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on October 6, 2013
What a marvelous little book! (Marvelous? I can't believe I actually used that term, only in this case it truly does fit). There are so many books I have read that were too long and I wished had been shorter, but this is one of those rare volumes that seemed too short and I wished had been longer. I just wanted to keep reading ... and reading. This is my first foray into classical Japanese fiction, although I am a big fan of Japanese cinema, (and was led here by the movie Ugetsu). Any one have any suggestions for further reading?
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on April 1, 2017
This is a must if someone studies Edo literature. Even people who are interested in Edo fictions. It is fun to read, and full of ghost stories.
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on October 30, 2014
I do not have the skills to comment on the quality of this translation, but it reads fluently and effortlessly. The copious explanatory notes and cross-references to classic Chinese sources the author alludes to and drew on make this an immensely satisfying book to read and have.
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on February 11, 2013
Ueda Akinari's universe is populated with 'human' specters, good ones and bad ones, obsessed ones and vengeful ones. But, his stories also reveal his vision on human beings (men and women) and human life, as well as on Buddhism and art.

Human life on earth
For Akinari, life is like mist floating in the morning; but, will the mist still be there in the evening? (The Chrysanthemum Vow); and, a human heart can't rest on anything (The ReedChoked House).
He recognizes the power of reason: a bird has a voice, man has a mind; the nature of an animal, the spirit, clouds, water can they can all be explained (The Owl of the Three Jewels).
For him, gold is more powerful than guns. In other words, politics and economics prevail over force. Man must observe the spirit of economy, but not fall into sordid avarice (On Poverty and Wealth).

Buddhism
Akinari accepts the importance of 'karma' (past lives determine the human destiny in future lives), but not in its vulgar form. Explaining riches and honors in a present life only by the good deeds of past lives, and misery only by misdeeds in former lives is a very crude Buddhism only for nuns and simple wives (On Poverty and Wealth).
The only way to escape the effects of bad deeds during previous lives is `illumination'. This illumination can come from a new passion by fixing one's mind on a theme imposed by a master, by a Zen meditation (The Blue Hood) or even by a poem, which can `illuminate the guilty' that nothing distinguishes the noble from the common man in the face of death (Shiramine).
He refutes the vulgar belief that madness is a demonic possession and adopts the more rational conception that moral blindness is due to passions (The Blue Hood). Moreover, in `The Serpent's Lust' he attacks frontally `the business of miracles'.

Men and Women
Men appear most of the time in the form of demonic ghosts: a vengeful one (Shiramine), a cannibal (The Blue Hood) or one obsessed by suicide (The Owl of the Three Jewels). In the story 'The Kibitsu Cauldron', the main character is a cunning debauchee. In `The Chrysanthemum Vow', a 'good' warrior turns himself into a specter in order to keep a promise. Monks are more positive `beings', like initiators of illuminations.
One of the major topics in these stories is the feminine soul. Akinari accepts the Buddhist conception that women are inferior beings by nature and that they can only attain illumination after being purified by a male reincarnation (The Blue Hood).
They appear as a snake disguised as a femme fatale (The Serpent's Lust) or as a jealous wife who reveals her innate evil nature (The Kibitsu Cauldron).
On the contrary, in 'The ReedChoked House' a dead woman visits her husband as a ghost in order to tell him how much she loved him.

Art
For Akinari, art should be a replication of nature: painted fish become real ones. The disciple of a master 'paints a rooster on a wall. A living rooster, seeing the picture, gives `his rival' a swipe.' (The Carp of My Dreams)
Akinari attacks also the lack of esprit de finesse to appreciate the essence of poetry, in people who are blind venerators of Buddha (The Owl of the Three Jewels).

This book (written in the 18th Century) with its richly colored and vibrant stories, its strong emotions and profound meditations, is a true masterpiece.
A highlight in world literature.
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on December 31, 2013
This is a very nice book both inside and out. Tales of Moonlight and Rain (or Ugetsu Monogatari) is a collection of tales which delve into the mysterious supernatural world of Old Japan where Buddhist monks turn into fish, wronged wives seek vengeance from beyond the grave on their cheating husbands, friends remain loyal to friends even after death, and embittered ex-emperors hold on to their anger and influence the course of history through ghostly means.

The translators do a good job in setting the atmosphere of Ueda's series of tales with an introduction explaining Ueda's life and the literary culture of the mid-Edo. Each tale has an individual introduction explaining the tale itself - the characters, the historical background, the literary references, the sources, etc... and in the stories themselves there are end notes and footnotes. Some might find these notes tedious but to fully appreciate some of the tales the information is invaluable.

Many of Ueda's stories are grounded in Japanese history and he puts in many literary references which his audience of the time would have been aware of. Some stories like The Cauldron of Kibitsu can be enjoyed with little indepth knowledge but with others like Shiramine where the ghost of a former emperor tells of his manipulation of actual historical events, the introduction and end notes give the reader a clearer understanding and appreciation.
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on January 9, 2007
Ueda Akinari's classic work of eerie fiction has been translated before quite a few times and always with obvious dedication and care, but when it comes right down to it this version by Anthony Chambers outdoes the others and will doubtlessly remain the definitive English "Tales of Moonlight and Rain" for some time. Of course, it's hard to go wrong with such a fine series of stories, each of which is really a masterpiece of storytelling; they may be strange, haunting, macabre, mysterious, or whimsical, but they're never dull, and it's no mystery why this Tokugawa classic still grips readers centuries later in Japan and abroad. Still, Chambers' rendition stands out in faithfully capturing Ueda's densely allusive, rich prose style with meticulous care, and indeed this is a key factor in elevating "Ugetsu Monogatari" above a host of other, similar works of the time. In so doing, Chambers has deliberately avoided overtranslating Ueda to sound English or twentieth-century, allowing the 18th-century Japanese flavor of the original to come to the fore. Paradoxically as it may seem at first blush, this makes the stories much more compelling actually. Just compare this passage as rendered by Leon Zolbrod (whose translation I've read and treasured for many years, so please no offense) with Chambers' more accurate rendition:

[ No sooner did he open the door of the sleeping chamber, than a demon thrust its head out at the priest. The projecting extremity was so huge that it filled the doorway, gleaming even whiter than newly fallen snow, with eyes like mirrors and horns like the bare boughs of a tree. The creature opened its mouth more than three feet wide; its crimson tongue darted, as if to swallow the priest in a single gulp.

'Horror!' cried the holy man, as he dropped the flask that he held in his hand. His legs no longer able to support him, he fell over backwards and crawled away, barely managing to escape.

'It's awful. The creature is a god of evil; my prayers are useless. If I hadn't got away on hands and knees, I'd surely have lost my life,' he said, losing consciousness.] (Zolbrod, page 180)

[He advanced toward the bedroom. The moment he opened the door, a giant snake thrust out its head and confronted him. And what a head this was! Filling the door frame, gleaming whiter than a pile of snow, its eyes like mirrors, its horns like leafless trees, its gaping mouth three feet across with a crimson tongue protruding, it seemed about to swallow him in a single furious gulp. He screamed and threw down the flask. Since his legs would not support him, he rolled about and then crawled and stumbled away, barely making his escape. To the others he said, "Terrible! It is a calamitous deity; how can a monk like me exorcise it? Were it not for these hands and feet, I would have lost my life." Even as he spoke, he lost consciousness.] (Chambers, page 178)

The first gets the point across fine, but the second just sort of grabs you somehow.

The extensive and exhaustive annotations, the interesting and informative introduction, and the fine reproductions of the original woodcut illustrations from the 1776 edition all add to the overall reading experience. I found the intro especially interesting in analyzing the total structure of the work, demonstrating that it's far from a random assortment tossed together; kind of like a symphony or a good concept album, each story reflects on and informs the others for a total effect. And in general, this book manages a wonderful synthesis of the scholarly and the literary that does full justice to Ueda's erudite and engaging moonlit, rainy tales.
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"Tales of Moonlight and Rain" ("Ugetsu Monogatari") is such an incredible book. On the one hand, it is a fantastic and macabre collection of ghost and monsters, creepy tales of flesh-eating demons and honorable spirits. On the other hand, it is one of the great classics of Japanese literature, a book that only the literati of its time would be able to fully appreciate due to its dense prose and literary allusions that only an educated person would be able to easily identify.

It is a title that has seen print in English, in whole and in parts, several times, but it has always remained slightly out of grasp due to the difficulty in translating it. Author Akinari Ueda specifically set out to create a book that made use of the unique nature of the Japanese language while building on literary and historical sources from both Japan and China. Some translators emphasize the horror nature of the book, some the literary, but it remains a tough nut to crack.

Translator Anthony H. Chambers has taken a shot at it, in a form designed to capture the feel of Ueda's writing while annotating the edition enough so that modern readers will be able to understand the allusions. In an interesting tact, he has used both footnotes and end notes, with the footnotes being the information immediately necessary to understand the story, and the end notes being the "behind the scenes" information that adds depth and understanding but doesn't advance the tale. Each story is also preceded by historical and political context, so that one can understand the general mood of the times in which the stories are set.

This scholarly approach might put off some readers who are just looking for some enjoyable ghost stories, but I found it to be an elegant and successful solution. The stories of "Tales of Moonlight and Rain" are short enough that I read them through once without the end notes, just to enjoy the feel and flow of the tale, then read them through again paying attention to the small details and annotations.

I have a few versions of "Tales of Moonlight and Rain", and this is by far the best. The all-important tone of the book is captured, without awkwardness or strangeness in the English. Along with that, it is almost a textbook to Ueda's masterpiece, and can be read as such.
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on March 14, 2013
I have nothing to add to what the other reviewers have said about the quality of these stories or their translation, and I am very glad I bought this book.

Yet I feel the need to let people know that of the 248 pages in this book, Ueda's stories only take up 101 pages. If you don't care for long introductions about the author, long introductions to each story, and copious end notes, this may not be the book for you.
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on September 15, 2014
I so love this book, I absolutely refuse to part with it. It's a joy to read.
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on January 7, 2007
I was excited to see these stories were translated and waited six months for it to be finally published. I liked the scholarly and detailed introductions to each. The stories are subtle and engaging in a typical Japanese manner. I'd like to know who made the editorial decision to split the footnotes into two sections, one at the bottom of the page and the others at the end of the chapter. It makes for maddening reading, contantly have to refer to both in order to fully comprehend the story.
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