Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Japanese literature's long tradition begins with the country's oldest book, Koji-Ki ["Record of Ancient Matters"] (anth 712), which includes many mythical episodes. But in our context the most notable work of antiquity is Konjaku Monogatari ["Tales of Ancient Times"] (anth 1120), which comprises over 1000 Folktales in which various Monsters and Spirits appear. Since the late 17th century, influenced by Chinese Ghost Stories, many Japanese authors have written Supernatural Fiction; best known is Ugetsu Monogatari ["Tales of Moonlight and Rain"] (coll 1776) by Ueda Akinari (1734-1804).

Realism came to dominate Japanese literature at the end of the 19th century, but even so some masterly fantasy was produced by well respected writers. Kyôka Izumi (1873-1939) deployed a rich vocabulary in his many supernatural short stories; "Kôya Hijiri" ["A Priest of Kôya"], his most important, deals with the Metamorphosis of man into animal through the charm of a Femme Fatale. Rohan Kôda (1867-1947) ranks alongside Izumi. Yume Jûya ["The Dreams in Ten Nights"] (coll 1908) by Sôseki Natsume (1867-1916), among Japan's foremost writers, is imbued with Surrealist images. The naturalized Englishman Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) – known in Japan as Yakumo Koizumi – collected and retold Japanese supernatural folktales in his Kwaidan (coll 1904 US) (see also Kwaidan [1964]).

During the interwar years several great fantasy writers made impressive debuts. The most unique talent was that of Taruho Inagaki (1900-1977), whose first book, Issen-ichibyô Monogatari ["Tales of A Thousand and One Seconds"] (coll 1923), contained Nonsense tales featuring intelligent planets, comets, stars and Moon. Kyûsaku Yumeno (1887-1936) made his debut with "Ayakashi No Tuzumi" ["The Evil Drum"] (1926) in the magazine Shinseinen ("New Youth"), which was basically a mystery magazine but published some fantasy. His best-known work, Dogura-Magura ["Abracadabra"] (1935), is psychological Horror in which a man involuntarily re-enacts a dreadful crime committed by an ancestor, then afterwards suffers Amnesia over what he has done. Another noteworthy contributor to Shinseinen was Mushitarô Oguri (1901-1946); his Kokushikan Satsujinjiken ["The Murder at Black Death Mansion"] (1935) is an occult mystery written in an ornate style. Shinseinen's most famous contributor, Edogawa Rampo (real name Tarô Hirai; 1894-1965) – the pseudonym is a punning homage to Edgar Allen Poe – included some fantasies among his many mysteries.

After WWII the mystery magazine Hoseki ["Jewel"] was launched; as with Shinseinen, several authors of both mystery and fantasy debuted here. Sigeru Kayama (1909-1975) used his knowledge of palaeontology as a basis for many fantasies; his best-known work – Gojira (1954), filmed as Godzilla (1954) (see Godzilla Movies) – is not his best. The most gifted writer to start in Hoseki was Shinichi Hoshi (1926-1997), who has produced over 1000 short-short stories; like Ray Bradbury, he is often termed an sf writer though most of his work is fantasy. In fact, most Japanese sf writers produce fantasy as well. Yasutaka Tsutsui (1934-    ), another to debut in Hoseki, is noted for his black humour and slapstick; his recent works have veered towards metafiction and slipstream.

Hayakawa Shobo launched SF Magazine in 1960. This began as a Japanese edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but gradually the ratio of Japanese material increased, and this has become a good vehicle for fantasy as well as sf. But there was no specialist fantasy Magazine until Gensô To Kaiki ["Roman and Fantastique"] appeared in 1973. Mainly translations but with a few original stories, Gensô To Kaiki lasted only 12 issues, but was remarkable for the quality of its selection. At about the same time book publishers began the systematic translation of the best of Western fantasy.

Domestic authors were busy creating an indigenous form of fantasy. In his most important novel, Musubinoyama Hiroku ["The Secret History of the Holy Mountain"] (1973), Ryô Hanmura (1933-    ) reinterpreted Japanese history from the perspective of a Lost Race possessed of strange Talents. Kazumasa Hirai (1938-    ) began a successful series about a Werewolf hero with Ôkamiotoko Dayo ["I Am a Werewolf"] (coll 1969).

In the 1970s the reading public began to notice fantastic literature. In mainstream literary circles, writers of visionary fiction like Kobo Abé, Yumiko Kurahashi (1935-    ) and Hideo Nakai (1922-1992) gained vast popularity. Tatsuhiko Shibusawa (1928-1987) – a popularizer of Western occultism and a translator of the Marquis de Sade and J.-K. Huysmans – became a cult hero.

In the 1980s fantasy became ever more widespread. Kaoru Kurimoto (1953-    ) began her bestselling Heroic-Fantasy series Guin Saga with Hyôtô No Kamen ["A Mask of Panther"] (1979). Baku Yumemakura (1951-    ) and Hideyuki Kikuchi (1949) are both very popular writers of violent heroic fantasies. Hiroshi Aramata (1947-    ) – respected also as a critic of fantastic literature and as a translator of Robert E Howard's Conan series – wrote the monumental Teito Monogatari ["The History of the Imperial City"] (1985-1989 12 vols), in which he reconstructed the history of Tokyo from an occult perspective. This novel became a bestseller and was adapted for movies and Comics. In 1982 Japan's second specialist fantasy magazine was launched: Gensô Bungaku ["Fantastic Literature"] contains mainly criticism but a few short stories.

Osamu Tezuka (1928-1929), Japan's most notable Manga artist, produced some fantasy comics: Banpaia ["Vampire"] (graph 1966) features infant Werewolves and Dororo (graph 1967) is a weird story; both were adapted for animated series on Television. Shigeru Mizuki (1924-    ) has specialized in weird comics; the hero of his Gegege No Kitaro ["Kitaro the Witch-Boy"] (from 1966) fights evil supernatural beings. Kazuo Umezu (1936-    ) is another specialist in weird comics; he is noted for his bizarre drawing. Moto Hagio (1949-    ) is among the most popular comics artists/writers; her Pô No Ichizoku ["A Clan of Poe"] (from 1972) features beautiful Vampires and has been compared with Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles series. Daijiro Moroboshi (1949-    ) has often dealt with Asian or Oceanian mythologies in his fantasy comics. Go Nagai (1945-    ) produced a famous weird comic, Debiruman ["The Devil Man"] (1972-1973), which was adapted for a tv animated series. Japanese fantasy animation (see Anime), by contrast with sf animation, is rather a minor genre, although Tonari No Totoro (1988; vt My Neighbour Totoro) by Hayao Miyazaki (1941-    ) was very popular. The Japanese contribution to the Monster-Movie genre should certainly not go unmentioned; aside from the Godzilla Movies and various other series, Japan has made a couple of unique – if to Western eyes baffling – contributions to the sequence of Frankenstein Movies.

Since the late 1980s several publishers have produced light YA fantasy novels, and many writers have made their debut with these. More important, however, is the Japanese Fantasy Novel Contest, held annually since 1989 by the leading publisher Shinchosha. Ken-ichi Sakemi (1963-    ) was the first prizewinner with his first novel Kôkyû Shôsetsu ["A Tale of the Imperial Harem"] (1989), which wittily created an alternative history of China. The 1991 prizewinner was Aki Satô (1962-    ) with her first novel Barutazâru No Henreki ["Travels of Balthazar"] (1991), in which she dealt with the Doppelgänger theme. Both of these gifted writers are still at work in the field. [ShM]


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.