Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo by Miyuki Miyabe is a short story collection containing a mix of ghost stories. Miyabe draws from Japanese folklore, horror tradition, and history to create the tales in Apparitions. Some are more traditionally horror, some closer to straight fantasy, and two are also mysteries. For the most part, they stand alone, although there is one character who appears in different tales.
As with most horror, the stories are also examinations of society and our ties to one another. Most of the apparitions appear because someone has broken or disregarded an important bond: A man’s pregnant mistress is sent away so he can marry, a woman mistreats her mother-in-law, someone is killed… The apparitions act, often violently, to set things right, or to eliminate the problem entirely. Not all of them are violent, or at least, not purely violent. Some have unexpected soft spots or come to help others make decisions.
Miyabe creates a different world in these tales, one where the presence of ghosts and other supernatural creatures is taken as a given, where people are unsurprised at the mention of an oni and accept the existence of squash spirits as part of the world. It is also a world of strong ties and obligations. She also recreates the sense and scenery of another world, making Apparitions a travel book in more ways than one, an introduction to another time and place.
Daniel Huddleston provides a highly readable translation, one where the prose flows beautifully. A short glossary would have been a welcome addition. From time to time, Daniel Huddleston elects not to translate certain Japanese words, presumably because they have some specific shades of meaning that will not carry over into English. There are generally brief explanations of the words, and it is possible to understand the story without a fuller translation, but it would have been nice to read about the translator’s choices and to get a fuller definition of the words.
Apparitions is recommended for those who love horror, ghost stories, and folklore.