alexander o. smith
Way back in 2011, writer Neil Gaiman proposed a new reading holiday: All Hallow's Read. The concept is simple: give a scary book to a friend on Halloween, and I can't imagine a better candidate than Yurei Attack, especially if you have a friend/relative with an interest in things Japanese.
Some comments have talked about the framing of the book as a "survival guide," as a potential put-off, but I found the standard format introduction for each ghost story in the book made it very accessible. Quite a feat, considering the depth and breadth of the research. There is much here that, to my knowledge, has never appeared in English before, making Yurei Attack a unique opportunity for the general folklorist who wants to include Japanese ghost stories in their repertoire. (On that note, I'd also recommend the authors' other books in the "Attack" series: Yokai Attack and Ninja Attack, both deeply researched surveys of different aspects of Japanese folklore.)
Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide
Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws
Good for picking off the bookshelf for a quick browse, or in-depth reading. The inclusion of the real-world places where the ghost stories took place (with access information, too) also suggests using this book to inform an off-the-beaten-path tour of Japan. I highly recommend this book!
Ryan M. Shepard
Accessible, engagingly written, detail-oriented, and packed with vintage prints, photos, and other illustrations, _Yurei Attack_ is probably the best introduction to Japanese ghost lore currently available to English readers.
The bilingual Alt and Yoda dived deep into their subject: visiting museums and archives, surveying a wide range of popular and academic literature on Japanese ghosts and their cultural context, traveling to sites associated with the spirits they profile - even undergoing a recommended Shinto exorcism after researching Oiwa, an especially cruel and wrathful specter. The result is a rich overview of an aspect of Japanese folklife that has rarely received much serious attention outside of Japan.
Some readers may find the "survival guide" framing of the book - part game cheat guide, part Pokemon card - off-putting, but it's easily overlooked in favor of the more substantive narrative at its core. Japan's ghosts are most active in summer, but _Yurei Attack_ still makes for smart, creepy Halloween reading.
Chock-full of information, with great illustrations and an easy-to-read, fun style: Yurei Attack is well-worth picking up if you're interested in the world of Japanese ghosts.
Yurei Attack is the third in a series of books by authors Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt about Japanese history, folklore and strange mythical beasts. This time around they've tackled yurei, the kind of Japanese ghosts that populate recent J-horror films like The Ring and The Grudge.
The book is written in a survival guide-style format, with full-color pages detailing the ghosts' origins, methods of attack, and, most importantly, tips on how to avoid their wrath. Each yurei is profiled separately, with illustrations by Shinkichi, a Japanese manga artist who doesn't hold back, portraying the often pretty terrifying stories in all their bloody detail.
For a book written in this format and full of illustrations, it's easy to get the impression Yurei Attack is for kids, but it's actually for mature readers, full of the aforementioned graphic images and comprised entirely of "real" information - that is, all the stuff in the book comes from real Japanese legends.
For that reason, the book is a really great resource for learning these horror stories, which are known universally throughout Japan. The spooky stories a culture tells around the campfire at night can reveal a lot about them, and if you're interested in Japanese folklore and culture, this is a great place to start.
Japanese ghosts are the subject of the latest "Attack!" book from Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt. Like Yokai Attack! and Ninja Attack!, the book plays on the Survival Guide genre, offering up serious history and folklore in a fun and tongue-in-cheek fashion.
Japanese ghosts are somewhat my area of expertise--I wrote my MA thesis on yurei and run the Japanese ghost and monster hyakumonogatari blog. But even though most of the stories in "Yurei Attack!" aren't new to me (I did find a few things I hadn't heard of, which was cool) I enjoy Yoda and Alt's style. Unlike the dry, academic work you usually find on the subject, "Yurei Attack!" is a fun, quick read, with an irreverent writing style and sharp illustrations that make even familiar stories entertaining. I am constantly impressed by their level of research. I found a few inaccuracies here and there, and plenty of simplifications of complex subjects, but on the whole "Yurei Attack!" is a great introduction to the world of Japanese ghosts.
Like the other "Attack!" books, "Yurei Attack!" is wide but not deep. Yoda and Alt do an impressive job fitting centuries of tradition into 190 heavily illustrated pages. All of the famous ghosts are here; Oiwa, Okiku, and Otsuyu, of course, along with Lady Rokujo from The Tale of Genji and Miyagi from Tales of Moonlight and Rain. Several of Lafcadio Hearn's Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan are present, like the Furisode Kaji and the Futton of Tottori. Modern ghosts stories like the infamous Sunshine 60 building, the Sea of Trees suicide forest of Mt. Fuji, and Spirit Photography are represented; along with the most obscure, like the hangon incense used to summon the dead
Of course, that is also a weakness of the book -- with so much information in so few pages you don't get more than a glance at any particular subject. They tell you much of the "what" and little of the "why." There is little of Buddhist and Shinto religion, about why strong emotions create yurei, or the need for ritual and ceremony, or even the reasons behind the yurei's famous white costume. The story variations are mostly glossed over. Like all folktales, there are numerous versions of many of these stories. Because this is a "Survival Guide," you get a short profile of each of the ghosts, with some fun information on how to battle them should the need arise.
"Yurei Attack!" has a new artist, Shinkichi, replacing Tatsuya Morino from "Yokai Attack!." I loved Shinkichi's illustrations, far more than Morino's. She has a real flair for the gruesome, and can draw blood and guts with the rest of them. I don't know if she did the coloring as well, but it is a huge leap forward from Yoda and Alt's previous books. Really great.
I do have a few nits to pick. Particularly with their explanation of the difference between yokai and yurei. That seems to have been put in more as a marketing tool to promote "Yokai Attacks!" than anything else--most would consider yurei to be a type of yokai. In fact, eminent folklorist and comic artist Mizuki Shigeru divides yokai into four types; kaiju (monsters), henge (shape changers), choshizen (natural phenomenon), and yurei (spirits of the dead). Almost all yokai databases and encyclopedias will include yurei as a type of yokai. So, I have to disagree with their explanation.
There were handful of other "errors" and over-simplifications. I was also surprised they didn't define what the word yurei actually means, or explain that it is only one of many words used for Japanese ghosts. They did give a glossary in the back, although I take issue with some of their definitions. A borei isn't a ghost whose identity is unknown, but just a more archaic, Gothic-sounding version of yurei. (As an example, in "Hamlet" the ghost of Hamlet's father is called a borei in Japanese).
Honestly, most readers aren't going to care about that level of detail--the "Attack!" series are mainly for the "Pokemon" and "Naruto" crowd who aren't looking for 1,000 page textbooks. They just want a quick and easy tour through haunted Japan that they can flip through. And for that, it's a great book. Lots of fun, even if you are only brushing the surface of ghostly Japan.
You don't have to have grown up reading books like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark to enjoy Yurei Attack! In addition to relating the tales of various ghosts and how to stay out of harm's way should you encounter them, Alt and Yoda wrote one chapter that basically functions as a travel guide to haunted spots in Japan. There's also a section on how to curse someone, a map of hell, and I especially like the pages near the end devoted to "Toys of Terror." No matter what the topic, the writing is in-depth with plenty of historical and culture background, but also retains personal touches--you know your authors are dedicated if they spend their wedding anniversary on Mount Fear. Yurei Attack! is great read straight through or consulted as circumstances arise (!).