The Specters of a Wandering Mind
  • Michael J. Blouin


During a year spent in Japan, I considered why so many authors and filmmakers in the past century elected to adapt ghostly tales from the archipelago. Of the countless books concerning US-Japan cultural relations, no work treats this subject at length—which I found disconcerting as the phenomenon remains as prevalent as any other. There are fascinating adaptations of Japanese superstitions from the late nineteenth century, monstrous visions of a petulant nuclear lizard, and iconic females with long, black hair. Gazing out the window from the train rumbling into Kyoto station, I wondered why these creepy imports from the Far East had been consistently popular throughout the past hundred years.


World Citizen Rationalist Baggage American Artist American Reader Supernatural Entity 
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  1. 2.
    Scholar Martha Pike Conant, for one, argues that loose adaptations of Eastern supernatural tales are yet another symptom of Orientalism writ large. See Martha Pike Conant’s The Oriental Tale in England in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1908).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See also Christopher Benfey’s The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan (New York: Random House, 2004).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    This term is borrowed from William Hosley’s The Japan Idea: Art and Life in Victorian America (Hartford, Connecticut: Wadsworth Atheneum Shop, 1990).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    For more, see Linda Gertner Zatlin’s Beardsley, Japonisme, and the Perversion of the Victorian Ideal (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    For more on similar representations, see John Dower’s War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon, 1987).Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    For an explicit survey of this tradition, see Jack Hunter’s Dream Specters: Extreme Ukiyo-e: Sex, Blood, and the Supernatural (Tokyo: Shinbaku Books, 2010).Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    For those interested in further analysis of “the yellow peril,” see Gary Hoppenstand’s “Yellow Devil Doctors and Opium Dens: A Survey of the Yellow Peril Stereotypes in Mass Media Entertainment,” from The Popular Culture Reader-Third Edition. Eds. Christopher D. Geist and Jack Nachbar (Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  8. 21.
    For a seminal study, see Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel (London: Dalkey Archive, 1998).Google Scholar
  9. 32.
    See Naoki Sakai, Translation and Subjectivity: On Japan and Cultural Nationalism (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).Google Scholar

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© Michael J. Blouin 2013

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  • Michael J. Blouin

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