Write-up: ‘Umiyuri Katsuyama: Queen of Tenohira Kaidan’ by Toshiya Kamei

Curious about Japanese horror? Me too! Insignia Stories’ resident translator and drabble contributor, Toshiya Kamei, was kind enough to write the following overview of the horror genre in Japan, and to introduce the work of one of his clients, Umiyuri Katsuyama.

Umiyuri Katsuyama, Queen of Tenohira Kaidan

By Toshiya Kamei

The Japanese word kaidan 怪談 denotes a strange tale that often centers around death and frequently features ghosts, yōkai, and monsters. Kai 怪 indicates “strange” or “mysterious,” and dan 談 has its origins in oral traditions of storytelling. Many cultures around the world value sharing stories to pass down a collective history and to entertain—sharing stories around a campfire is a popular example. Japanese families gathered in intimate circles. Children sat around an irori fire and listened to their grandmother as she told an old tale before bedtime. Combined, kaidan literally means “mysterious tales.”

Examples of kaidan were collected as early as the late Heian period (twelfth century), and the popularity of the form peaked during the Edo period (1600 to 1868). Often associated with summer, the most notable tales of this era include Yotsuya Kaidan (1727), Banchō Sarayashiki (the late 1700s), and Botan Dōrō (circa. 1861-1864).

Tenohira kaidan is the modern reincarnation of the genre. As tenohira indicates “palm of the hand,” these brief texts are weird tales consisting of 800 Japanese characters. They are particularly suited for online consumption. Not coincidentally, tenohira kaidan came into existence in the internet era, when blogging emerged as a new mode of personal expression. As Japanese writer Tetsuzō Fukuzawa points out, kaidan brings people together, namely connecting tellers with listeners as well as writers with readers through the uncanny.

The BK-One Kaidan Taisho was a literary contest in the kaidan genre held by the online bookseller BK-One from 2003 to 2011. Today, it is credited with having discovered new writers and helped launch their careers. My frequent collaborator Umiyuri Katsuyama exemplifies this tradition.

In 2006, Umiyuri’s story “軍馬の帰還” won the grand prize in the fourth BK-One Kaidan Taisho. In October 2020, the story appeared in English translation at Fudoki Magazine (read). In addition to her award-winning story, she went on to contribute several more tales to the Tenohira kaidan anthology series (2007-2012). Some of them have been translated into English. My translation of “魚怪” forms part of Horror Matsuri 2020 (read). The English version of “呪いと毒” is forthcoming in Frozen Wavelets.

In 2007, Umiyuri was runner-up in the second Yoo Kaidan Bungakusho for her short story “竜岩石.” A year later, it became the titular story of her debut collection, 竜岩石とただならぬ娘. This volume collects twenty stories of varying lengths featuring Asian motifs. In December 2020, the last vignette of “竜岩石” appeared as “Dragon Rock” at The Fortnightly Review (read). As of February 2021, Antipodean SF has showcased two stories from this collection: “羅浮之怪” (read) and “白桃村” (read).

In addition to kaidan, the recent years have seen her incursion into other adjacent genres. In 2020, her short story “あれは真珠というものかしら” won the grand prize in the first Kaguya SF Contest organized by Virtual Gorilla Plus. My Spanish translation of the story was published at Nagari Magazine (read) in October 2020. It was later reprinted in Korad (read). With multiple drabbles in the forthcoming anthologies Hundred Word Horror: Home, Mythical Creatures of Asia, and Mythical Beings of Asia, 2021 promises to be another productive year for Umiyuri.

‘Home’ anthology, featuring Umiyuri Katsuyama &Toshiya Kamei.

About the Authors:

Umiyuri Katsuyama is a multiple-award-winning writer of fantasy and horror, often based on Asian folklore motifs. A native of Iwate in the far north of Japan, she later moved to Tokyo and studied at Seisen University. In 2011, she won the Japan Fantasy Novel Award with her novel Sazanami no kuni. Her most recent novel, Chuushi, ayashii nabe to tabi wo suru, was published in 2018. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous horror anthologies in Japan.

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations have appeared in venues such as ClarkesworldThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Strange Horizons. His short fiction has appeared in Nagari MagazineNew World Writing, and Hundred Word Horror, among others.

Horror Matsuri 2020 cover

Both Umiyuri Katsuyama and Toshiya Kamei were contributors in last year’s Horror Matsuri 2020, and have drabbles in the upcoming Mythical Creatures of Asia anthology. Kamei-san has also translated works for numerous other Insignia Stories’ anthologies. Browse his Author Page here to see the full list.

Women in Horror Month banner

Next on the schedule for WiHM is an interview with another of Toshiya Kamei’s clients, Fusako Ohki. Don’t miss it on Saturday 20th! See the calendar of events for the rest of the month here.

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