Japanese Gothic Tales by Izumi Kyoka is a fascinating and frightening journey into a world of supernatural and nightmarish occurrences. Some have compared Izumi to E.T.A. Hoffman. This comparison is an apt one. Both writers create eerily serene landscapes and backgrounds. Both sketch bizarre characters and scenes. And both write with hypnotic power.
Comparisons aside, Izumi is a genius story teller and the foremost writer of Gothic literature in Japan. Unfortunately, he has been mostly forgotten and overshadowed by the modernists. His legacy has not gone unnoticed, however, as Mishima Yukio praises him as the greatest writer since Ihara Saikaku.
The most famous tale in this four-story collection is The Holy Man of Mount Koya. It is mainly anecdotal, retold by a monk to a fellow lodger whom he meets along his way. This story is about the monk who, out of good conscience, decides to go by a dangerous road to help a medicine vendor who has taken the road before him, a path over steep and forested mountains, this despite being forewarned. Once on his way he encounters menacing snakes, and later, bloodthirsty leeches that fall from trees. Even the heat of the day conspires against him. Almost without hope, he chances upon a farm house. There he meets a woman of unearthly beauty and her lame husband. He is bewitched by her alluring power. Later he is made aware of his perilous situation by an old man of the mountains. Finally, persuaded, he leaves her behind.
Throughout the entire story one can not help but be enchanted by the scenery of grotesque creatures, cursed woods and strange people. Izumi's tales are both beautifully ethereal and terrifyingly vivid, and this is what makes him compelling to read.