Tuesday, October 23, 2007

'Kwaidan: Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan'

by Lafcadio Hearn
(also known as Koizumi Yakumo after gaining Japanese citizenship)
Fiction/Folklore/Japan, 1904
paperback, Dover (this edition pub. 2006), 159 p.
(#46 for 2007, R.I.P. II Challenge- #5)
A blind musician with amazing talent is called upon to perform for the dead. Faceless creatures haunt an unwary traveller. A beautiful woman – the personification of winter at its cruellest – ruthlessly kills unsuspecting mortals. These and seventeen other chilling supernatural tales – based on legends, myths, and beliefs or ancient Japan – represent the very best of Lafcadio Hearn’s literary style. They are also a culmination of his lifelong interest in the endlessly fascinating customs and tales of the country where he spent the last fourteen years of his life, translating into English the atmospheric stories he so avidly collected.
As usual with any compilation of assorted stories I preferred some more than others but it was still fun to read all of these old folk tales. Most of them were new to me but I enjoyed finally reading Yuki Onna (Snow Woman) which I’d heard of before. One of my favourite stories was The Story of Aoyagi which actually slightly reminded me of an Ali Smith story. I wonder where she got her inspiration. ;)
While I thought the essay on butterflies was interesting, overall the three Insect Studies at the back seemed rather out of place alongside the spooky ghost stories, although they did provide a little glimpse into Hearn’s fascination with all things Japanese. All in all, it was certainly worth reading for the cultural knowledge.

My Rating: 3.5/5

You can read many of the stories in Kwaidan and others tales of Japanese folklore here.


  1. Lately I've been telling myself I need to get around to reading Hearn's writings on New Orleans, but hadn't yet. So, thanks to your reminder, I've just requested one of his books from the library.

  2. I love folktales, but I have never read a collection of Japanese ones. This sounds like a book I need to find.

    Thanks for the link to "The Story of Aoyagi"! The comparison to Ali Smith intrigued me; I'm going to read it later.

  3. I love books based on folklore and this one sounds very interesting. I should get pick up a copy from Amazon! Thanks for your review!

  4. I am not familiar with a lot of Japanese folklore, I'm afraid. I may have to check this one out. Thanks for the review!

  5. My husband tells me about spooky jap tales everytime and I love it. When we were dating, we would talk on the phone about Japanese folklore until the wee hours of the night. After the phone call, I feel dead scary I can't sleep and just toss and turn! That did not stop me though from asking him to tell me more.

  6. Thank you for that link. I'm going to share that with my husband (along with your review). He loves folktales from different cultures.

  7. Teresa- I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on his New Orleans writings.

    Nymeth- It's a very slim book so it was a nice introduction to Japanese folktales. Hearn has other books on Japan and folklore. Another I may check out is called 'In Ghostly Japan'.
    I don't remember the title of the Ali Smith story and I may not be remembering correctly but I think she had a story about a woman who was actually a tree??

    Happy Reader- I'm definitely going to have to read some more Japanese folk tales.

    Wendy- I'm not terribly familiar with Japanese folklore either but I'm intrigued to read more now.

    Grace- LOL! So do you have any favourites?

    Kookie- You're welcome. I hope he enjoys them. :)

  8. Ali Smith wrote a story about someone who is in love with a tree.

  9. Thanks Teresa! Now I remember a bit better. In the Japanese tale it's a tree in the form of a woman and the man doesn't know she's a tree until much later, but it is a love story. Just the idea or atmosphere of it somehow reminded me of Ali Smith but it's been a while since I read her stories and have forgotten the details.


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