Ugetsu monogatari, or ' Tales of Moonlight and Rain,' numbers among the best-loved Japanese classics. These nine illustrated tales of the supernatural from eighteenth-century Osaka combine popular appeal with a high literary standard. The author expressed his complex views on human life and society in simple yet elegant and poetic language. At the same time, he wished to entertain his readers with mystery, ghosts, and otherworldly occurrences in the hope that people might pause for thought at a time when men and their institutions had begun to change at an alarming rate.
Twenty years ago, when I saw Mizoguchi Kenji's movie version, one of the most perfect films in the history of Japanese cinema, I first learned about these tales. Later I lived for a time in northern Japan in a rambling old house, an antiquated blend of Japanese and Victorian architecture. It was said to be haunted by the spirit of a young girl who decades earlier had committed suicide in a third-story tower. Each evening in the winter an old woman would come to my quarters to cook my dinner, and she would spend her idle moments with a paperback version of the tales. 'What are you reading?' I once asked her, and by way of reply, she smiled in embarrassment.
Afterward, I saw a prize-winning film, ' The Bewitching Love of Madame Pai,' which had been inspired by one of these tales. Later, again coming into contact with the author's world, I discovered that Akinari had helped to create a form of narrative prose that reminds one of Gothic romances and the ghostly tales of certain English and American writers, such as Hawthorne and James. At one time, as I studied in a tiny cubicle on the eighth floor in Butler Library, I translated portions of two tales. Then I did a tentative version of yet another. Since 1967, in Vancouver, Tokyo, and Kyoto I have worked sporadically on a complete English edition.