Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

Ugetsu Monogatari

Ueda Akinara’s Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Moonlight and Rain) is a collection of nine short stories, each containing supernatural and otherworldly elements.  The tales were written in the 18th century, although many are set during an earlier time in Japanese history.

The edition I have is invaluable for understanding the tales.  It is the Cambridge U Press edition edited by Anthony Chambers and in addition to the tales themselves it includes background on Ueda, Japanese history, and the literary foundations for the tales.  For instance in “Shiramine” the two main characters are a famous Buddhist monk, Saigyo, and a former emperor, Sutoko, who reigned from 1123- 1141 CE.  I would not at all have understood who these two were or what they were discussing without the information added by Chambers.

Many of the tales have Buddhist morals behind them, and several include monks as characters.  Ueda also uses several Chinese fables as basis for his tales.

Some of the tales don’t need quite as much exposition, though.  “The Carp of My Dreams” is a fun story of a man who dreams he is turned into a carp (yes, the title is literal).  “A Serpents Lust” steadily builds up the tension and becomes genuinely creepy.

Basically the tales are interesting if you like Japanese history or literature.  The tales are never “scary”, and sometimes the supernatural elements are a bit tame – they are used more for morality fables or to comment on history or Japanese society.

One Thought on “Ugetsu Monogatari

  1. I’ve been curious to read this book, I’m glad to read finally a review of it, thanks.

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