Japanese Gothic Tales


5.0 out of 5 stars Unfortunate women and death

“Japanese Gothic Tales” might be a slightly misleading title for this collection of four of Izumi Kyoka’s short stories. While they are gothic in the sense of being somewhat in the style of gothic literature, they are not really gothic in the modern sense of the word. In other words, this is not a straight forward collection of horror stories. Kyoka may very well be Japan’s Edgar Allen Poe, as has been maintained before, but if so it is because of his effective use of atmosphere and the short story, rather than his themes.

Instead of horror, it is a sampling of Kyoka’s unique and somewhat complicated style of storytelling. His use of layers and misdirection, of drifting back and forth in time and story without offering life-lines to the readers creates an atmosphere of disquiet far more than any ghosts of monsters. Kyoka is particularly difficult to read even for native Japanese speakers, and he is incredibly difficult to translate.

“The Surgery Room” offers a traditional Japanese tale of impossible love and the consequences it leads to. More than anything, it reminds me of one of Road Dahl’s adult short stories. Sharp and cutting like a scalpel.

“The Holy Man of Mt. Koya” is probably the most straight forward tale, and rates the cover of the book. A mountain ghost story that is both chilling and thought-provoking. Excellent.

“One Day in Spring” is a complicated tangle, drifting back and forth between characters, stories and life-times. It revisits the familiar thread of love outside your caste, and the only possible solution. A very sad story, with subtle Buddhist undertones. It is the longest story in the book.

“Osen and Soichi” is a tale of maternal infatuation that is often found in Japanese literature. The character of the prostitute/surrogate mother who suffers for her charge. Of course, there can be no happy ending.

The translator, Charles Inouye, has done a superb job rendering Kyoka into English, as well as providing informative Forwards and Afterwords, discussing the tales and Kyoka’s place in Japanese literature.


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