Yukimi Ogawa lives in a small town in Tokyo, Japan, where she writes in English but never speaks the language. She still wonders why it works that way. Her fiction can be found in such places as Fantasy and Science Fiction and Strange Horizons.
I enjoyed your gruesome and moving story, “Kokuri’s Place”. Can you tell our readers more about the monster, Kokuri Babaa?
Oh thank you! Kokuri Babaa is a monster of an old woman that strips corpses of the skin and eat the flesh, and weaves stuff with the dead’s hair. The part about Kokuri Babaa wearing the dead’s skin afterward is entirely my creation.
In the book in which I learned of her, the caption says she is “feared even more than Datsueba”, and Datsueba is an old-woman monster who strips the dead of their clothes if the dead don’t have enough money with them for crossing the river between this world and the world beyond. I see similarity here, and wonder if one of them had a strong influence on emergence/evolution of the other. Funny (and sad) thing, though, is that Datsueba somehow came to be admired by a certain number of people around the end of Edo era, while Kokuri Babaa is still only a lonely, unimportant monster to this day.
Otherwordly female creatures appear in several of your recent stories, such as the yōkai in “Town’s End”, and the skeleton woman in “Rib”. All three of these stories contain subtle sympathetic touches that made the horrific relatable and even beautiful. Can you tell us what appeals to you about the monstrous feminine?
I love flipping through books that catalogue yokai, and being a woman myself, I guess the female monsters tend to easily catch my eye. These yokai books – especially the ones by Sekien Toriyama, which offer only a few lines of caption at most for each drawing of monster – never go far enough into how they came to be, or why they came to be what they are. It’s just so much fun to try to visualise these hows and whys!
Also, I have to say, I’ve been called "yokai woman" by many people, not entirely in a bad way, but not entirely in a good way either (hehe). Perhaps by depicting the not-just-horrifying aspect of these female monsters, I’m trying to come to terms with this lonely, weird woman that is me.
The stories I mentioned, and especially “Kokuri’s Palace”, are about relationships between marginalized supernatural beings and humans as they come to understand and even aid one another. How did this story, told from alternating points of view, take shape in your writing process?
I remember wanting to tell a story where a human cannot help but call the monster “her”, instead of “it”; and the monster that calls the human “it”, because for that monster, “she”, “he” or any other pronouns just don’t make sense. And to this end, the only way I could think of was letting both of them take the first-person POV.
In my culture we see many stories where humans and monsters cooperate or become friends, and recent examples include GeGeGe no Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki, and Yokai Watch series. In many of these stories the humans are “the good ones”, with the “good” monsters trying to help the human fight the bigger threat – more evil, stronger monsters. But sometimes I find myself asking, “Really?” And this is a theme I enjoy playing with.
What are you working on next?
More stories of yokai! And a longish story about a lot of patterns and colours. Writing about things I love gives me so much pleasure and peace.