An introduction to Japanese horror

Japan is pretty big on horror. Far back in history we already see tales about ghosts and demons. Vengeful spirits are a recurring theme. No surprise that Japan has some pretty interesting horror going on! Let me introduce you to some of it.

"Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre" by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (c. 1844)
“Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (c. 1844)

RingBack when I was a teenager (oh don’t I sound old now) I used to love Japanese horror movies. While they are sometimes hit or miss, in my opinion no horror movie can beat Ring! I prefer movies that have less gore and more suspense, and if you’re like me, check out this genre. These movies will provide you with plenty of sleepless nights! If you haven’t seen Ring yet, shame on you. Also check out Ju-On: The Grudge, One Missed Call and Dark Water.

Anyway, that’s movies and I’m sure you are here to read about books! For the occasion, I have sampled some Japanese horror novels for you all.

Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories

Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo
To give you a hint, pronounce his name very quickly… Quicker… Quicker! Pronounce it quick enough and we get… Edgar Allen Poe. Yep. Tarō Hirai (1894-1965) derived his pseudonym from Poe and I think it gives a good indication of the style of his work! Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination is a collection of short stories, some of them mysterious, some dark, some even perverse, and many of them twisted. You won’t be able to stop reading. Highly recommended!
Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse by Otsuichi
This book has been published by what is for me quickly becoming one of the most interesting publishers: Haikasoru. They carry Japanese science fiction and fantasy, and… a touch of horror. Otsuichi (pseudonym of Hirotaka Adachi, 1978) is such a typical horror writer. Other works that have been translated that you might’ve heard of are Goth and ZOO.
Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse contains three stories. I only just finished reading the title story and oh yes, I am really liking this. Told from the perspective of the victim, a 9 year old girl, this story is quite twisted. The second story, Black Fairy Tale, involves… an eye transplantation. And apparently it’s even better than the first story! And we get a bonus short story too. If you’re looking for modern horror, read this book!
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa
Another book that I only just started reading. This is my fourth book by Ogawa (1962) and her books are pretty dark (except The Housekeeper and the Professor). This one’s no different. Made up of eleven short stories with a different cast, a narrative is formed. I only finished three stories and yes, it’s getting creepy. Can’t wait to read on!
Hell Screen by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Hell Screen is actually a short story and not a full novel. It was published together with the very short The Spider’s Thread by Penguin, but instead of getting that that I recommend everyone to pick up the famous Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories instead because Akutagawa’s (1892-1927) writing is pretty amazing.
Hell Screen is a dark tale of a painter and his daughter. Father and daughter love each other dearly, but art gets in the way…

Of course, there is plenty more Japanese horror out there. Here’s a few more titles to get you started!

Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo Hell Parasite Eve Ring Strangers The Summer of the Ubume Tales of Moonlight and Rain

Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo by Miyuki Miyabe
“In old Edo, the past was never forgotten.”

Hell by Yasutaka Tsutsui
“Fifty-seven-year-old Takeshi has just been involved in a traffic accident. When he wakes up, he is in a strange bar and is no longer crippled as he has been for most of his life, but able to walk without crutches in his everyday business suit. This is Hell—a place where three days last as long as 10 years on earth, and people are able to see events in both the future and the past.”

Parasite Eve by Hideaki Sena
“When Dr. Nagashima loses his wife in a mysterious car crash, he is overwhelmed with grief but also an eerie sense of purpose; he becomes obsessed with reincarnating his dead wife.”

Ring by Koji Suzuki
“A mysterious videotape warns that the viewer will die in one week unless a certain, unspecified act is performed. Exactly one week after watching the tape, four teenagers die one after another of heart failure.”

Strangers by Taichi Yamada
“When Harada, a jaded TV scriptwriter, runs into his long-dead parents one night, he enters the womb of a city whose living inhabitants have perhaps lost their souls. Can Harada save his?”

The Summer of the Ubume by Natsuhiko Kyogoku
“In Japanese folklore, a ghost that arise from the burial of a pregnant woman is an Ubume. … Akihiko “Kyogokudo” Chuzenji, the title’s hero, is an exorcist with a twist: he doesn’t believe in ghosts.”

Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Akinari Ueda
“First published in 1776, the nine gothic tales in this collection are Japan’s finest and most celebrated examples of the literature of the occult. They subtly merge the world of reason with the realm of the uncanny and exemplify the period’s fascination with the strange and the grotesque.”

» Have you read any of these titles? Or do you have more Japanese horror recommendations? What do you think of Japanese horror? Please share 🙂


    • Haha 😀 I must admit I am a huge scaredy-cat… and at least the books I read so far are not nightmare-inducing 😉 So please do pick them up!

      As for Hell, sadly it seems it’s not getting good ratings. I still want to try it sometime soon because the concept sounds so interesting 😀

  1. oh, you are so right about this genre excelling in horror! Yet somehow it’s more palatable to me than the evil darkness of Stephen King,moor example. I love the ghost stories in Tales of Midnight and Rain, and I thought Revenge thoroughly creepy. I might also mention Ryu Murakami’s book, Piercing, and Abe’s book, The Woman in The Dunes, for this Ominous October. Wonderful post!

    • Exactly how I feel about it! 🙂

      Can’t wait to dig into more books. I haven’t yet read Tales of Moonlight and Rain but I did finish Revenge yesterday… and it was sooooo good! My favourite Ogawa, I think 🙂

      Thanks for mentioning Ryu Murakami! And I completely forgot about The Woman in the Dunes, that definitely should’ve been in here (and is possibly the scariest Japanese lit book I read so far XD)

  2. Ohhh thank you SO MUCH!!! Like you, I had a japanese horror movie period. I loved the Ring series, Dark Water, and I don’t know how may Grudge I watched in the series (they became less and less good unfortunately). I’m watching less now since I somewhat switched to Korean horror (I still remember my first one: A Tale of Two Sisters. Absolutely *amazing*).
    Anyway, I watched a lot of japanese horror movies but didn’t read any. Now, I have a good list to start with! Thanks a bunch!
    Angélique recently posted… The Voices in Between by Charlene ChallengerMy Profile

    • Ohhh please recommend Korean horror to me! Sadly I am not really watching any horror movies any more… I am very prone to nightmares, even if I didn’t think the actual movie was very scary XD I’m hopeless.

      You’re very welcome 😀 I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ll end up reading!

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