Kurodahan Press, 2009
paperback - 271 pp
Back in 2015, I bought the first volume of these three books of kaiki, Tales of Old Edo, promptly shelved it, and as with so many other books that I own, left it sitting there unread all of this time. So when I was prowling through my translated fiction shelves a while ago, I'd forgotten I had it, and a) it was like Christmas finding it again, and b) I decided I needed to give it a go. It didn't take too long to find myself absolutely loving this book, and I hadn't even finished the first one before buying the other two, which did not disappoint.
The term "kaiki shōsetsu," as explained by the editor in the introduction to this volume is used to describe "uncanny/strange/fantastic fiction," and traces back to the mid-seventeenth century. Just briefly, because the introduction is quite lengthy (but well worth taking time to read), Masao Higashi reveals that until the second world war, the more familiar term "kaidan" was used to reference "strange tales or ghost stories" that was applied to not just fiction but also folklore and storytelling. Afterwards, as he writes, new "genre names" began to take hold --
"kai'i shōsetsu (tales of the strange,) kyōfu shōsetsu (horror stories), kaiki shōsetsu (uncanny fiction) and gensō to kaiki (the fantastic and the strange) also appeared as its equivalent, and in the mid-eighties, horā (horror) came to represent the entire field."[As a brief aside, the little macron over the vowels means that you hold that sound for an extra tick when speaking or reading.] There's much more to the history of Japanese strange fiction, of course, but for now this tiny little bit should suffice to explain the title. Just one more thing: one important "characteristic" of kaiki is a "blurring of the boundary between fiction and nonfiction," which among other sources, may have its "foundation" in the "Skin-Thin Falsehood and Truth" theory of Chikamatsu Monzaemon, which said that "art abides in a realm that is neither truth nor fiction."
2011, 286 pp, paperback
Volume Two takes us into the realm of "Country Delights," getting us out of the city and its neighborhoods into more rural and especially more isolated spaces, where anything can and does happen. Once again, it's the longer story here that I absolutely loved, "Midnight Encounters," by Hirai Tei'ichi , written in 1960 It has all the creepiness of fine gothic blended with slowly-darkening subtle horror and strangeness, and I won't say why but it also reminded me of the legends of Pan in a different form. There was only one story I didn't really care for, "Reunion," by Takahashi Katsuhiko (1993) because it was just too weird for me, but I can honestly say that this volume was even better than the first. Another highlight of this book is the story called "Sea Daemons," by Izumi Kyōka (1906), another excellent mix of horror and gothic that plays out on a cliff overhanging the sea during a raging storm and also offers a huge dose of supernatural terror on the seas. Now that I'm thinking about these stories again, I can honestly say that with the exception of "Reunion" (which quite a few readers raved about so it's probably me), I quite enjoyed them all and have nothing negative to say about any of them.
Now to Volume Three, Tales of the Metropolis, where the action moves back into the city streets. In his introductory chapter, Higashi Masao notes that the stories found here are set in the "Tokyo Megalopolis," which sits at the juncture of the North American, Eurasian, Pacific and Phillipine tectonic plates." It is a city that has been through a number of disasters over its four hundred year history, "earthquakes, fires, and air raids during World War II." It is a city that has been "reduced to rubble," only to be "reborn like the phoenix," and these catastrophic events, he says, have "influenced the evolution of modern weird tales and ghost stories." And while this idea comes across clearly in some of these stories, there's much more to be found here.