The Meaning of the Name:
Kanji: 百鬼夜行, pronounced as Hyakki Yagyō or Hyakki Yakō.
The most literal translation would by The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons (however, in this article I will be abbreviating the name to The Yokai Parade or The Night Parade).
The History of the Hyakki Yagyō
In Japan, folklorists have recorded many tales of yokai parading through the streets of Japan. They all have a few details in common:
- the night parade occurs during warm summer nights, around the time of Obon, a time during which spirits often visit the world of the living.
- there are one hundred yokai in the parade.
However, beyond that, the legends vary greatly. In some versions, Nurarihiyon (an old man with a gourd shaped head) leads the parade. And yet in other versions Yagyodoji (messenger to a god), Nozuchi (snake-like spirits) or Otoroshi (hairy, clawed demons) lead.
The yokai in the parade either kill or spirit away all humans which stand in their path. However, an onmyouji (exorcist) can protect you from the parade. The onmyouji used to predict the nights it would occur using the Chinese zodiac. On those nights, they would warn people to stay indoors. If you do find yourself in the midst of a yokai parade, you can also protect yourself by reciting a spell. This is the protection spell described in the Shūgaishō, an old Japanese encyclopaedia:
KA-TA-SHI-HA-YA, E-KA-SE-NI-KU-RI-NI, TA-ME-RU-SA-KE,
TE-E-HI, A-SHI-E-HI, WA-RE-SHI-KO-NI-KE-RI
(カタシハヤ, エカセニクリニ, タメルサケ, テエヒ, アシエヒ, ワレシコニケリ).
The Kyoto Legend
There are many legends about yokai parading through the streets over the course of history. However, a scroll set in the Heian era (794-1192), called the Tsukumogami Chronicle has the most prominent legend. The Tsukumogami Chronicle depicts a Yokai Parade which took place in Kyoto. At the time, Kyoto was the capital city, a hub for Japanese culture and art. It was also the home of the imperial family.
According to the Tsukumogami Chronicle, during the Koho period (964-968) there was a massive cleansing of the city. Many people threw away old objects which they no longer wanted. The old tools and household items, like umbrellas, lutes, shoes gained sentience, turning into tsukumogami. The rejected objects, which had served their masters faithfully for many years, grew angry. They gathered together to parade from east to west along the northernmost street of Kyoto, the first street of the old city (aka Yokai Street). During their parade, the tsukumogami wreaked havoc throughout the streets for revenge against the masters that threw them away. For more, see this site on yokai tourism in Kyoto.
The Yokai Parade in Art
The Yokai Parade has often been a feature of Japanese picture scrolls. The scrolls Hyakki Yagyō Zu (from the Sengoku Era) and Hyakki Yagyō Emaki (from the early Edo Era ) both depict the Night Parade. The Hyakki Yagyō Emaki is currently on display at Haneda Airport. The scroll features many detailed depictions of the types of yokai, including the tsukumogami from the legendary parade in Kyoto.
The Yokai Parade in Literature
Japanese folklorists have recorded multiple instances of the parade occurring throughout history. For example in the Uji shui Monogatari (宇治拾遺物語), which tells of a monk encountering a group of a hundred yokai. The parade also appears in the Konjaku Monogatari Shuu (今昔物語集). In the Konjaku Monogatari, during the Jougan Era, the son of a minister saw a group of yokai haunting the streets ( Wikipedia article).
The Yokai Parade in Pop Culture
The Hyakki Yagyō is a frequent feature in pop culture. It has appeared in anime such as Nurarihiyon No Mago, also called Nurarihiyon’s Grandson (my personal favourite), XXXHolic and Yokai Watch, as well as in the book The Night Parade.
The Real Yokai Parade!
Yokai Street in Kyoto also holds an annual Night Parade! Every year, on the third Saturday of October, you can see the parade march once again down Ichijo Dori. The street’s residents (and anyone else who would like to participate) dress up in homemade costumes (some cute, some funny, others actually scary) and dance along Ichijo Dori accompanied by enthusiastic crowds.
Masked figures walk the streets while traditional music plays, recreating the Night Parade of the Yokai. It is a creepy, but fun celebration of the street’s heritage. So if you ever get the chance to visit Kyoto, come dance with yokai through the streets of the city. For a moment, you can find yourself transported into a legend.
If you’re not in town for the parade, the street also holds a yokai market every weekend. There, you can buy various yokai related goods, such as eyeball earrings and demon plushies! You can find out more about Yokai Street on their official website, and on this page.