Okamoto Kido — Master of the Uncanny

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Okamoto Kidō: Master of the Uncanny
by OKAMOTO Kidō


Translated by Nancy H. ROSS

Born just after Japan transitioned from the Shogunate to Meiji, Kidō grew up in a samurai-oriented world being transformed by the West in many ways. As a reporter he covered domestic development and overseas wars, while also marrying a traditional geisha, eventually becoming a playwright and author. In addition to a number of well-received plays, he also penned more than fifty horror stories over a roughly ten-year period starting in the mid-1920s. Just prior to this period, the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 destroyed almost everything in Tokyo that remained from the Edo era, and Japanese horror itself was transitioning from the traditional uncanny stories to more modern horror structures.

While many of Kidō’s stories are retellings of tales from China and other nations, he also drew on a diverse range of traditions, including the heritage of Edo-era storytellers such as Ueda Akinari and Asai Ryōi, to produce a dazzling array of work covering the entire spectrum from time-honored ghost tropes to modern horror. The majority of his stories were collected in four volumes: Seiadō kidan (1926), Kindai iyō hen (1926), Iyō hen (1933), and Kaijū (1936).

Kidō remains popular for his elegant, low-key style, subtly introducing the “other” into the background, and raising the specter of the uncanny indirectly and often indistinctly. His fiction spans an enormous range of material, much of it dealing with the uncanny, and as a pioneer in the field his work formed the foundation for the new generation of Japanese authors emerging in post-Restoration literature.

This selection presents a dozen of his best stories: pieces which remain in print almost a century later, and continue to enchant readers—and writers—today. Finally, English-reading audiences can enjoy his strange visions as well.

Contents

  • The Kiso Traveler (木曽の旅人)
  • The Green Frog God (青蛙神)
  • Tone Crossing (利根の渡)
  • The Monkey’s Eyes (猿の眼)
  • The Snake Spirit (蛇精)
  • The Clear-Water Well (清水の井)
  • Crabs (蟹)
  • The One-Legged Woman (一本足の女)
  • Here Lies a Flute (笛塚)
  • The Shadow-Stepping Game (影を踏まれた女)
  • The White-Haired Demon (白髪鬼)
  • The Man Cursed by an Eel (鰻に呪われた男)

Details

  • Pages: ix + 168
  • Trade paperback 5" x 8" (127mm x 203mm)
  • ISBN
    Softcover: 978-4-909473-16-5
    Ebook: 978-4-909473-17-2
  • List Price
    Softcover: US$16.00
    Ebook: US$4.99
  • Cover: Fujiwara no Yasumasa Playing the Flute by Moonlight by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. Photograph © 2020 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Reviews

  • ...the writer creates a feeling of everything being slightly off-kilter without ever really resorting to real horror. ... I never got bored of Okamoto’s tales. Ross’ work here is excellent, with her understated tone allowing the writer’s measured pacing to shine through – the stories never outstay their welcome, or take too long to get to the point. ... a great collection of intriguing stories, and one I’d highly recommend.
    Tony Malone, Tony's Reading List
  • ...English language readers are finally able to enjoy the chills and thrills of 12 of Okamoto’s best supernatural short stories. ... Most begin with some mundane drama which provides the tale with a veneer of verisimilitude that’s only shattered when the reader slowly realizes that some supernatural force has subtlety come into play.
    Justin Mullis, AIPT Comics
  • ...a gem of a book. [The] stories advance slowly and carefully, giving up very few clues until the end, when they offer more questions than answers.
    —Rachel Cordasco, Speculative Fiction in Translation

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About the author

Okamoto Kidō (岡本綺堂, 1872–1939) grew up in a multilingual environment around the turn of the 20th century, gaining a global perspective and a deep love of theater and literature. While primarily a theater critic and playwright, he wrote a large collection of Japanese historical stories such as the Hanshichi torimonochō (published in English as The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi), and more than fifty weird tales. His stories remain popular today for their subtle introduction of eerie or fantastic creatures and events into daily life.


About the translator

Nancy H. Ross worked as a reporter and editor before coming to Japan in 1993, and spent more than two decades as a corporate translator. She was the winner of the Distinguished Translation Award in the 4th Shizuoka International Translation Competition in 2003 and the 2008 Kurodahan Press Translation Prize. Her other translations include Mind Over Muscle for Kodansha International and short stories for the Kaiki and Speculative Japan series of Kurodahan Press. She lives in Hiroshima Prefecture with Ayame the wonder cat.