Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Hokusai – Undead Hunter

Posted: April 14, 2012 in Japan, Novels
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I’ve been scrabbling around for a decent novel-sized project I want to do now. “The Cats” is 30,000 words, but is mainly for fun. “By The Sword” is crying out for a sequel but that is another story, as they say. There are two horror novel/novellas I want to finish, but not quite at the moment. I have a handful of more serious ideas, but those are… well, serious.

 The idea popped into my head yesterday… Hokusai, Undead Hunter. For those unfamiliar with the artist, Hokusai is famous for his ukiyo-e prints of thirty-six views of Mount Fuji and other iconic images… the great wave off Kanagawa. His father was a mirror-maker, and this featured in an earlier story of mine, Mira. Hokusai has never forgotten the demons and conjurations employed in mirror-magic.

So, Katsushika Hokusai will pack his materials and journey along the Tokaido (Great Eastern Road) between Edo and Kyoto, secretly commissioned by the Shogun to rid the route of the undead plaguing it, seeking out the souls of travellers far from home.

The Tokaido was made more famous by another ukiyo-e artist of the era, Utagawa Hiroshige, who created the Fifty Three Stations of the Tokaido, but Hokusai had undertaken a similar project in earlier years, less well-known than Hiroshige’s memorable images. I’ll need to think about the images to use, perhaps drawing on some of Hiroshige’s work.,. what I’m thinking about doing is using Hiroshige’s better-known (and arguably more advanced) prints as a record of Hokusai’s quest, as Hiroshige later became a Buddhist monk.

The undead – yoma – are many and varied in Japanese folklore. The first part of the book will deal with the Kusokan phenomenon, The Contemplation Of Nine Stages of Decay, and this is already written, but for a different story. I want to include a faceless geisha, an possessive mask, a mirror-demon, taking heads in glass jars (a link to another story) and the tale of Hoichi the Earless from the Kwaidan epic. Plus a really big skeleton, called the Gashadokuro, which bites people’s heads off. There will be a modern-day link as well.

So I’d better get on with it. Hokusai, Undead Hunter  will do as a title for now.


At 14:46 on March 11 2011, an earthquake shattered Japan. The tsunami which followed was even more devastating with over 15,000 deaths, 3,000 still missing and many thousands injured or left homeless. The brunt of the disaster was borne by the north east of Japan, known as Tohoku, an area of mountains and forests with many towns and cities on the exposed coast.

The disaster shocked us all, but my family have connections with that region. My wife was there for a year as an English language teacher from 1997 to 1998, with many friends in the devastated Ofunato City. Waiting on news was agonising, as communities were shattered with no communications, and the reconstruction efforts are still ongoing. Thankfully, friends were safe, but so many others lost so much.

This prompted an idea, discussed at the Glasgow Writers Group: why not write an anthology in aid of the Japanese Red Cross? The idea took wing, with four editors working together, and we contacted writers in Glasgow and Scotland. The response was overwhelming, with writers including David Simons, Raymond Soltysek, Helen Sedgwick, Kirsty Logan and many others on the literary “scene”.

What was more surprising was the range of connections writers had with Japan. Kirsty’s recollection of smoking peach cigarettes in Tokyo, wearing a dinosaur suit. Helen’s memory of a haiku class in Maryhill. Eammon Bolger, Jackie Copelton, Ewan Gault, Paul McQuade and Sam Porter, who all lived in Japan, as did David Simons. Others used their memories and imagination: Andrea Mullaney’s tale of Isabella Bird’s sister, recipient of letters from 19th century Japan. Alan Gillespie told of the “ninja turtle” influence on many childhoods.  Katy McAulay has a thumping memoir of the time she met the legendary Geno Washington after a taiko-drumming session. Literally!

The project was enthusiastically welcomed by the Consul-General of Japan in Edinburgh, Mr Tarahara. It was given life by Cargo Publishing and Mark Buckland, who gained the endorsement of the First Minister, Alex Salmond. The name chosen was “A Thousand Cranes”, symbolising the legend that a person can have their wish granted if they fold a thousand origami cranes. Sadako Sakai, victim of Hiroshima, folded a thousand cranes with the help of her friends before she died of leukaemia caused by radiation exposure, and the legend is an enduring symbol of peace and hope.

We launched the new edition of the anthology with the First Minister’s foreword at the recent Margins Festival, in front of an audience of forty people. The readings were well-received and mentioned in the Scottish Review of Books. “A Thousand Cranes” is on sale through Cargo Publishing, with proceeds donated to the Japanese Red Cross. Although it is now a year since the disaster, there is ongoing reconstruction and relief work in outlying areas, and there is a continuing spiritual need to reach out and remember. This was a focus of the recent anniversary ceremony in Edinburgh led by the Consul General, Mr Tarahara, which focused on remembrance, gratitude and hope.

So, please buy our book, “A Thousand Cranes”! It is a wide-ranging vision of Japan as well as a worthy cause of support.