Ladies of Horror Fiction celebrates Women in Translation
Women in Translation

Women in Translation Horror Edition: Japan

What is really awesome about the Women in Translation project is that we are getting to learn about horror around the world. Each country approaches horror in different ways, and it has been amazing learning about each country as we go along. Some countries’ horror is steeped in folklore and religion; other countries’ horror has been used to control social norms.

Japanese horror primarily draws its inspiration from folk religions with a focus on the following themes: possession, exorcism, shamanism, precognition and yokai. These stories began as oral tales in the Heian period (794BC- 1185AD). During this period, the stories were used to enforce cultural norms and to explain things that people didn’t have an explanation for. What is completely fascinating is that the themes from early Heian period still run through horror movies and fiction today.


Asa Nonami

A prolific writer of her own brand of sometimes gothic suspense, Asa Nonami is known for her strong women characters in a mystery genre frequently predominated by men. Nonami was born in 1960 in Tokyo and attended Waseda University to study sociology before dropping out and getting a job at an advertising agency. In 1988 she made her fiction debut with Happy Breakfast and won the Japan Mystery Suspense Award. Her other awards include the 115th Naoki Prize for The Hunter, which was adapted into a film, and the Chuokoron Prize for Literature in 2012. Her other works include The June 19th BrideParadise ThirtyDramatic ChildrenMurderer of the Blooming Season, and Body.

Bødy – As indicated by the title, Bødy is a collection of horror stories, all thematically linked to people’s perception of their bodies, and the consequences of vanity and low self-esteem. In the vein of the psychological suspense of the Twilight Zone, each story ends with a shock, leaving the reader unsettled with the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for,” echoing in their bones. 

Appropriately, each of the five stories in Bødy gets its title from the body parts featured: buttocks, blood, face, hair and chin.

One of the stories from Bødy have been released on the Words without Borders site. Click here to have a read.

Now, You’re One of Us – In the tradition of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, here is a new classic about the bride who’s no longer sure what to think. All families have their own rituals, secrets, and credos, like a miniature religious cult; these quirks may elicit the mirth or mild alarm of guests, but the matter is rather more serious if you’re marrying into a household. If it’s a Japanese one with a history, then brace yourself. Some surprising truths lurk around the corner.


Yōko Ogawa

Yōko Ogawa was born in Okayama, Okayama Prefecture, graduated from Waseda University, and lives in Ashiya. Since 1988, she has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction. Her novel The Professor and his Beloved Equation has been made into a movie. In 2006, she co-authored “An Introduction to the World’s Most Elegant Mathematics” with Masahiko Fujiwara, a mathematician, as a dialogue on the extraordinary beauty of numbers.

Revenge- Sinister forces draw together a cast of desperate characters in this eerie and absorbing novel from Yoko Ogawa.

An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Years later, the writer’s stepson reflects upon his stepmother and the strange stories she used to tell him. Meanwhile, a surgeon’s lover vows to kill him if he does not leave his wife. Before she can follow-through on her crime of passion, though, the surgeon will cross paths with another remarkable woman, a cabaret singer whose heart beats delicately outside of her body. But when the surgeon promises to repair her condition, he sparks the jealousy of another man who would like to preserve the heart in a custom tailored bag. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders—their fates converge in a darkly beautiful web that they are each powerless to escape.

Macabre, fiendishly clever, and with a touch of the supernatural, Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge creates a haunting tapestry of death—and the afterlife of the living.

The Housekeeper and the Professor– He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem–ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. 

She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him. 

And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities–like the Housekeeper’s shoe size–and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away. 

The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family.


Natsuo Kirino

Born in 1951, Natsuo quickly established a reputation in her country as one of a rare breed of mystery writers whose work goes well beyond the conventional crime novel. This fact has been demonstrated by her winning not only the Grand Prix for Crime Fiction in Japan for Out in 1998, but one of its major literary awards–the Naoki Prize–for Soft Cheeks (which has not yet been published in English) in 1999. Several of her books have also been turned into feature movies. Out was the first of her novels to appear in English and was nominated for an Edgar Award.

Real World – A stunning new work of the feminist noir that Natsuo Kirino defined and made her own in her novels Out and Grotesque.

In a crowded residential suburb on the outskirts of Tokyo, four teenage girls indifferently wade their way through a hot, smoggy summer and endless “cram school” sessions meant to ensure entry into good colleges. There’s Toshi, the dependable one; Terauchi, the great student; Yuzan, the sad one, grieving over the death of her mother—and trying to hide her sexual orientation from her friends; and Kirarin, the sweet one, whose late nights and reckless behavior remain a secret from those around her. When Toshi’s next-door neighbor is found brutally murdered, the girls suspect the killer is the neighbor’s son, a high school boy they nickname Worm. But when he flees, taking Toshi’s bike and cell phone with him, the four girls get caught up in a tempest of dangers—dangers they never could have even imagined—that rises from within them as well as from the world around them.

Psychologically intricate and astute, dark and unflinching, Real World is a searing, eye-opening portrait of teenage life in Japan unlike any we have seen before.

Out – Natsuo Kirino’s novel tells a story of random violence in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works a night shift making boxed lunches brutally strangles her deadbeat husband and then seeks the help of her co-workers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime.

The ringleader of this cover-up, Masako Katori, emerges as the emotional heart of Out and as one of the shrewdest, most clear-eyed creations in recent fiction. Masako’s own search for a way out of the straitjacket of a dead-end life leads her, too, to take drastic action.

The complex yet riveting narrative seamlessly combines a convincing glimpse into the grimy world of Japan’s yakuza with a brilliant portrayal of the psychology of a violent crime and the ensuing game of cat-and-mouse between seasoned detectives and a group of determined but inexperienced criminals. Kirino has mastered a Thelma and Louise kind of graveyard humor that illuminates her stunning evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds and the friendship that bolsters them in the aftermath.


What I have found since I began reading women in translation is that many stories we would think of as horror are listed as thriller. With that being said, most contain a very high element of horror aspects. If you have any suggestions for us to check out please leave a comment!!

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