Japan: The Secret of Mizuki Shigeru

At age 86, Mizuki Shigeru (水木しげる) is one of the most well-known manga artists in Japan thanks to work that stretches over more than four decades, including among them some of the most popular Japanese manga and anime TV series. His work is celebrated in particular for expressing stories of “yōkai” (妖怪), creatures in Japanese folkore which Mizuki first became interested in as a child. GeGeGe no Kitarō, a manga series he created in 1959, is Mizuki's most famous, featuring an orphaned yōkai named Kitaro, born in a cemetary and missing his left eye, who fights for peace between humans and yōkai. (“GeGeGe” refers to the sound of insects and vermin that follow Kitaro around.) Adapted for TV several times, the manga is credited with popularizing the idea of yōkai throughout Japan.

Opening for GeGeGe no Kitaro 2007 series

Part 1 of a Japanese TV interview with Mizuki Shigeru (see Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

Mizuki's GeGeGe no Kitaro recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, as popular in Japan it as ever was. In a post that asks the question “Why has GeGeGe no Kitaro remained popular for this long?”, blogger ta26 proposes the following explanation for the manga's longevity:


Kitaro, evolving even today

日本のアニメやドラマで息の長い作品の代表格はと言えば、『サザエさん』であり、『水戸黄門』ということになりそうだが、すでにその域に達したと言ってよい作品に、水木しげる氏の『ゲゲゲの鬼太郎』がある。この『ゲゲゲの鬼太郎』の原型とも言える『墓場の鬼太郎』が貸し本として登場したのが1960年、少年マガジンに初めて掲載されたのが1965年、『ゲゲゲの鬼太郎』としてアニメ化されたのが1968年というから、アニメ化されてから数えても、すでに 40年目ということになる。

In terms of representative works in Japanese anime and drama that have managed to stand the test of time, there are works like “Sazae-san” and “Mito Komon”, but a work that one could already say has reached the same level is “GeGeGe no Kitarō” by Mizuki Shigeru. “Hakaba Kitaro”, which could be called the prototype for “GeGeGe no Kitaro”, made its appearance as a loan book [kashihon] in 1960, and was first featured in Shonen Magazine in 1965. “Gegege no Kitaro” was made into an anime in 1968, so even if you start counting from this time, it is already the anime's 40th year this year.

鬼太郎がすごいのは、今まだ完全な現役であるだけでなく、『進化』していることだ。この2008年にも『ゲゲゲの鬼太郎千年呪い歌』*1として7月12日より劇場公開される予定だし、原型である『墓場の鬼太郎』*2のほうも2008年1月よりフジテレビ系の深夜アニメ枠「ノイタミナ」で放映され、13日深夜に放送された第10話の視聴率が5.8%(関東地区、ビデオリサーチ調べ)を獲得し、 07年1月放送の「のだめカンタービレ」(第2話)の5.5%を抜き、同枠の新記録となった*3。また、水木しげる氏の故郷である、鳥取県境港市では、境港駅から繁華街のアーケード通りまで『水木しげるロード』*4として多くのオブジェを配して町おこしに成功し、今や観光地としても多くの来客を迎えるようになった。

What is amazing about Kitaro is not only that it has been running continuously straight up to today, but also that it has “evolved”. In 2008 as well, [Kitaro] is scheduled to appear in theatres as “Gegege no Kitaro: Sennen Noroi Uta” [Millenium Curse Song] [1] from June 12th, and the prototype “Hakaba Kitaro” [2] has also been broadcast on “Noitamina”, a late-night anime time slot on Fuji television, from January of 2008. The 10th episode [of Hakaba Kitaro], broadcast late at night on the 13th, had a television rating of 5.8% (Kanto districts, investigation by Video Research Ltd.), beating out the 5.5% rating of “Nodame Cantabille” (second episode) broadcast in January of 2007, and marking a new record for the same time slot [3]. In addition, many art objects have been arranged along the arcade, referred to as “Mizuki Shigeru Road” [4], from Sakaiminato station to the shopping district in Mizuki Shigeru's hometown of Sakaiminato city, Tottori prefecture, successfully revitalizing the city. Many visitors now come to visit the city as a tourist destination.

Trailer for “Gegege no Kitaro: Sennen Noroi Uta” [Millenium Curse Song]

GeGeGe no Kitaro episode 13 of 2007 series


The secret to success?


The period in which the peculiar genre called “yokaibutsu” had its boom never ended, [this genre] has maintained its popularity as a fixture for a half-century and yet even now, it is still evolving. I wonder, what on earth is the secret behind this success? What is the difference between transient fads that come to a complete end, and other ones that catch on and last for such a long time?


One thing I think is that there is a thoroughness to Mizuki Shigeru. From his childhood days, Mizuki was strongly attracted to strange and mysterious things, and when he was a child he heard about various traditions and strange tales from a mysterious old lady who went by the name of “Nononba”. In this way, he grew to adulthood together with the ghosts rooted in the land called Sakaiminato. Growing up during the war, he was conscripted and sent to the southern front, where not only did he experience the misery of war, but he also narrowly escaped from death, returning with with one arm lost. This experience was nothing less than that of wandering in the realm of the dead, in the interval between life and death. Then after the war, while writing yokai manga, he began to actively mix together yokai traditions from ancient literature and ancient scrolls and picturebooks, as well as from elements such as the yokai folklore of Yanagida Kunio. Not only that, but in order to gather together such yokei folklore, he left his family and even went all the way overseas. Whether as a collector compiler [塊集家, see note] or as a researcher, there is no mistake that [Mizuki Shigeru] is a leading figure.

[Note: If anybody can help in translating the term “塊集家”, please let me know.]

そしてその研究を元に、そのつかみ所のない怪異な存在に、形と色を与えて行く。その成果が、『妖怪事典』*5シリーズや『妖怪画談』*6シリーズとして、結実している。『妖怪画談』のあとがきで、水木氏は、『柳田國男*7のあたりのものは愛嬌もあり大いに面白いが、形がないので全部ぼくが作った』と言っている。『妖怪画談』はもちろん怪異なもの達に溢れているのだが、いつの間にか日本の原風景の持つ郷愁にいざなわれ、葛飾北斎の浮世絵に見る美しさを感じてしまう。 500年くらい後の研究者には、柳田や北斎等と同列に水木氏が扱われているのではないだろうか。

Through this research, [Mizuki] gave shape and colour to these strange entities that were so hard to grasp. The fruits of this labor was his success with the series “Yōkai Jiten” [Encyclopedia of Ghosts/Monsters, 妖怪事典] [5], and the series “Yōkai Gadan” [Discussions of Ghosts/Monsters Artwork, 妖怪画談] [6]. In the afterword to “Yōkai Gadan” [7], Mizuki wrote that: “The successful works of Yanagida Kunio receive a lot of respect and are very interesting, but they have no form so I created everything.” “Yōkai Gadan” is of course full of strange things, but [the reader] is also lured before they know it by a sense of nostalgia carried in Japanese-style scenery, feeling completely the beauty of seeing the Ukiyoe of Hokusai. Researchers almost 500 years later, it would seem, treat Mizuki's works on the same level as those of Yanagida and Hokusai.


The ghosts that dwelled in the landscape, never showing their figure, were brought one after another before our eyes through the work of Mizuki. Even today, the layers of history in the spirit of the Japanese people still remain, and yokai [ghosts/monsters] and strange things live on. While these beings may surprise us when they appear before our very eyes, it would seem that we are also intensely fascinated by them. The prototypes [of these beings] dug up from among these layers of history are of course a commercial success, but I believe that they are also an intensely unifying force among regional communities. It would seem that the real-life examples for this are the high television ratings of the Kitaro TV program and success of the Kitaro movies, as well as the revitalization of Sakaiminato.

For more on Mizuki Shigeru in Japanese, see information collected [ja] by blogger Yoshida Ami, who blogs about Mizuki in many of her posts (most recently here [ja] and here [ja]). See also this fan site [ja].

Update: Notes (all link to Japanese pages)

  1. Official site of the movie “Gegege no Kitaro: Sennen Noroi Uta” [Millenium Curse Song]
  2. “Hakaba Kitaro” official site
  3. Yōkai animation site (Mujara)
  4. Sakaiminato: Mizuki Shigeru Road
  5. Yōkai Dai Hyakki [Encyclopedia of Ghosts/Monsters]
  6. Yōkai Gadan [Discussions of Ghosts/Monsters Artwork]
  7. Yōkai Dangi

Thanks to Taku Nakajima for the suggestion to translate this blog post.


  • 記事に取り上げていただいたブログ、『風観羽』http://d.hatena.ne.jp/ta26/の ta26です。私のブログ記事がすばらしい英語になっているのを見て、感動しました。それに、海外の人が日本のアニメや作家である水木しげる氏に興味を持っていただいていることも本当にうれしいことです。 私は水木しげる氏と同じ、鳥取県境港市の出身ということもあって、以前から興味を持っている題材でした。(面識はありませんが、水木しげる氏は私の父の小学校時代の同級生です。)  これからもこういう日本の文化をたくさん紹介していただきたいものです。 よろしくお願いします。

  • Bill

    塊集家 I would translate as “compiler” in this context.

  • Bill

    No problem, Chris. BTW, I am very interested in the insight concerning “yokaibutsu” as, in some sense, popular because these may be read as vehicles for promoting some sense of historical continuity and unity. It would be nice to hear more about this particular idea…

  • tomoko


    Hello, Chris san, I reached here through waiwai related 2 channel thread, and impressed by all the articles so far, especially about Mizuki Shigeru as I am also a dedicated fan of Mizuki sensei. I found an another interesting blog written by Kanbee san, a well known economist, about economical factor of Mizuki Shigeru road in Sakai-minato city of Tottori pref., please have review May 20th post if you are looking for some more insights of Mizuki boom. Actually this articles makes me wanted to visit Sakai minato, and will go there soon!


  • Hi Tomoko,

    Thanks so much! Sorry that this reply is so late, but I’m glad that you liked the articles. I will have a look at Kanbee-san’s post soon.



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