Japan’s most famous collection of ghost and monster tales
“Kwaidan” is Lafcadio Hearn’s most famous book, and justifiably so. It is the least academic of his works, collecting together some of Japan’s core ghost and monster stories into one slim volume. Much like the Brothers Grimm, Hearn did not actually create these stories but rather compiled them and put them into written form for the first time, learning them from folk tales and storytellers.
Because it is in the Public Domain, there are innumerable different versions available of Lafcadio Hearn’s seminal “Kwaidan,” including several free versions available online. Anyone interested in Japanese folklore or Japanese literature or even Japan in general is going to need a copy of “Kwaidan” in their collection. That is just a given. But it is difficult to know which one to choose.
This edition, from Dover Publishing, is a nice book featuring the full unabridged text of the original 1904 publication. This version carries the subtitle “Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan” which is different from Hearn’s subtitle “Stories and Studies of Strange Things,” but that is the only difference.
The illustrations are the real selling point for this particular edition, being created by illustrator Yasumasa Fujita for the artesian publisher Shimbi Shoin in Tokyo, active from the 1860s to the 1930s. Yasumasa created a silk-bound version of “Kwaidan” with his illustrations as a high-end collectible book. While the original release with Yasumasa’s illustration fetches hundreds of dollars on the collectible market, here you get the same illustrations (although in black-and-white instead of the original color plates) along with Hearn’s original text.
Along with being his most famous, “Kwaidan” is Hearn’s most influential book. “The Story of Mimi-nashi Hoichi” is as well-known in Japan as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is in the United States. The “Yuki Onna” has made it into a few films, including Kurosawa’s Dreams and the filmed version of this book, Kwaidan.
The stories themselves are of excellent quality, ranging from spooky ghost tales to humorous tales of wandering monks encountering monsters. Along with the stories are three insect studies, the likes of which can be found in all Hearn books. These are excellent academic studies of insects in traditional Japanese folk lore, including children’s songs and haiku poetry involving insects.
Each story ranges from 5-15 pages long. Included are:
The story of Mimi-nashi Hoichi
The story of O-Tei
Of a mirror and a bell
A dead secret
The story of Aoyagi
The dream of Akinosuke