Book review: Okamoto Kido: Master of the Uncanny

Master of the Uncanny

Okamoto Kido:
Master of the Uncanny
Selected and translated by Nancy H. Ross
168 pages
10/10/2020, by Kurodahan Press
Short stories
– originally publisghed between 1897 and 1931

Read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 16
It counts for The Classics Club

This is a wonderful collection of slightly spooky stories inspired by old legends –we even meet a few samurai.
There are ghosts, or possible evocation of ghosts, and possible elements of horror, but it’s all done with subtlety and even poetry. They are sometimes gloomy, but not hair raising scary. So I think the title given to the collection as Okamoto Kido: Master of the Uncanny is very well said.

Here are a few words (mostly to help myself remember what they are about) on these 12 stories, originally published between 1897 and 1931.

The Kiso Traveler talks about the etemono (a shape-shifting kind of creature) and is set in very cold and snowy mountains.
The Green Frog God is about dreams and a wife who might actually be a frog or a strange god.
Tone Crossing is about revenge. An elements found in several stories of this collection.
The Monkey’s Eyes has a strange wooden mask that seems to come alive, move by itself, and introduce misery.
The Snake Spirit has a typical opening: “In my hometown, a strange tale is told about snakes.”
Okamoto often uses that type of introduction, firmly setting his stories in the context of local traditions. Here, can an animal spirit completely take over the spirit of a person?
The Clear-Water Well, “a mystery tinged with romance”. Don’t stare too long down a well, who knows what or whom you might see there!
Crabs  – that seem to be so much more powerful than you can expect!
The One-Legged Woman, though beautiful and possibly some type of vampire!
Here Lies a Flute, an object of curse for its owner.
The Shadow-Stepping Game, a very interesting and spooky one, with a girl who gets extremely scared when she thinks people step on her shadow – a popular kid’s game, unfortunately for her.
The White-Haired Demon, that appears to a smart young man each time he tries to take his law exam!
This story, like others here, includes a beautiful girl who could be closer to a ghost/demon than to a real person.
The separation between both worlds is often thin and not always easy to see and understand.
As I write this, I realize I often say the same things about Haruki Murakami’s world. Even though his world is not really spooky, maybe he is even more influenced by Japanese legends than I originally thought.
The Man Cursed by an Eel. Next time you see a man golfing down a live eel, run away!

There are often fish or other animals and/or tanuki, dreams, and nightmares, impacting people’s daily lives unto madness, illness, and sometimes death.
So it’s horror in the sense of another dimension or power slowly creeping in and invading what we consider our normal circumstances. And often as elements coming back from one’s past, that always catches up with us.

I don’t often enjoy short stories, and even less horror, but some authors do both really well. And I found the same type of ambiance throughout the book (great slection job by the translator!), so it felt like reading one comprehensive work.
And fantasy/horror in more subtle touches worked for me here.

I can’t judge the translation, but Nancy H. Ross’s prose worked for me.
It was simple, straight, and seemed to work really well with Okamoto’s dealing with the uncanny.

I see Okamoto also wrote a Sherlock Holmes inspired mystery series, I definitely want to try it.

VERDICT: Definitely an uncanny world described here by Okamoto. Excellent selction of short stories by the master in the genre.



If you are familiar with contemporary horror novels,
does this sound close?



13 thoughts on “Book review: Okamoto Kido: Master of the Uncanny

  1. This does sound intriguing; like you I’m not much of a horror reader but will make an exception for legends and myth. Short stories are an added plus in this genre since one doesn’t have to read them all together if they get too spooky.


  2. I also don’t like horror normally, but I do like the sound of these stories. I guess it’s the way they sound uncanny and eerie but not straight-out horror. And it’s impressive to create a short-story collection that works as a cohesive whole.


  3. Pingback: Sunday Post #78 – 02/12/2023 | Words And Peace

  4. Pingback: Japanese Literature Challenge 16 | Words And Peace

  5. Pingback: 2023: February wrap-up | Words And Peace

What do you think? Share your thoughts, and I will answer you. I will also visit your own blog

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.