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The Book of the Dead

2016
Author:

Orikuchi Shinobu
Translated by Jeffrey Angles
Commentary by Ando Reiji

The Book of the Dead

The first complete English translation of a Japanese literary masterpiece

The first complete English translation of Orikuchi Shinobu’s masterwork, The Book of the Dead is a sweeping historical romance telling a gothic tale of love between a noblewoman and a ghost in eighth-century Japan. Readers will soon discover that a great deal lies hidden beneath the surface of the story; the entire text is a modernist mystery waiting to be decoded.

At once a work of innovative fiction, written in an evocative and poetic style, as well as a remarkably astute recreation of the natural, mental and spiritual world of Japan’s ancient civilization, The Book of the Dead, long recognized as a modern classic in that country, is now widely accessible for the first time to readers everywhere, thanks to this eloquent translation by Jeffrey Angles. Orikuchi’s work will prove fascinating to any reader with an attraction to literature, anthropology, psychology, or history. There is no other work quite like it in the whole modern Japanese canon.

J. Thomas Rimer, University of Pittsburgh

First published in 1939 and extensively revised in 1943, The Book of the Dead, loosely inspired by the tale of Isis and Osiris from ancient Egypt, is a sweeping historical romance that tells a gothic tale of love between a noblewoman and a ghost in eighth-century Japan. Its author, Orikuchi Shinobu, was a well-received novelist, distinguished poet, and an esteemed scholar. He is often considered one of the fathers of Japanese folklore studies, and The Book of the Dead is without a doubt the most important novel of Orikuchi’s career—and it is a book like no other.

Here, for the first time, is the complete English translation of Orikuchi’s masterwork, whose vast influence is evidenced by multiple critical studies dedicated to it and by its many adaptations, which include an animated film and a popular manga. This translation features an introduction by award-winning translator Jeffrey Angles discussing the historical background of the work as well as its major themes: the ancient origins of the Japanese nation, the development of religion in a modernizing society, and the devotion necessary to create a masterpiece. Also included are three chapters from The Mandala of Light by Japanese intellectual historian Andō Reiji, who places the novel and Orikuchi’s thought in the broader intellectual context of early twentieth-century Japan.

The Book of the Dead focuses on the power of faith and religious devotion, and can be read as a parable illustrating the suffering an artist must experience to create great art. Readers will soon discover that a great deal lies hidden beneath the surface of the story; the entire text is a modernist mystery waiting to be decoded.

The Book of the Dead

Orikuchi Shinobu (1887–1953) was a Japanese ethnologist, linguist, folklorist, novelist, and poet. As one of the foremost early twentieth-century experts on Japanese folklore and Shinto, he has vast influence over modern intellectual discourse and many of his novels and collections of poetry are classics of Japanese literature.

Jeffrey Angles is professor of Japanese and translation at Western Michigan University. He is author of Writing the Love of Boys (Minnesota, 2011) and is an award-winning translator of dozens of Japan’s most important writers.

Andō Reiji is associate professor in the Faculty of Art, Tama Art University in Tokyo. As the author of two award-winning studies of Orikuchi Shinobu, he is the foremost authority on Orikuchi in Japan.

The Book of the Dead

At once a work of innovative fiction, written in an evocative and poetic style, as well as a remarkably astute recreation of the natural, mental and spiritual world of Japan’s ancient civilization, The Book of the Dead, long recognized as a modern classic in that country, is now widely accessible for the first time to readers everywhere, thanks to this eloquent translation by Jeffrey Angles. Orikuchi’s work will prove fascinating to any reader with an attraction to literature, anthropology, psychology, or history. There is no other work quite like it in the whole modern Japanese canon.

J. Thomas Rimer, University of Pittsburgh

Orikuchi has fairly haunted modern Japanese literature, and now Jeffrey Angles, in making his The Book of the Dead available in English, helps us understand why. Set eighth-century Japan, Orikuchi's 1943 historical novel illuminated and challenged Japan's twentieth century with this tale of a past emperor who discarded human lives, a story whose publication amidst a world war makes Orikuchi one of the bravest of all modern Japanese writers. Angles' erudite Introduction and Andō Reiji's critical essays alone make this translation worth its price.

John Whittier Treat, Yale University

Jeffrey Angles has given us a smooth, supple translation of this remarkable book, and thanks to him, Orikuchi's glorious evocation of the distant past will live on in our contemporary world. The sounds of the ancient Japanese language may have disappeared, but in this translation, the text has been reborn with all the strength and grandeur of ancient societies everywhere.

Hiromi Ito, author of Killing Kanoko and Wild Grass on the Riverbank

The Book of the Dead

Contents
Note on Japanese Names
Bringing the Dead to Life: Translator’s Introduction
Jeffrey Angles
The Book of the Dead
Orikuchi Shinobu
The Book of the Dead
Glossary of Nouns, Place Names, and People
Essays from The Mandala of Light
Andō Reiji
Unraveling the Mysteries of Shisha no sho
The Mandala of Light: On the First Version of Shisha no sho
The Revolution of Religion in the Meiji Period: The Origins of Fuji Musen
Translator’s Acknowledgments
Translator’s Notes
Bibliography