"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mysterious Tales of Japan

Mysterious Tales of Japan by Rafe Martin, Illus. by Tatsuro Kiuchi, 1996.

Rafe Martin has retold ten magical stories, most previously recorded by Lafcadio Hearn more than a century ago. While I have already written about The Boy Who Drew Cats, the other tales have not yet been discussed on this blog. They all have an eerie, otherworldly feel, like some campfire or Halloween tales.  Loved ones can be more than human, as in "The Pine of Akoya" in which young Akoya falls in love with a man who plays hauntingly beautiful  music on a silver flute  and "The Snow Woman" where lovely Yuke coaxes her husband to tell her about a strange winter meeting long ago. Some of the tales are ghost stories, such as "Ho-ichi the Earless" where an accomplished blind storyteller finds himself performing for a potentially deadly company and "Black Hair" in which a financially poor samurai abandons his good first wife and later realizes his mistake. And in some, those who don't obey the rules become sorry like in "The Crane Maiden" when the aged parents peer at something they shouldn't and  "Urashima Taro" in which a kindhearted fisherman foolishly opens a box his wife advises him to keep closed. Each story is prefaced by a relevant Haiku, such as
" On the low-tide beach
Everything we pick up
which puts readers in the frame of mind for the story of "Kogi, "a priest who has a special affinity for fish and wishes that he could experience a carp's life. As promised, the tales are all deliciously mysterious. The author's Story Notes follow the tales, providing more details for the curious reader and a Bibliography is also included.

From "Urashima Tasho"
Mr. Kiuchi has contributed ten color plates to Mysterious Tales of Japan as well as small grey scale sketches that precede each story, such as a turtle before "Urashima Taro," a crab for "Ho-ichi the Earless," and a fish taking the line for "Kogi". The color pictures show characters in key moments of action, like the unearthly Snow Woman entering the woodcutters' hut amid a swirl of crystal flakes or
the disguised warriors coming for the Snake Lord's "bride" in "A Frog's Gift."

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