a review by Elizabeth Vinton
I am an avid collector of weird tales, especially those of the supernatural and own quite a few good collections. Recently however I have noticed that they are pretty much all hailing from Europe, America and Australia. I have not found this odd until reading the introduction to the first volume of Kaiki: Uncanny Tales from Japan where they discuss that the fact that not a lot of books exist that celebrate the Japanese and Chinese tales, despite the popularity of Japanese and Chinese movies whose plots are centred on some of the old tales. As a huge fan of Asian horror/thrillers, especially its stunning visuals and rich spirituality which is unique and very different from Western horror, I was thrilled to be reviewing this series of books and adding them to my collection of strange stories.
Kaiki: Uncanny Tales from Japan is a collection of three volumes: 1: Tales of Old Edo, 2: Country Delights and 3: Tales of the Metropolis. The books are beautifully presented with striking covers taken from old artworks.
Volume 1 focuses on tales from when Tokyo was known as Edo (1603-1868). It features an excellent essay called ‘The Origins of Japanese Weird Fiction’ by the complier Masao Higashi which discusses in depth the history of the Japanese supernatural story. It also includes a lecture given by Lafcadio Hearn on ‘The Value of the Supernatural in Fiction’, which was a nice surprise for me having read/researched about Hearn in the past and his work collecting and translating Japanese mythology.
Volume 2 focuses on tales from 1868 to modern times, looking how the stories changed in response to contact with the West. Another excellent essay by Masao helps the reader soak in the atmosphere and find the mood of the stories to follow.
Volume 3 focuses on modern tales, the impact of natural disasters on Japanese literature and life in the Tokyo megalopolis. The essay from Masao is best read after the stories in this case to avoid ‘spoilers’.
The addition of annotations to each volume are of great help to the reader, who may or may not be familiar with Japanese culture, and are presented in such a way that they are not distracting from the main text, which I find can be a problem with such books at times. Each volume also has an introduction written by horror author Robert Weinberg, which is especially useful for those unfamiliar with Japanese fiction.
The stories themselves are a wonderful mixed bag. Some tales are very odd in structure, sometimes without a conventional ending and with a lesson to be learnt. Different tales will appeal to different readers, which is the joy of anthologies, discovering a gem that appeals to you. But be warned Western horror fans unfamiliar with Asian horror, these are not ordinary horror tales, not all involve terror and violence, they differ greatly from a collection of western tales of the same genre.
I heartily recommend Kaiki: Uncanny Tales from Japan for lovers of Japanese films/literature, for western horror fans looking for something different and for anyone who enjoys their fiction on the enchanting and bizarre side. These are volumes to be treasured for years to come.