Skip to Content
1943.602 Katsushika Hokusaikohada Koheij 1943.602 Katsushika Hokusaikohada Koheij

Ghosts and Demons in Japanese Prints



There’s a Chinese legend about a man, Zhong Kui, who failed the examinations to become a scholar-official and subsequently took his own life. The emperor, upon hearing of this tragedy, had him buried with high honors, thereby securing his protection as a spirit guardian who would defend the country from supernatural forces.


Okumura Masanobu

In Japan, Zhong Kui was called Shōki the Demon Queller and depicted in prints as a Chinese official dressed in a dark robe, boots, and cap, wielding the sword he uses to subdue demons. A popular subject, his image was often displayed in homes and on banners in the belief that it helped to ward off disease.

Shoki 2

Kawanabe Kyōsai

Supernatural beings have always been common features in Japanese legends, prints, and Kabuki theater. The prints on view in this exhibition, all from our celebrated Clarence Buckingham Collection, capture common Japanese folk tales as well as their Kabuki adaptations from the early 18th-century to the last years of the 19th century, offering distinct insight into the nature of these beloved stories and characters.

Shunsho Skeleton

Katsukawa Shunshō

Amid the performances depicted in these prints are Kaidan mono, or Kabuki ghost plays. Ghost plays were known to feature dramatic special effects: quick costume changes in moments when an actor transformed into a ghost or the use of trap doors and flying apparatuses to terrify and excite the audience. Kaidan mono were most often put on in the heat of summer, the traditional time for telling ghost stories. Tales were meant to give the audience a chill. It’s our hope that this summer exhibition of these astonishing prints brings visitors a chill of their own.  

Katsushika Hokusai

Ghosts and Demons in Japanese Prints is curated by Janice Katz, Roger L. Weston Associate Curator of Japanese Art, the Art Institute of Chicago.


Corporate Sponsor

MUFG logo


Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions