks for asking me! I’m a writer, translator, and scholar of Japanese folklore and mythology, with a personal interest in ghostly Japan. I lived in Japan for several years, and I did my MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Sheffield. My Master’s Thesis was on yūrei, Japanese ghosts.
As a writer and translator I have been involved in introducing some of the more esoteric aspects of Japanese culture to an English-speaking audience, on subjects like the Goryo Shinko ghost religion of Heian period Japan and the bakeneko prostitutes of the Edo period. I have a passion for finding those weird or spooky bits of Japanese folklore that have never gotten an English translation.
My book, Yurei: The Japanese Ghost, is coming out this October. I also translate manga, mainly the works of Shigeru Mizuki, whose studies in folklore and history have made him a household name in Japan, and I write for the comic book Wayward published by Image Comics.
Warlock Asylum: How did you become interested in Japanese culture and studies?
Zack Davisson: My first introduction to Japan and Japanese culture was when I was young—about 9 or 10 years old—when my mother took me to see Kurosawa Akira’s film Seven Samurai. I was captivated. Especially by the Japanese language. It was so different from everything I knew, and I wanted to know more. From there my whole life I have been diving deeper and deeper into Japan, first through films and comics and then into more serious studies.
It was really living in Japan that made all the difference. I realized that until then I had only been skimming the surface of the country, taking in its entertainment. Living in the country, being inside the culture, that’s when I really fell in love.
Warlock Asylum: You have put quite of work in preserving a lot of Japanese folklore that deals with the yokai and the yurei, among other legendary creatures. What inspired you to pursue an angle of study that many people would call obscure?
Zack Davisson: I’ve always been interested in the supernatural—in folktales and legends and the weird and mysterious. I don’t really know why. When I was young, I obsessed over Greek mythology, and odd bits of world folklore like the Jersey Devil and Spring-Heeled Jack. I had a subscription to Fortean Times.
When I moved to Japan, I realized that it was a country swelling with gods and monsters, with supernatural stories and weird tales. Like the comics of Shigeru Mizuki, and the tales of the Hyakumonogatari. But it was all locked away behind the barrier of language. I started studying Japanese seriously because I knew that was the only way I would get to read everything I wanted to read.
Warlock Asylum: The Ghost of Oyuki is a very unique work that you authored. In my humble opinion, I would say that it is a masterpiece and a valuable contribution to Japanese culture. How did this work come about?
Zack Davisson:Thanks! The Ghost of Oyuki was an interesting project. I did that with a printer in Portland, Oregon. We wanted to create something in imitation of the Edo period yomihon, which were Japan’s first true mass market literature. It is hand-bound and hand-pressed—a true work of book art. We did a limited edition of 100, of which I have three left.
But The Ghost of Oyuki was only a prelude to my major work, my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost. That won’t be a limited edition piece, but a beautiful hardcover coming out from Chin Music Press. It has all of my ghost studies, along with dozens of translated stories.
Warlock Asylum: What are some of the challenges that you faced, if any, to make your career, your dream, into a reality?
Zack Davisson: Finding a publisher to work with was definitely the most difficult part. An entire book on Japanese ghosts was a hard sell, and I had to convince a publisher that there was an audience for such an obscure topic. And of course, writing the book was a challenge! I wrote and re-wrote it more times than I could count. My first draft was terrible, but with each draft I learned more and improved. Along the way I built up an audience with Hyakumonogatari.com, which went a long way towards proving to a publisher that there was an interest in ghostly Japan.
Warlock Asylum: Since you are well-researched in the field of Japanese folklore and supernatural phenomena, I wanted to get your opinion on something that many practitioners of the Art of Ninzuwu are of the opinion of. For the most part our practices are the esoteric aspects of Shinto, but we do recognize some of the yokai, as in the case of Yuki-onna, as old deities that were later demoted, or as some Westerners would say “demonized” by their succeeding cults. Do you feel that some of what we call the yokai and yurei today were at one time revered as deities in the ancient past?
Zack Davisson: Many yōkai are absolutely old deities. Especially the ones connected to nature—like kappa and yuki onna. There are still kappa shrines in Japan that were established from back when they were river gods. In fact, some researchers have referred to yōkai as “unworshipped gods.” Basically, kami require human worship to maintain their power—worship and ritual are what they feed on. When people stopped worshipping certain deities, they devolved, transforming into the familiar yōkai we know today.
With yūrei, almost the opposite is true. Some yūrei have become so worshipped that they transformed into kami. The kami of scholarship Tenjin is the most obvious example. Either way—moving up or down the scale—it is human worship and ritual that decides their status.
Warlock Asylum: Over the years you have written numerous freelance articles and published many other works about Japanese folklore and phenomena. Many have been impressed, and still are with the work you did in the Showa series, which is quite an extensive work. I think you’ve evne been quoted as saying it is like a “college course.” Can you elaborate a little about this work and what were some of the dynamics in its creation?
Zack Davisson: Showa: A History of Japan is something I have very proud of. It was written by Shigeru Mizuki, who is unparalleled in his work in yōkai and folklore in Japan. Really, he is the person responsible for us having this conversation today. It was Shigeru Mizuki who revived the yōkai after WWII and brought them into modern Japan.
Aside from him folklore work and his popular comic book series Kitaro, Shigeru Mizuki fought in WWII and lost his arm on the island of Rabaul. He is extremely anti-war, and wrote Showa: A History of Japan so that the children of Japan could never forget the price that was paid to get them the current peaceful country they enjoy.
Warlock Asylum: Out of all the mysterious phenomena appearing in Japanese folklore, and some of the ghost stories associated with it, do you have any favorites?
Zack Davisson: My favorite is Botan Dōrō —or I should say Botan Dōrō as told by Ryōi Asai, as there are many different versions. I am a romantic at heart, and the love story of a poor ghost girl and a lonely man finally finding love together touches me more than all of the tales of ghostly vengeance. Even with its horrific finale!
That and the kappa. I’ve always loved kappa. They have changed so much, from ancient water deities to modern cute sushi mascots. I have a ton of kappa toys and collectibles at my house.
Warlock Asylum: We occasionally get emails and letters asking if we teach some form of divination that can invoke what some would call a yokai, or yurei, and other mysterious forms. What advice would you give to anyone who seeks to incorporate some of the supernatural creatures, we hear so much about in Japanese folklore, into their spiritual practices?
Zack Davisson: Actual spiritual practices go out of my area of research, other than the ritual of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai itself. The hundred candles game was an evocation designed to summon some yōkai when the final candle was put out. There is an old belief in Japan—as there is in many cultures—that talking about yōkai and yūrei summons them. It focuses the spiritual energy and allows them to manifest. It’s like the old saying “Speak of the devil and the devil appears,” only in this case it is “Speak of the yōkai and the yōkai appears.” And in Japan they are all part of the same energy. Kami, yōkai, yūrei … all different manifestations of the same thing, essentially.
Warlock Asylum: I would personally like to say thank you for putting together website Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai. It is a great resource with an abundance of useful information for those who are interested in Japanese history and folklore. It’s how I first came into contact with your work. Why did you put this site together? How has hyakumonogatari.com helped your endeavors?
Zack Davisson: Thanks! It’s been a great pleasure to work on! Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai—hyakumonogatari.com—essentially started out as a dumping ground for a bunch of translations and things I did for my MA. They were just gathering metaphorical dust on my computer hard drive, and I wanted to share them somehow. I didn’t know much about building a blog/webpage, so I just used a WordPress template and started posting.
The site has really helped in building an audience for Japanese folklore and weird tales, and showing publishers that there were people eager to read this kind of thing. And it has helped encourage me to do more. I have heard from people from all over the world, and it has been an inspiration.
Warlock Asylum: What can we expect to hear from Zack Davisson in the future? Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to share with our readers?
Zack Davisson: I am really focused on getting Yurei: The Japanese Ghost out right now, as well as doing some appearances and tours to support that. I want to get the word out to as many people as possible!!! For a first-time author like myself, it is important to prove to the publishing world that I have an audience. If Yurei succeeds, I have several books I would like to do as well, all focused on Japanese folklore and supernatural.
Along with that, I have two Satoshi Kon translations coming out from Dark Horse Comics, OPUS and Seraphim. Both of those are beautiful works of art from a unique and talented creator. I am currently working on my next Shigeru Mizuki translation for Drawn & Quarterly, a biography of Adolph Hitler called Hitler. And I continue to do the essays on Japanese culture and folklore for the comic Wayward from Image Comics.
Lots of stuff to keep me busy, and hopefully to keep readers entertained and educated! I appreciate everyone’s interest and support, and looking forward to bringing more weird and esoteric Japan to an English audience!
*On behalf of our staff here at the Art of Ninzuwu blog page and members of The Esoteric Black Dragon Society would like to extend our deepest thanks and appreciation for taking the time to answer a few questions, but also for the great gifts in Japanese folklore that you have provided to the world at large. We will be sure to give our readers a full review of Yurei:The Japanese Ghost when it is released and updates about your future works. Salute! おめでとうございます