Osaka Kaidan: Tanabe Seia

I’ve long known that Tanabe Seia hosts regular scary story sessions, but in the Before Times, these were held in Osaka, which is a bit of a trek from my usual residence in Tokyo, and while, like everyone else, she’s shifted to online events during the Plague Times, Toronto and Japan are not exactly in the same time zone. Three in the afternoon might be a nice time for spooky stories in Japan, but I am not getting up at two in the morning to listen to them. Also, I am an Old and cannot stay up past midnight or I will turn to dust, and then who will translate all those books sitting on my desk? 

So I’ve been curious about what exactly happens at these sessions, and then Osaka Kaidan popped up on the new release list to offer me the chance to find out. I really like Tanabe’s fiction and the detached style of her authorial voice, which adds to the dream-like quality of her subject matter. She doesn’t so much write horror as the odd, the mystical, the world on the fringes, places and characters where lines blur. Her work to me is more about atmosphere than story, giving readers a feeling or an impression, like moody abstraction. Basically, she’s the perfect person to be writing about ghosties and other things that go bump in the night. Osaka is a collection of such tales, gathered through her regular story sessions, but also through random conversations with people in and around Osaka. 

As the title suggests, these are spooky stories about Osaka, around fifty of them in total. Each story gets its own chapter, and most chapters are quite short, two or three pages, although some are only a single page long and there are a few that go on for six or seven pages. But for the most part, this is one of those bite-sized books that you can dip in and out of for a very satisfying reading experience. You can also get a big dose of Kansai dialect to mess up your own Japanese for a while, and then you have to be careful in video meetings that you don’t accidentally say “ちゃうねん” because you are not a speaker of Kansai dialect normally, and it might get weird if you were to start suddenly while discussing a translation project with a Japanese publisher. 

Continue reading “Osaka Kaidan: Tanabe Seia”

Random Anniversary 6: My Brain

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These random anniversaries have a way of slapping me in the face with the extremely twisty road that is my life, and this anniversary is perhaps slappier than most. Over the course of this particular journal–a smart spring-green affair that was a gift from one of my favourite people–I went from running through the streets of London to buying extremely mislabelled “vegan” food in the night markets of Taipei to a narrow escape from a burgeoning plague in Tokyo to an actual pandemic in Toronto, where I have now been locked up in my apartment for the last three months using my sewing skills to craft masks for all my friends and family, only scurrying out for groceries and beer. It is honestly overwhelming to step back and take a real look at how life used to be and how it is now, especially because my science brain is only too well aware that the normalcy of the Before Times is probably never coming back.

And that’s a good thing in a lot of ways! The plague is certainly laying bare all the ways capitalism has failed us, and so many people suddenly have nothing to do but reassess the way we live in this world and discover the need to burn it all to the ground and rebuild a society that supports all of us, especially the most vulnerable among us, instead of a bunch of venture capitalists and tech bros and the general class of rich white people. Plus, we’re all expert handwashers now! And we have a new fashion possibility in the face mask. Continue reading “Random Anniversary 6: My Brain”

Amedama: Seia Tanabe

Amedama_TanabeIt can be weird at times, being a translator of a variety of books with a brain that is a battler of even more books. By day, I read books I might never have otherwise read and turn them into English for all the monolinguals, and by night, I read all the books I dream of bringing to all the monolinguals in English. Naturally, there is overlap between these two selves. Sometimes, the dream of translating a beloved book comes true (like my precious baby Magician A, coming to Kickstarter backers very soon and to select bookstores later this year!), and sometimes, I discover that a book I’m translating is a true beloved (I will never stop pushing After the Rain and Requiem of the Rose King on everyone who asks me what they should be reading; they are perfect and true books in their own beautiful ways). And sometimes, translating something leads me to picking up other work by the same author.

After translating a short story by Seia Tanabe years ago for the Haikasoru collection Phantasm Japan, I kept my eyes open for more from this author of quietly frightening stories based on Japanese ghost and folk tales, eventually stumbling across her novel Ningyo no Ishi, a book I still reflect on surprisingly often two years after finishing it. Her prose is so sparsely moody and yet strangely down to earth for the tales of the supernatural that she tells.

And I know I should be used to this by now because authors stumble across my posts here about their work surprisingly often (and let this be a lesson to those of you who would use a foreign language as a secret code to gossip about people on a crowded train or some other such public place—there is inevitably a speaker of that foreign language somewhere near you who understands every word you’re saying and will no doubt take the first opportunity that presents itself to publicly shame/embarrass you if you are talking any kind of smack about anyone), but a few months after I posted about that novel, Tanabe reached out to me to thank me for reviewing the book and offered to send me some of her other books. Which was a delightful surprise and kind as hell, and you know that I gratefully accepted. (Thank you, Tanabe-san!) Continue reading “Amedama: Seia Tanabe”

Ningyo no Ishi: Seia Tanabe

Scan 13I’ve been sitting on this book for a couple months now because I couldn’t quite figure out what I thought about it. This happens to me more often than you’d think, given the generally strong opinions of which I am possessed. Forming those strong opinions takes time, and until I have really let something simmer in my brain, I can be pretty wishy-washy on a topic. And so it was with Seia Tanabe’s latest novel, Ningyo no Ishi. I liked it? Maybe? I didn’t hate it? I kept reading all the way to the end? But why? What was the point? Which isn’t to say the book isn’t good or isn’t worth reading. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on why it was worth reading.

I picked this one up because Tanabe’s been on my mind a lot recently. She’s married to science-fiction author/former physicist Toh EnJoe, and that pairing has always made me wonder what dinner is like at their house. I mean, she writes ghost stories; quiet, atmospheric things about yokai and bakemono that go bump in the night. And he writes ouroboric stories about space and the future and who knows what else because sometimes I feel like I am not smart enough to read EnJoe’s work. I can understand how the two met; the literary world in Japan is surprisingly small (much like the manga world), and it feels like everyone knows everyone else somehow. But how did they make it to marriage?? And what must that marriage be like?? Who knows, maybe they’re both super into rom-coms, and their respective writing interests just never come up. But I doubt that, given that they jointly published a collection of essays last year called Shodoku de Rikon o Kangaeta, which roughly translates to “We considered divorce through our reading.” Uh. Is all not well in the land of Tanabe/EnJoe? (Yes, I have that book, and yes, I will almost certainly write about it when I have finished it.) Continue reading “Ningyo no Ishi: Seia Tanabe”