Spend a summer in Japan and you’re bound to notice the ghosts. It starts with the media’s escalating emphasis on local hauntings or folklore, a nod to the widely accepted belief that spooky tales bring welcome chills to battle the heat. It culminates with the Bon holiday period, which generally runs in mid-August, although the timing depends on where you live in Japan.
It’s a Buddhist belief that Bon is when the spirits of the ancestors return to the land of the living, and it is customary for Japanese to travel back to their birthplaces to honor their dead. Now on the cusp of Bon, here’s a look at three contemporary literary twists on the ghostly realms of modern Japan.
First up is Japanese writer Aoko Matusda’s 2016 absurdist collection of short stories, “Where the Wild Ladies Are.” The English edition, translated by Polly Barton, was released this year. A wondrously surreal yet realistically grounded take on traditional Japanese ghost tales, Matsuda deftly reworks classic stories by placing the female spirits front and center. Her pragmatic ghosts give beauty advice, take lovers and long baths, and even babysit for an overworked single mother.