Sunday, February 28, 2016

Leap Day in Japan: the realm of yokai?

Right now, it's February 29 in Japan--Leap Day, or 閏日「うるうび」--that strange inbetween day that only appears on calendars once every four years. Leap Day is a unique date that exists in the realms of both reality and fiction. If you're born on Leap Day, for example, how do you celebrate your birthday on non-leap years?  I have an aunt who was born on Leap Day, and we like to joke that she's only a teenager since her actual birthday only comes around every four years.
関口文京区 : Sekiguchi, Bunkyo-ku
A quiet back road near Mejiro-Dori in Tokyo,
a place where I imagine yokai to dwell

So what does Leap Day in Japan have to do with yokai? First, a quick primer for those new to the term: yokai (妖怪「ようかい」--also stylized as yōkai or youkai) are creatures of Japanese myth and legend, with an oral and written history stretching back for centuries. Only recently have yokai entered the Western public eye with such pop culture hits as Yo-Kai Watchalthough other Japanese imports, including Pokemon, draw heavily from the urban legends and folktales.

As Michael Dylan Foster explains in The Book of Yōkai, yokai inhabit a sort of grey area between the real world and the unknown. Places like overpasses and intersections--figurative and literal bridges to other places--are prime spots for yokai to take up residence. While the West may view October 31 as the calendar date most associated with paranormal activity, I'd argue that February 29 is the true apex of the unexplained. Why, even in the Western world, Leap Day was historically viewed as a topsy-turvy "opposite" day of sorts, when women were permitted to propose to men (gasp!).

As you go about your business today, wherever in the world you may be, keep an eye out for strange happenings. With its existence both in the domains of tangible and intangible, Leap Day truly is an auspicious day for the unfamiliar and mysterious!