Translated from the Japanese by Anthony H. Chambers
Fiction/Folklore, first published in 1776
Columbia University Press, hardback, 214 p.
Review in The Guardian
First published in 1776, the nine gothic tales in this collection are Japan's finest and most celebrated examples of the literature of the occult. They subtly merge the world of reason with the realm of the uncanny and exemplify the period's fascination with the strange and the grotesque.Ghosts, angry spirits, demons in human form…this was a fascinating look at old Japanese beliefs regarding the supernatural. It’s a slim book and the 9 tales themselves are not long but it wasn’t a book to rush through. Chambers’ introduction and notes were quite extensive and certainly added to my enjoyment and understanding of the work even though they slowed my reading down considerably. He set the scenes and provided enough background information for each story to make them meaningful in a scholarly yet readable format, also making me rather envious of the depth of his knowledge. I’m a compulsive footnote and endnote reader, but I imagine you can read and enjoy the stories without them. (Bellezza did, you can see her review here). I also enjoyed the inclusion here of the woodcut illustrations from the original 1776 edition.
The title Ugetsu monogatari (literally "rain-moon tales") alludes to the belief that mysterious beings appear on cloudy, rainy nights and in mornings with a lingering moon. In "Shiramine," the vengeful ghost of the former emperor Sutoku reassumes the role of king; in "The Chrysanthemum Vow," a faithful revenant fulfills a promise; "The Kibitsu Cauldron" tells a tale of spirit possession; and in "The Carp of My Dreams," a man straddles the boundaries between human and animal and between the waking world and the world of dreams. The remaining stories feature demons, fiends, goblins, strange dreams, and other manifestations beyond all logic and common sense.
The eerie beauty of this masterpiece owes to Akinari's masterful combination of words and phrases from Japanese classics with creatures from Chinese and Japanese fiction and lore. Along with The Tale of Genji and The Tales of the Heike, Tales of Moonlight and Rain has become a timeless work of great significance. This new translation, by a noted translator and scholar, skillfully maintains the allure and complexity of Akinari's original prose.
The tales also contained several references to The Tale of Genji, so that was a nice way to start off my year of reading Genji. Every time I read this kind of Japanese classic I feel like I’ve learned just a tiny bit more about Japan and its culture. I’m glad this book caught my eye while browsing at the bookstore one day and I’m sure I’ll be revisiting these tales again.
My Rating: 4/5
(#3 for 2007, Japanese Literature Challenge #4, What's in a Name Challenge - 'Weather')