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100 Tales from the Tokyo Ghost Café

Authored by Julian Sedgwick
Illustrated by Chie Kutsuwada
Published by Guppy Books Ltd

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100 Tales from the Tokyo Ghost Café is another highly original, thrilling and moving collaboration from the creators of the Carnegie-shortlisted Tsunami Girl. This book once again combines Julian Sedgwick’s prose with Chie Kutsuwada’s manga, and this time the manga sections feature the book’s creators as characters on a research trip collecting ghost stories from around Japan – although Chie is represented as a talking rabbit. Julian and Chie end up accompanying Akira, a young boy they meet at the Tokyo Ghost Café, on a long and eventful journey home, featuring many supernatural encounters.

This journey is interspersed with ghost stories told in prose by a range of speakers which featuring a wide variety of yōkai and spirits – including a bakenko (ghost cat), tengu (beaked birds of prey) and kappa (beaked creatures with bowl-like depressions in their heads containing water who feed on children and cucumbers). A helpful glossary gives more information about these and other creatures, and allows a fuller immersion in Japanese culture and beliefs.

While these spirits can be frightening or vengeful at times, the stories feel gentler overall than, say, M. R. James’s ghost stories or Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. In general, the stories are about finding peace and healing for both the living and the dead, and they offer a powerful and profound response to loss and trauma – both individual and collective, as in the case of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami which was the focus of Sedgwick and Kutsuwada’s previous book.

Indeed, fans of Tsunami Girl will particularly enjoy the three tales in which Yūki, now a student at Leeds University, makes a return visit to Osōma three years after her grandfather’s death and is reunited with Taka. Many other tales also connect in some way to Tsunami Girl, sometimes in ways which only become apparent as the story progresses. More generally, this is another complex, intricate and rather post-modern text which rewards a patient and attentive reading: the relationship between the prose and manga sections will often challenge the reader and provoke questions which are only answered much later on.

Given the huge popularity of manga with many teenage readers, this is likely to prove a popular addition to secondary school libraries which will hopefully stretch and intrigue ambitious readers. Several of the chapters could also be taught as stand-alone short stories (for instance ‘A Date at the Galaxy’ in which a young woman becomes increasingly fascinated by the young man who keeps visiting the bookshop where she works) and would offer a welcome different perspective on death and loss.