Look Out – Here Comes Tomorrow!

Gods and Monsters from Japanese Mythology! Super-Heroes! Sword-wielding schoolgirls! Steampunk and Dieselpunk inventions! The latest two releases from Excalibur Books have got them all!

Tales From Beyond Tomorrow -

Volume One!

This lavishly illustrated collection of short stories, novellas and comic strips will take you on a mind-blowing tour of alternative history, where alterations of events and technology have produced worlds eerily different from our own.

From a traumatized Spiritualist medium trying to redeem himself in a bizarre Steampunk London, to otherworldy angels that haunt the trenches of World War I … from a team of super-powered vigilantes fighting to keep order in a seventies New York City gone mad, to a TV evangelist preaching to an environmentally devestated Europe … these stories will propel you from one reality to another, like a giant cosmic pinball machine.

Buy the ebook HERE

Buy the print version – HERE

Book Two of the YA “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy!

Japanese-American teenager Reiko Bergman is hoping to get back to a normal life, after helping defeat the alien Kagetori in their attempt to steal one of the mysterious and unbelievably powerful Imperial Treasures of Japan.

Her hopes are dashed when the Nine Star Division, the branch of Japan’s police force that deals with otherwordly threats to the nation, inform Reiko she is involved in a Kagetori threat to sieze the second Imperial Treasure – the mystic mirror known as the Yata no Kagami. Not only that, Reiko learns of a secret two-hundred-year-old scroll relating the history of the mirror and its guardian; the half-Japanese warrior and shamaness known as … Reiko Bergman.

In a journey into the past to try to save the future, Reiko will experience mind-bending battles fighting the Kagetori alongside mythological creatures such as the Tengu, Kappa and Kitsune, but the strangest ally of all will be … herself.

Buy the ebook HERE

Buy the print version HERE

Barry Lancet and “Tokyo Kill” – Sep 7th 2014

Sunday September 7th, Kinokuniya Bookstore. I attended a live appearance and book signing by author Barry Lancet, who unveiled his new novel “Tokyo Kill”, the second in the series featuring private investigator Jim Brodie.
Having read the first book in the series, “Japantown”, I was very interested to see what the second would be like. Lancet combines the elements of a best-selling thriller with an accurate portrayal of current Japanese society; the main subject of the talk was the painstaking efforts taken to make sure that everything was authentic and every character was believable. In the wake of certain big-budget books and films that made a mish-mash of Japanese and Chinese culture, this was something quite close to the audience’s heart. Lancet has lived in Japan for twenty-five years and now divides his time between Tokyo and San Francisco, so if you’re looking for the real, gritty, sweat-and-blood-stained Japan, this is it.

The story kicks off just after the conclusion of “Japantown”, when Brodie is looking for a little downtime after the case that nearly destroyed him and his family. What he finds, however, is the son of an elderly World War II veteran, with a fantastic tale of lost wartime treasure and Chinese Triads. Brodie is still considering the case when the son is viciously murdered … and from then on, it’s personal.
Although it’s true that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, this one is worth a special mention. Along with the strong visual appeal of the font and color scheme, the cover features an excellent depiction of the Sumida river at night. This, according to Barry’s presentation, refers to a speedboat chase scene in the novel that I’m looking forward to reading when I get that far (Reviews will follow!) There’s another first, for readers of this blog who are interested in my Shitamachi news and explorations. Apparently this is the first English-language novel to feature the Sky Tree on the front! Result!!
And here’s a close-up …

1965 – Jimmy Diamond and the Girl from Venus

Jimmy Diamond leaped onto his Vespa GX2000 scooter, kicked the antigrav engine into life, and rose into the skies above Hammersmith. He straightened his skinny tie, wiped the last remnants of egg and bacon from his chin, and pushed in the punch-card that gave him access to the DAIR (Driver and Aid Information and Routing) master computer. A light flashed above the slot, and the Vespa ascended, easing into the traffic of the main airlane.
He picked up speed and turned onto the Central airline that took him cruising over the Bayswater Road. Soon, through the clear morning air, he could see the aerocabs and buses zipping about high above the rooftops, around the Churchill Monument, the Monico Tower with its rooftop crane that reminded everyone of a huge propeller, and the municipal airship moored to the Post Office Tower. Jimmy’s parka fluttered in the breeze, and the muted sun glimmered though his Wayfarer sunglasses.
It was a great day to be a Mod.
He’d bought the Vespa earlier that year, and it was his most prized possession. Italian-made, a light but sturdy frame of pressed steel painted in red and white, the front shield curving up to the headlamp and handlebars. It could drive conventionally on the ground with the two wheels and newly purchased Dunlop tires at a top speed of 45mph, but airborne it could fly at 75 mph – the speed limit decided not by wind resistance, but the DAIR regulations hardwired into every metropolitan vehicle. The anti-grav generator was directly underneath the leather seat, and controlled by the tiny dashboard just under the handlebars. Jimmy’s pride and joy, customized by the dozen or so mirrors fastened to the handlebars and the Union Jack he hung from the back aerial when he flew down to Brighton on weekends.
The scooter dropped out of the fast lane into the transition zone as Jimmy neared Tottenham Court Road and his awaiting office. He flicked the butt of his Woodbine away, and took a big lungful of fresh air before he kicked the Vespa into parking mode. Below him, on the rooftop aeropad, the cars of the building’s occupants were neatly parked inside the painted white lines, and Jimmy lowered his Vespa skillfully into the space reserved for scooters.
As he was switching off the engine, the door to the main stairwell opened and a short figure rushed onto the roof, clad in a silver jumpsuit and goldfish-bowl helmet, pointing his toy ray-pistol right at Jimmy. “You’re a goddamn Commie!” the figure shouted. “Zap! Zap! Zap!”
Jimmy reeled back and clutched his heart. “Nyet! Nyet! Dosvedanya Vodka Sputnik!” he yelled in fake agony.
Right behind the boy was Mr. Gill, the building’s landlord, looking natty in his two-tone Nehru jacket and matching turban. He ushered his boy back down the stairs and smiled an apology.
“Now then Mr. Jimmy, if I could have a word about the office rent …”
Sure enough, every Monday, regular as clockwork. Jimmy had the bees-and-honey ready this time. He peeled a roll of notes out of his wallet and handed over a Lady Godiva. “I’ll have the rest by the end of the week, Mr. Gill, I promise.”
“Well, it would be nice if you didn’t have to leave everything until the last minute, isn’t it? I have overheads, Mr. Jimmy. I have a business and a family. Overheads.”
Finally getting away, Jimmy ran down the two flights of stairs and paused outside his office door to unlock it. He looked again at the sign stenciled on the vitrolite window;
Then he was inside.
This was Jimmy’s office, crammed in on the fifth floor between an insurance investigator and an employment agency. Two green filing cabinets on the back wall on either side of a wall-mounted TV screen (for the Satnews channels), two white metal cupboards on the left side, a second-hand desk of genuine wood facing the door, and his Elektra espresso maker next to the window and the Venetian blinds.
Plus the bottle of Jameson’s and the jazz mags in the bottom drawer.
He crossed the short space to the back wall, moved around his small second-hand desk, and opened the windows, letting the fusty weekend air out and the city summer smells in. He switched on the espresso maker and it started bubbling away to itself. He put two packets of Embassy Filters and a copy of the Daily Express on the desk, and stared out through the open window. It was that sort of July morning that made the aluminum parts of his coffee machine glow like they were alive.
He was just sipping the second espresso of the day when a shadow fell upon the window. A distinctly feminine shadow, followed by a knock.
Usually, Jimmy’s clients were old geezers in tweed jackets and balding hair pasted across their bony skulls with smelly Brylcreem, or frustrated housewives in frumpy John Lewis coats. Evidence of infidelity and serving divorce papers, that was Jimmy’s bread and butter. He kept telling himself that one day, he’d have some gorgeous bit of stuff come in with a handbag full of cash and a mysterious mission. Especially now, because he’d run out of active cases at the end of last week.
Today was his lucky day.

She wore an Op Art print linen dress from Tuffin and Foale, the sort of thing every dolly bird on the King’s Road was sporting this summer. A really sweet face with the latest Mary Quant sheen, fake lashes making her eyes look huge. Dark hair cut in a shiny Sasson bob. In a word: fraggin’ gorgeous.
Jimmy hurriedly took his Chelsea boots off the desk and stood up. “Do take a seat, Miss …?”
“Radcliffe. Georgina Radcliffe.” She stood in the middle of the office, gazing around nervously. “Are you Jimmy Diamond?” she said, in a tone of vague disappointment.
“That’s what it says on the door,” he said with a cocky grin. Easy on the jokes, he told himself. The married birds like to have a laugh to relax them but the younger ones – you have to fight to get them to take you seriously.
“I heard about you from my uncle, Victor. He said you helped him out in Blackpool last year.”
“Oh yeah, I remember him! Come in and make yourself comfortable.”
“You look a bit young to run a detective agency,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes like an Italian starlet. She might have looked Kensington, but her accent was pure Wembley. “How old are you? Twenty-one?”
“Yeah,” said Jimmy defensively, trying to keep his posh voice from slipping. “Well, no. I’m twenty, actually. A little bit older than you, by the looks of it. And it doesn’t matter how old I am because I’ve got the experience and I’ve got the brains, haven’t I? I’ve got it up ‘ere.”
And you’ve got it down there, he thought, looking at the nice pair of Eartha Kitts filling out the top of her minidress.
“Have you got references, or something?”
Jimmy pointed to the framed licensing certificates on the walls.
“Well, that’s all right, I suppose, but I don’t know anything about private eyes. What are your charges like?”
“Well, as they say – I’m not free, but I’m cheap! It sort of depends what I’m employed to do, innit? Listen, er, why don’t you sit down, Miss Radcliffe?”
“You can call me Georgie if you like.” She lowered herself into the second-hand Magistretti chair and fidgeted with her handbag. “Your name isn’t really Diamond, is it?”
“No.” Jimmy loosened his collar, and quickly changed the subject. “If I could haver some specifics, erm … Georgie?”
“Missing persons.”
Jimmy nodded in sympathy. “Have you contacted the police?”
“Yes, and they said it’s too soon to do anything. They said I should …”
“Wait for twenty-four hours before filing a crime report, yeah, I know. That’s what they always say, but I can appreciate you don’t want to wait. Okay, it’s two pounds a day, plus expenses, and I’ll get to work on your case right away.”
“Well, that’s a bit steep, innit! You must be raking it in.”
“Oh no I ain’t, doll – er, Georgie,” Jimmy said, trying to get back on the right foot. “I got overheads, see? And this is how I make a living.”
“Are you the only person who works here?”
“Yeah. That’s me, all on me Jack Jones. I employ other people – experts, like – on what you might call a freelance basis.”
“Oh, freelance basis! You do sound la-de-da, don’t you? How much do you want up front?”
“Well …” Jimmy gave her the nicest smile he could manage. “Look, just tell me what it’s all about, yeah? We can work out the small print later.”
She tightened her grip on her handbag, hesitating, a catch in her throat. “My father didn’t come home last night,” she said.
Jimmy sat back and breathed out. He was most likely looking at marital infidelity. The poor girl’s dad had run off to Torquay with his secretary or some other bit on the side, so he was in for a week of taking dirty pictures on the pier. Well, at least the weather was nice.
“Tell me more,” Jimmy said, reaching over to switch on the reel-to-reel autorecorder.
Georgie turned the handbag over in her lap with her long-fingernailed hands and looked at him with a gleam in her eyes. “Mum passed away a few years ago, so it’s just the three of us, me, Dad and my younger sister Rita. Dad’s been a real brick, he takes care of us, and he’s so dedicated to his work. He wouldn’t just go off somewhere without telling us first.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a scientist. He’s doing research over at the Docklands Science Park.”
That made Jimmy sit up and take notice. The DSP was an exclusive place, full of Oxbridge boffins and public school throbbing skulls. Dr. Radcliffe was either a genius or loaded – probably both.
“You leave it to me,” Jimmy said, looking as businesslike as he could. “I’ll bring your father back to you, no problem.”
Georgie sniffed and fished a crumpled roll of one-pound notes from her handbag. “You’d better,” she said, “I took this out of our life savings.”

The Docklands Science Park was the latest product of Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s “white-hot technological revolution”. It sat in what used to be the West India Docks over at Tower Hamlets, and was the place where university science departments and private corporations did research on stuff that gave Jimmy a headache when he tried to read about it in the papers. Flying in from the west on the Jubilee airlane, the DSP took shape as a huge transparent dome. Within lay a sprawling collection of smaller geodesic domes, concrete sculptures in wave-like organic forms, and plastic and steel Populuxe towers, all connected by covered walkways through ornamental gardens.
A forged aerocab punch-card could get Jimmy into most places; the real work was in avoiding getting thrown out. Once through the dome’s main gates, he followed the flashing neon maps along the almost-deserted avenues that showed him where Dr. Radcliffe’s office could be found. It was a self-contained high-tech lab, Georgie had said, that he shared with his research partner, Dr. Henry Primble.
Arriving at the fibersteel bubble reception area, outside the detached golf-ball shaped main lab, Jimmy got the uneasy pricking sensation that told him something was wrong.
Facing him was a standard servo-bot receptionist. It was about six feet tall and roughly humanoid, a steel column tapering down to metal blocks with tiny wheels underneath. The chest held a TV monitor with tuning knobs on either side – but the screen showed only static. Two flexi-tube arms with pincers on the ends hung loosely down by its sides. The cube-shaped head held a metalwork grille where a human mouth would have been, and two round, protruding camera lenses for eyes.
Jimmy coughed and stepped forward shyly. “Erm … Speedee Taxis? Someone made a booking.”
The robot didn’t speak, didn’t move, and he noticed there was no light showing in the twin camera eyes. It was totally switched off. Jimmy cautiously moved in for a closer look. He walked around the robot’s cylindrical body, and noticed something that made his skin crawl; the control unit attached to the robot’s back was almost melted into scrap. It looked like someone had given it a right going-over with a ray blaster.
All kinds of alarm bells started going off in Jimmy’s head.
He looked around and wondered what to do. The sky outside was grey, even though the weather computer had slated no rain showers for today. Par for the course. If the Soviets really did want to invade the UK, all they had to do was permanently switch the master computer to ‘rainy” and the British would grumble themselves to death.
Jimmy walked past the reception area and along the short corridor that led to the lab. On the walls were framed photographs of the usual science superstars – Turing, Rutherford, Grindell-Matthews, Brett, Travers, Watkins, Crick, Watson, and a bunch of other egg-heads Jimmy didn’t recognize.
He thought of Georgie, and decided to explore further. Girls needed to be impressed; good news or bad, the job had to be done properly. The corridor ended in a walk-up ramp, and as soon as Jimmy put his size nines on the first step, he realized something was badly wrong. The sliding security doors were half-open, and wisps of black smoke were curling through the air.
Bracing himself, he slid the doors fully outwards. He coughed as puffs of greasy vapor wafted past his face. Along with the smoke was a smell far worse than any burnt toast Jimmy ever had the misfortune to make. Holding his breath, he stepped into the lab. Somewhere inside, a radio was playing; The Coasters were doing their best with Poison Ivy, but there were more than the usual pops and crackles mixed in with it, like it was a really bad reception.
Jimmy waved the smoke away, peering into every corner of the lab. It was full of benches holding glass tubes and chrome pipes and squat metallic boxes, for uses that Jimmy could only guess at. The floor was decorated with a mosaic showing an atom with electrons whizzing around it. It was all dead scientific.
The back wall had something on it that looked slightly like mold and slightly like modern art – but it was clearly the source of the smoke hanging around the lab. As Jimmy got closer, the alarm bells rang in his head even louder as he realized the ‘thing’ was a huge burn mark scorched into the wall, and it was in the shape of a human. Specifically, a man with his arms raised.
Jimmy had a nasty feeling that he’d found Dr. Henry Primble. Or what was left of him.
He was just reaching for the office phone when the three blokes in suits burst through the door, holding Vickers-Armstrong ray pistols.


A Day’s Walk Through Mukoujima

OR: Following the Trail of Katsushika Hokusai!

The day started by saying goodbye to the crowds swarming around Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and walking across Azuma Bridge into the heart of the oldest part of the shitamachi (downtown) part of Edo (as Tokyo used to be known).

Behind the Sumida ward city hall and the famous Golden Turd on top of Asahi Beer head office, lies Mukoujima – the name means ‘the island over there’. This area is historically famous for a number of reasons, one of which is that it used to be the home of Katsushika Hokusai. Readers of this blog will know that he’s the Ukiyo-e artist who plays a major part in Book Two of my urban fantasy trilogy, “Sword, Mirror, Jewel”. So, during the dog days of Japan’s O-Bon vacation period, I thought I’d scout a few Hokusai locations that I hadn’t been to before.
If you turn left before the Asahi golden turd, a road takes you along the Sumida riverbank, and under the Shuto highway flyover. A short walk brings you to the peaceful green haven of Sumida Park, and a shrine that featured in a few of Hokusai’s prints – Ushijima Jinja.

On this day – August 15th – the shrine was conducting a ceremony to commemorate the end of WWII. A big Keep Out sign had been placed across the front entrance, but it was possible to see inside the courtyard … white-shirted veterans sat patiently on folding chairs under electric fans working overtime, while Shinto priests in full regalia blessed them with the sacred sasaki paper wands in the blinding sunlight. No photos, sadly, because it seemed kind of disrespectful.
To the right of the main building is a hut that used to contain a black stone cow called the ‘caressing cow’. It was given to the shrine in 1824. It was believed if you stroked the part of the cow’s body corresponding to your own ailing part, you would be cured. This is why the old name of Ushijima used to be Ushinogozen – ‘before the cow’.
I left the park and headed for the next Hokusai-related shrine. Between the river and the main road running through Mukoujima lies Mimeguri Jinja (the name means Shrine of the Three Circles). It’s home to three deities – Daikokuten, the god of wealth and the household; Ebisu, the god of fishermen, luck, and workingmen, and Inari, the god of rice.
Daikokuten and Ebisu are two of the seven gods of good fortune in Japanese mythology and folklore (the other five being Hotei, Jurōjin, Fukurokuju, Bishamonten, and Benzaiten). Inari is commonly depicted in the figure of a Kitsune, or fox, and is deified in two small shrines behind the main building. The atmosphere in this outer sanctum is redolent with mystery; the larger of the shrines is guarded by a family of moss-covered stone Kitsune, a tunnel of orange torii gates, and two blackened statues depicting a pair of Edo sorcerers said to have the gift of speaking the secret language of the foxes. In Hokusai’s day, this part of Mukoujima was mainly rice fields, so it was vital to have a shrine where folk could pay their respects to the god of rice.
The next shrine featured in Hokusai’s prints is Shirahige Jinja, and it’s quite a long walk down Mukoujima’s main road. The name means “Shrine of Whitebeard,” mainly because it’s devoted to Jurōjin, the god of long life and health. One problem was, I didn’t feel too healthy after being out in the sunshine dodging from one patch of shade to another. I had UV spray, sunglasses and a Panama hat, of course, but even with them Tokyo in August is a pretty uncomfortable place to be. Other problems were mounting up; after Shirahige Jinja, I’d got lost in the meandering streets of Mukoujima (okay, it was an educational experience, not really a problem).

It was also lunchtime and many of the little noodle and sushi shops were closed because of the O-Bon summer vacation. Eventually, I came to a crossing between two main roads that looked promising, and down the street I saw a big sign with SOBA painted on it. Saved!

This was a shop named Kamimura, an old but spotlessly clean establishment which had only three customers inside (including me). I decided to cool off with some chilled mori-soba and a big glass of lemon-hai filed with ice. It was the best thing I could have done.
After a relaxing lunch and a chat with the staff, I found out that Kamimura was very close to Higashi Mukoujima station on the Tobu line – as well as the Tobu Transport Museum. It seemed to be a good idea to take a break for a while from the Hokusai trail and get out of the sun – so a five-minute walk and two hundred yen later, I was inside again doing some steam train spotting.
The Tobu Transport Museum has some vintage steam and diesel trains from the thirties, forties and fifties, but it’s not in the same league as the London Transport Museum. I was looking for some vintage Art Deco posters and displays – the kind that British transport was so good at, back in the day. Sadly, I couldn’t find any. Not even postcards.
By this time it was three o’clock, and I was close to a train station. From looking at the map, it seemed that the next stop on the line was very close to the last stop on the Hokusai trail – Sumidagawa Shrine. I decided to cut to the chase and take the easy way out; the afternoon heat showed no sign of slackening off.
The next stop in question is called Kanegafuchi, and Sumidagawa Shrine is located ten minutes walk from the station in the middle of Shirahage Park. The park in question lies between a huge suspension bridge and equally huge danchi – tower blocks of public housing complexes that look like something straight out of Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451″. I wonder what Hokusai would have made of these, I asked myself.

Sumidagawa Shrine and Shirahige Park is the location of a TV samurai drama called “Kenkyaku Shoubai”: although the series is filmed in the studio and in distant parts of the Japanese countryside, the house where the central character lives is named as this part of Mukoujima.

I reprint the following information from the blog null-entropy.com, with permission:

“Here we reach the farthest point north in the progression along the Sumida River that began in number 55. The view is from the west bank, looking across to the northeast at the point where the Ayase River flows into the Sumida. This isolated site, called Kanegafuchi, was known for the planting of silk trees, a kind of mimosa, along the bank. Hiroshige has framed the view with one of the trees in full bloom. The silk like filaments that give the tree its name are expressed in light pink lines accented with black. Beyond is a boatman whose bold garment echoes the pattern of the blossoms. [..]
This view looks at the point where the Ayase River flows into the Sumida; due to its curve and convergence with the Ayase, the water here was deeper and the flow more rapid than elsewhere on the Sumida. The story is told of a temple bell which fell into the river during a flood, sinking to the bottom and giving the name Kanegafuchi, “bell depths” for the stretch of the river. This location was also known for its silk trees, a kind of mimosa, growing along the bank. This scene shows one of the trees in full bloom with its silk like pink flowers accented in black. The boatman below is dressed in a bold patterned garment and a heron flies above the reeds. In 1887 the Kanegafuchi Spinning Company was constructed on the south bank of the Ayase River (the area to the far right), a joint venture of five Tokyo cotton-thread dealers, known as “kanebo.” In time it became Japan’s largest cotton-spinning firm and has since diversified into cosmetics.”
“Two well-dressed ladies disembark from the boat by which they have traveled up the Sumida River into the inlet known as Uchigawa. Their destination is one of Edo’s famous suburban restaurants, seen in the upper right. Located within the precincts of Mokuboji Temple, which lies out of sight to the right, it specialized in dishes of taro and clams and was much prized among stylish residents of Edo. The area to the left with pines was known as Gozensaihata, or “The Honorable Vegetable Garden.” Beginning in the 1650s, fresh vegetables for the shogun’s table were produced there. It is unclear, however, if that practice still continued in Hiroshige’s day. [..]
Two ladies are seen alighting from the boat in Uchigawa Inlet on their way to one of Edo’s famous suburban restaurants, known as Uehan (named after the owner, Uekiya Han’emon) which specialized in taro and clams. The nearby Mokuboji Temple, not shown here, originated in the year 976 when a young boy (Umewaka) was kidnapped by a slave trader when he lost his way on the road near Kyoto and was brought here, where he finally died of sickness and exhaustion on the banks of the Sumida River. A wandering priest erected a mound in his memory, which grew into the shrine-temple complex of Mokuboji. The mound survives today and services in his memory are held each year on April 15. The area on the left by the pine trees was known as Gozensaihata, or “the honorable vegetable garden,” which produced fresh vegetables for the shogun’s table. This area was obliterated by bombing during World War II; both sides of the Sumida have been leveled and construction has begun to provide high-rise housing and emergency evacuation in case of flood or earthquake. Mokuboji was relocated to a site closer to the Sumida in the middle of what was once the mouth of the Uchigawa Inlet.”

Regarding the curious temple named Mokuboji, just a short walk across the park … I would dearly like to know the reason for the cube-shaped building that dominates the precinct … and I would also like to know the story behind this snake-bodied Yokai here!

The story ends here …
with yakatori and beer!

Experience the world of Hokusai and the Sword, Mirror, Jewel trilogy!

Specters, Ghosts and Sorcerers in Ukiyo-e

The Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art is a discreet traditionally-designed building tucked away round the corner from the flashy, glossy Omotesando avenue in the heart of Tokyo, and yesterday I was there to view a current exhibition entitled “Specters, Ghosts and Sorcerers in Ukiyo-e”. Readers of this blog will know that my YA urban fantasy trilogy features the weird and uncanny creatures known in Japanese legend as the Yokai – and they were a favorite subject of Edo period ukiyo-e, as artists sought to chill the blood of their audience with painstakingly depicted scenes of the macabre and the supernatural.

Therefore, to find further inspiration and beat the August Tokyo heat, I ventured into the hushed ambience of the museum to experience the awe and mystery of these otherworldy paintings.
Many of the old Edo tales were made into Kabuki plays, and the ukiyo-e show the Kabuki depictions as well as the original sources. The most notorious tales, such as “Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan” and “Sarayashiki”, are well represented here, but there are many lesser known stories. Entering the museum, the viewer first encounters five prints by Hokusai Katsushika; the ghosts of Oiwa-san, Okiku-san, Kohada Koheiji, a laughing Hannya demon, and a snake-spirit of obsession. Entering the lower levels, there are more detailed scenes from these stories painted by different artists, including one remarkable woodcut from Utagawa Toyokuni III. Showing a scene from a Kabuki play based on the life of the Buddhist saint Nichiren, it shows the virtuous hero in combat with two fearsome apparitions – the ghost of Koheiki Koheiji floating through the air, and Oiwa-san emerging from a nearby river.
Upstairs on the second floor, there are several dramatic prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Utagawa Yoshitora, relating to scenes from the Genpei War in the late Heian period. They show the warrior ghosts of the Taira clan rising from the sea and attacking the ship carrying the heroes Yoshitsune and Benkei … Pirates of the Caribbean, eat your sea-soaked zombie heart out!
One thing I was particularly happy to see was a wall display showing the step-by-step creation of ukiyo-e, from the first sketch, the carving, and the adding of pigment. The example chosen was Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa”, which made me even happier.

There are many other intriguing and educational ukiyo-e upstairs, depicting events and characters both well known and obscure, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. I’ll just mention Utagawa Kuniteru’s work on the “The Seven Mysteries of Honjo” (the Honjo Nanafushigi). These refer to a collection of mysterious events that occurred during the Edo period in the area of Honjo, known today as part of Sumida ward – the old ‘shitamachi’ region of Tokyo, where memories go back a long way and mysteries never die. I hope to cover this in full in a later blog entry, where I go on a walking tour of Honjo … so I’ll leave this subject for the moment!
Finally, taking the exhibition as a whole, the elegant translations of the titles come across as (perhaps) unintentional masterpieces of dry humor – especially those by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. The dryly translated “People surprised at figure of revived dead person”, for example, does not prepare the viewer for the scene of absolute carnage and panic that they see through the glass. Perhaps this show should be retitled “Specters, Ghosts, Sorcerers and Understatements”!
The third installment of this exhibition, “Sorcerers”, will take place in September, and I hope to cover it in a future blog post.
In the meantime, readers of this blog will also know that Book Two of the trilogy, Voice of the Mirror, has just been published and the ukiyo-e artist Hokusai Katsushika is a major character (Reiko and her friends travel back in time and meet him), and his artwork is central to the plot. If you want to know more about the Sword, Mirror, Jewel trilogy, go here …

Sword, Mirror, Jewel

If you want to know more about the world of the Japanese supernatural, try this …

The Unofficial Guide to Japanese Mythology

Also, if you want to know more about Yokai and Yurei specifically, try these excellent books by Japan-based writer Matt Alt!

Yokai Attack

Yurei Attack

2014 Golden Week Downtown Tour

Last year was Shibamata; this year, we started in Asakusa, home of the legendary Golden Poo Building (AKA Asahi Beer Head Office).

I was in the area of Azumabashi (walk over the bridge, past the giant turd and turn right at the main road) to check out Infinity Books, a new second-hand bookshop that opened two months ago. It’s got thousands of English language books, some of them rare, all of them reasonably priced. It also hosts events – and I hope to go to one later this month.

The street of souvenir shops and tea houses leading to Fukugawa Fudo Temple.

Bridge, pond and carp in the precincts of Fukugawa Fudo Temple.

This is the oldest iron bridge in Japan; it used to span a river somewhere in Fukugawa, but it has since been moved to its current location here, where it apparently serves as a cat shelter.

The two signs posted here say “Do not feed or take care of stray cats because they will cause a nuisance.” Between them someone has lovingly built a crib where we saw a big white cat sleeping.

As the sun sets, the drinking begins! We had a sake tasting session in a shop/bar near the entrance to Fukugawa Fudo, and then moved on. This is one of the tiny streets lined with izakayas in the area around Monzen-Nakacho station.

Kogomi tempura and yuzu highballs in the tiny izakaya Yu-chan.

Next; a standing sake bar around the corner from Yu-chan.

“Braja” is not, as you might think, ladies’ underwear, but a cocktail of brandy and ginger ale. Bra (brandy) + Gia (ginger ale) – geddit?

The view outside the bar.

We round off the night with a few glasses of Manosturu sake at Mandawara.

See you soon, Shitamachi!

Publishing News for 2014!

Happy New Year, Brave New World!
Here’s the latest publishing news from Excalibur – the cutting edge of fiction!

All six stories in the first series of “Futurist Manifesto” are now available as budget-price limited-edition collector’s item e-books. They will be removed from sale in June 2014, when the anthology “Tales From Beyond Tomorrow! Volume One” is released in print and Kindle format, including all six stories plus extra short fiction, illustrations and comic strips. So get ‘em now – while they’re hot! Click on the links to go to the Amazon page!

The Futurist Manifesto # 1: “The Invention of God”

Spies, spirits, and mad inventors galore in this action-packed novelette set in a Steampunk Victorian London.

The Futurist Manifesto # 2: “Dulce et Decorum Est”
Eldritch abominations stalk the trenches of World War One in this chilling tale set in Ypres, 1917.

The Futurist Manifesto # 3: “The Elements of War”
A tale of love and magic, in a city on the edge of destruction – London, during the 1940-41 Blitz.

The Futurist Manifesto # 4: “Jimmy Diamond and the Girl from Venus”
Experience a Swinging Sixties London filled with Mods, Rockers, laser pistols, moon rockets, flying scooters and killer robots, in this comedy-thriller novelette!

The Futurist Manifesto # 5: “Nightfall in Utopia”
Murder, mayhem and zombies lie in wait in the darkness of the 1977 New York City blackout.

The Futurist Manifesto # 6: “Skin Condition”
Corporate greed collides with miracles of faith, in this chilling short story set in the dystopian, environmentally devastated Britain of 1992.

Artwork for “Jimmy Diamond and the Girl from Venus”, by Terry Diefenbach.

If you’re wondering what happened to Book Two in the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy – then wonder no more! Last October Excalibur suffered delays due to unforeseen circumstances – but we’re getting back on track! Reiko Bergman will return in March 2014, fighting more bizarre yokai from the Japanese spirit world – and here’s an excerpt!

“Sword, Mirror, Jewel” Book 2: “Voice of the Mirror” – Chapter One

Cover for “Voice of the Sword”, by Stephanie White.