cover image Mysterious Tales of Japan

Mysterious Tales of Japan

Rafe Martin. Putnam Publishing Group, $19.99 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-399-22677-9

Compared to their horror-laced Western cousins, these Japanese ghost tales ""distill the essence of what is mysterious in life in order to remind us of the dreamlike-`ghostly,' if you will-reality of all things,"" writes Martin in his apt introduction. The 10 wonderfully, eerily told tales he shares here rely not on terror for impact, but on enigma, subtlety, moral implication and taut storytelling. For example, ""Urashima Taro,"" identified in the source notes as perhaps the most popular Japanese folktale, takes as its hero a kind fisherman who stops boys from killing a sea turtle that is actually the Dragon King. Taro is rewarded with marriage to the King's beautiful daughter, on the Island Where Summer Never Dies; he thinks he has spent three years there, but in fact three centuries have elapsed before he tries to visit his home. Each story has a shivery ending, its resonance enhanced by Kiuchi's subtle oil paintings. Supplying one full-page illustration for each tale, Kiuchi eschews the supernatural elements in favor of depicting a seemingly ordinary moment in the narrative, in this way preserving its powerful ambiguities. Ages 8-up. (Mar.)