Summary: Exciting and interesting reading
Comment: I learned some interesting things about Japanese history and culture. In addition to ghost stories this book contains Japanese proverbs and poetry. The author offers a lot of explanations for his western audience. One thing that surprised me was that most of these are intertwined with the Buddhist religion. There is a lot about burning in Buddhist Hell. It made me think of the Book of Revelations.
Summary: Short ghost stories
Comment: If you like folk tales, or ghost stories you will love this book. It is a fast read, but enjoyable.
Summary: A mix of folktales, Japanese idioms, haiku, etc.
Comment: The title is somewhat misleading. One expects to find a collection of Japanese ghost stories. Instead this book is a mix of personal observations of Meji Japan or Buddhism, a few Japanese folk and ghost tales, Japanese idioms, examples of translated haiku, etc. Still, it was enjoyable. Something about reading this book was very peaceful - like sitting in a Japanese garden lazily pondering life's trifles. A good companion to Hearn's "Kwaidan."
Summary: Like Meeting a Buddha in Hell
Comment: In my snobbier moments I'm somewhat annoyed when people read a book because they saw its movie adaptation. Why not start at the source? It's a sad, sad day indeed when it takes Hollywood to get people to sit down with a good, classic book. Etcetera etcetera. Well, here I am, guilty of much the same, the karmic consequences of my snobbery having come back around to bite me. Years ago I saw the film "Kwaidan" (based on Lafcadio Hearn's retellings of traditional Japanese ghost tales) and loved it, and that's basically what inspired me to read "In Ghostly Japan" here. Which means that I was misled by the title just a bit, for this book is a mixed bag of short pieces, some of which are ghost tales but many of which are not, or not exactly anyway. This was a pleasant surprise, however. Hearn writes of Buddhism in real, down-to-earth Japanese culture (for this, if anything, is the overarching theme of the miscellany, the ghost stories being folkloric examples of Buddhist causality and karma) in an eloquent, personal style redolent of the Romantic flowing rhythms of late 19th-century prose but undergirded by a very solid but understated, unpretentious erudition. The guy knows what he's talking about. His keenly observant and sympathetic eye catches how Buddhism really operates in the Japanese imagination and how it manifests in proverbs and customs and such, but he then goes on to shed much light on these phenomena by analyzing and interpreting them in terms of formal Buddhist scriptures and doctrines--all of which sounds like pretty dry stuff, but it's actually enjoyable and fascinating, even entertaining, due to Hearn's wonderful presentation. Somehow he transcended the tired, misleading "great tradition"/"little tradition" dichotomy (a.k.a. the elite/folk religion dichotomy) before it even started and deftly avoided the twin pitfalls of Anthropology and Buddhist Studies early in the game--all without a bunch of tedious methodological navel-meditating. And what's more, he did so in style! The spooky tales of the karmically unquiet are cool too, of course. Once you start reading, there's not a ghost of a chance you'll be able to put this book down.
Summary: A study of Japanese ghostly traditions
Comment: "In Ghostly Japan" is a collection of old ghost stories, traditions dealing with ghosts, and personal ruminations on the afterlife by the turn-of-the-century Japanese scholar Lufcadio Hearn.
Much of the collection is short essays on Japanese traditions such as "Incense," and how incense relates to ghosts in terms of the Shinto and Buddhist religion. There is a true story of an accurate fortune teller know to the author, in "A Story of Divination." "Bits of Poetry" and "Japanese Buddhist Proverbs" translates and teaches several bits of Japanese lore as they relate to the world of the dead.
Some essays, such as "Silkworms," are pure conjecture, relating the human ideals of paradise to the daily lives of silkworms. "Suggestion" is a conversation between the author and a monk on the nature of gender and re-birth in the Buddhist tradition.
Of true ghost stories, there are few. Many of the ghost stories, such as "Furisode," begin with a short lesson about something Japanese, in this case a long-sleeved Kimono known as a Furisode, and then relates a ghost story dealing with the object. Some, such as "Ingwa-banashi," are pure chilling horror that make you cringe. Other true ghost stories in this collection are "Story of a Tengu," "Ululation," "Fragment" and "A Passional Karma."
One of my favorites, a short story called "At Yaidzu," tells of the author swimming out amongst the Obon lanterns, which are put to see to guide home the spirits of the dead, and the feeling he gets being in the Ocean amongst the returning dead. Truly creepy.
All in all, "In Ghostly Japan" is a bit more scholarly than ghastly. The writing style is like many books from the 1880's, a bit dry and non-thrilling. It is a good resource for learning about the Ghostly traditions of Japan, but those seeking a collection of Japanese ghost stories will be disappointed.