Tales of the Supernatural in Early Modern Japan: Kaidan, Akinari, Ugetsu Monogatari

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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best resources on kaidan ever published

I first encountered these articles in the academic journal of Asian Folklore Studies, when I was writing my Master’s thesis on yurei, the Japanese ghost. The two main articles, “The Emergence of Kaidan-shu” and “The Appeal of Kaidan” formed the backbone of my research, and I am thrilled to see them collected here in book form.

Noriko T. Reider probably knows more about kaidan, Japanese strange stories, than any other person around. When I was doing research for my MA, I read through literally hundreds of books, both in English and Japanese, and it was Reider’s articles that I kept coming back too. She has a way of writing that is concise and readable, academic without drowning in its own language like books like Civilization and Monsters: Spirits of Modernity in Meiji Japan which is so dense as to be almost unreadable.

“Tales of the Supernatural in Early Modern Japan, Kaidan, Akinari, Ugetsu Monogatari” has four chapters, each with a different focus. “The Emergence of Kaidan-shu” is a history lesson on from its beginnings in early folktales to the kaidan-boom of the Edo period. Next, “Belief in the Supernatural in the Edo Period” discusses the attitudes towards the supernatural in Edo period Japan and how they created the atmosphere in which the kaidan genre could arise. “The Appeal of Kaidan” discusses people’s fascination with gory and grotesque stories, and what is it that drives people to tales of the unknown. The last chapter, “Akinari and Kaidan Ugetsu Monogatari” discusses in depth Ueda Akinari, author of Tales of Moonlight and Rain, possibly the best kaidan book ever written.

While the pure history of the first few chapters is interesting, Reider’s focus on the concept of obsession and the role it plays in Akinari’s celebrated book brings her collection to a higher level. She clearly has a passion for Akinari’s work, and it shows as she dissects the nine tales in Akinari’s book, looking into the driving nature of each character to focus on and pursue what obsesses them.

There is a dearth of good material writing on the fascinating world of Japanese kaidan, and it is a real shame. But of what is available, Reider’s work is definitely the cream of the crop, and if I was a professor grading a paper that discussed Japanese supernatural in any way, and Reider’s name and “Tales of the Supernatural in Early Modern Japan, Kaidan, Akinari, Ugetsu Monogatari” was not in the bibliography, you would need a pretty good excuse to get a passing grade.

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