#FindingAsia: Ghosts and Demons in Japanese Prints, Chicago

#FindingAsia: Ghosts and Demons in Japanese Prints, Chicago

Chicago is known for having one of the best art museums in the country, complete with a large Asian art wing. However, from now until January 4th, 2015 guests can enjoy the exhibition Ghosts and Demons in Japanese Prints, which features some of the celebrated collection of Clarence Buckingham.

Art Institute of Chicago

This special exhibition showcases prints depicting the supernatural, a popular motif in Japanese art.

The belief in ghosts, demons and the supernatural has been deep-rooted in Japanese folklore throughout history. Much of this folklore can be traced back to Japan’s indigenous religion Shinto, which believes that everything possesses a kami (神), or spirit.

Not only does everything have a spirit, but they also have four souls: one which is gentle (和御霊; nigi-mitama), one which is violent (荒御霊; ara-mitama), one which is happy (幸御魂; saki-mitama), and one which is mysterious or wandering (奇御霊; kushi-mitama).

Art Institute of Chicago

It is because of these different souls that not all demons are considered evil, unlike in Western belief. Demons in Japanese folklore are often depicted as tricksters, playing practical jokes on the living. The use of demons in Japanese art became especially common during the Edo period (1615-1868), which was a way to mock the despotic feudal rule.

Majority of the works displayed in the exhibit are from the Edo period and include pieces from the most famous of Japanese artists, Hokusai (the guy who made The Great Wave of Kanagawa print… you know the one), who was said to be a believer in ghosts.

Hokusai’s Hyaku Monogatari (百物語; One Hundred Stories) is a series of  five prints, depicting some of the most famous obake, or ghosts, from Japanese ghost stories.

Hyaku Monogatari was actually a popular game, which also originated in Edo period. To play it, a group of people would sit in a circle with one hundred burning candles in the room some time after sunset. They would take turns telling ghost stories, and after each story they would extinguish a candle.

Of course as it got darker it got a little spookier, but they believed that something terribly frightening would happen once all the candles were out. This game is still featured today in many Japanese anime series.

While the overall exhibition is fairly small, taking place in just one hallway, it’s still worth a look at if you’re going to be in the area. If you miss the exhibition, the Art Institute of Chicago is still a great place to see works of Asian art year-round!

Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago  Art Institute of Chicago

When to visit: Through Jan 4th, 2015
Where to visit: 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603

How to visit: El stop at Adams/Wabash on the Brown, Green, Orange, Pink, or Purple line


Have you experienced Asian culture outside of Asia? Tell me about it in the comments below or share your own photo on social media using the hashtag #FindingAsia!



  1. March 1, 2015 / 6:52 pm

    This looks like a lovely trip. I really love the fans and umbrellas that are between the little balconies.

    • Beth Williams
      March 2, 2015 / 8:38 pm

      Japanese art often uses fans and umbrellas!

  2. February 26, 2015 / 11:52 am

    I am an Art student and I love art… like love but one thing I can not grape is art history. =( I have failed the class twice. Now I love going to Art museums and looking around and I know I would love this one! It looks so beautiful! I love art, is all so beautiful in its own way!!!

    • Beth Williams
      March 2, 2015 / 8:37 pm

      I agree! All art is beautiful in their own way… sometimes you just need to interpret it a bit!

  3. February 25, 2015 / 1:26 am

    This is so awesome that Chicago has this! I have always been fascinated with Asian culture! This artwork has really sparked my interest!

    • Beth Williams
      March 2, 2015 / 8:36 pm

      I was surprised that Chicago had this as well! A pleasant surprise!

  4. Michelle Hwee
    February 23, 2015 / 9:48 pm

    Art is definitely one of my favorite things of all time. It is so much more than something to look at. There is so much culture, tradition, thought and memory put into each piece. These prints look absolutely amazing! Not only are they gorgeous they truly tell a story!

    • Beth Williams
      February 24, 2015 / 8:14 am

      They do tell a story! Albeit a creepy story, but it’s still really cool!

  5. February 23, 2015 / 5:12 pm

    I am fascinated with Asian culture! The only place I’ve really had a chance to experience it in Florida is at Epcot. I was just in the Japan area looking to buy sake and snacks! Their selection is SO awesome. They have the best food and clothes.

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 8:20 pm

      I’m so excited to go to Epcot! I was there once when I was little, but it’s been 20 years since. Really looking forward to visiting later this year!

  6. CourtneyLynne
    February 22, 2015 / 7:48 pm

    I absolutely love museums! I could only imagine how fantastic the one in Chicago is! I never really thought about Japanese and art! These paintings look awesome. Kinda think this post gave me my evening project. I’m gunna go google some Japanese art ;-) thanks for the inspiration hehe ;-)

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 10:53 am

      Always happy to help! Let me know if you find anything good! ;)

  7. February 22, 2015 / 6:42 pm

    Learning about world cultures I can recognize various similarities and differences between beliefs such as the four souls. The motifs of the dragons and demons are attributive to Japanese print which is fascinating. I love looking at art and decoding its meaning.

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 10:53 am

      I do too! It’s so much fun trying to interpret.

  8. February 22, 2015 / 8:30 am

    I would really love to go to a japanese festival. I’ve never been to a big town to be honest and we don’t have anything fun around here (the big pig jig is it for us). I love the fabric and all of the colors. The demons would scare me, lol.

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 10:52 am

      The Big Pig Jig sounds interesting! We don’t have stuff like that up here ;)

  9. February 22, 2015 / 2:33 am

    I love going to museums, but for this particular museum, I think I have bad feeling about this. I don;t know why but the sound of demons and the whole concept of it make me feel creepy. But anyways, I guess it’s worth visiting though.

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 10:52 am

      Even if you don’t care for this exhibit, there’s still plenty to see in the rest of the museum. It’s giant!

  10. February 22, 2015 / 1:57 am

    I’ve never really been into anything Japanese – Asia wise to be honest with you. But this art work is really cool, kinda creepy in the first picture. I’ve always been a real big fan of art work and the stories behind the art work. Are we talking actual demons, because that’s a bit scary.

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 10:51 am

      Actual demons, yes… but not really in the sense that Westerners believe. There can also be good demons in Japanese belief!

  11. February 21, 2015 / 10:26 pm

    What a pleasure to come across another Chicagoan as part of the Awesome Bloggers thread. The Art Institute is one of my absolute favorite places, and the Asian wing truly is stunning. Thanks for providing such great background information…I love learning more and more about the art in the museum…it makes it so much more powerful.

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 10:50 am

      Always glad to meet another Chicago-based blogger! We really do have some of the best museums here!

  12. February 21, 2015 / 2:12 pm

    I really don’t know a lot about Japanese culture, but your post has sparked my interest. I admire all works of art and am intrigued by the way an artist can share so much about their culture, history and beliefs on one canvas. We have never been to Chicago, but plan to start traveling more in 2015. I’ll have to add the Art Institute of Chicago to our bucket list.

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 10:49 am

      You should! It’s such a wonderful museum. Say hi if you’re ever in the area!

  13. February 21, 2015 / 8:59 am

    My fiancee and I LOVE the museums in Chicago! It is such an alive city, always with something new to do or an exhibit to see! Though we don’t live there, we tried to go every SUMMER before we moved out of the country. We even got engaged in the Signature Room in the John Hancock Tower! Can’t wait to get back and hopefully see some more amazing exhibits!

    • Beth Williams
      February 23, 2015 / 10:49 am

      Aw, glad to hear you love Chicago! My fiancé and I had our first date in the Signature Room, and it’s where we’re looking to hold our wedding next spring :)

  14. Charlie
    December 22, 2014 / 5:10 pm

    I really like Japanese art. They had an exhibition featuring lots of different Japanese artists in Montreal a few summers back, was one of the best exhibitions I went to in a long time. They also have the Japanese festival in Montreal which is always a fun look at the culture.

    • Beth Williams
      January 6, 2015 / 9:32 pm

      Oh? I’ll have to look into this Japanese festival! 2015 is going to be all about traveling around NA to report on different Japanese festivals outside of Japan. Thanks for the tip ;)

  15. December 23, 2014 / 4:09 am

    This is so interesting, I’m so into it. Japanese culture is so intriguing. That game sounds exciting, chilling, and creepy at once. This post is so informative, I love it!

    • Beth Williams
      January 6, 2015 / 9:41 pm

      Thanks Marie! I also think Japanese culture is really interesting, so hopefully I can keep sharing interesting pieces of it :)