Shinobu Orikuchi: 死者の書 (The Book of the Dead)

The latest addition to my website is Shinobu Orikuchi‘s 死者の書 (The Book of the Dead), a wonderful Japanese ghost story, set in the eight century. The story starts with a dead man in his tomb, who is just waking up. All he can remember is the sight of the beautiful Mimimo no Toni, whom he had never seen before but fell in love with at the moment of his death. (He was a member of the royal family and been executed, following a political intrigue some fifty years previously.). He appears as a giant ghost over Mount Futakami, and is seen by the maiden from the Southern Branch of the Fujiwara Clan (based on the historicalChūjō-hime, daughter of the powerful Fujiwara no Toyonari). She abandons her home in Nara and walks to where she has seen him and enters a nearby temple, therefore defiling it, as women cannot enter. He continues to appear to her, perhaps mistaking her for Mimimo no Toni, whose great-great-niece she is. The story follows his appearances and the dilemma faced by the monks and the powers in Nara, about what to do with her as well as how the maiden reacts. It is a superb novel, a classic of Japanese literature, which deserves to be far better known in the English-speaking world.

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