Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ghost and Ghouls of Japan by James Calbraith--And Giveaway!

Title: The Shadow of Black Wings
Series: The Year of the Dragon #1
Author: James Calbraith
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Alternate History,
Publisher: Flying Squid
Format: Ebook and Paperback
Length: 70000 words
Purchase: Amazon |

Book Description:

"Fast paced and full of energy"

--Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of the Shadows of the Apt

 "This manuscript is full of highly crafted detail that will make readers shiver at times with fear and delight ... a familiar yet highly original fantasy that is a worthwhile read."

-- Publishers Weekly

"The real-world cultures are incredibly well-researched and truthful, and yet well-balanced with the fantasy elements. An intriguing and impressive series."

-- Ben Galley, author of the Emaneska Series

Ghosts and Ghouls of Japan

My books are set in a fantasy world filled with supernatural creatures from the Japanese folklore. I’d like to share some of the lore of these mystical beings with the readers of this blog. 

The supernaturals of Japan can be broadly divided into two categories: the Yūrei, or Ghosts, and the Yōkai, or Demons.

YŪREI: the name means “Faint Souls”, and the term describes the lost souls or spirits (reikon) which have been prevented from reaching peaceful afterlife and are forced to haunt our world. Usually it is because they have been killed in a violent manner, or the funeral rites have not been performed properly.

There are many types of these ghosts in folklore. The following are some of the most popular:

Onryō – a ghost of vengeance, returned to our world to right a wrong done to it before death.

Ubume – a mother who died in childbirth, protecting its children in the afterlife

Goryō – vengeful ghost of an aristocrat who had been killed unlawfully

Funayūrei – a sea ghost, of a human who died at sea, often half-transformed into a fish

Zashiki-Warashi – the mischevious ghosts of children

Jikininki – ghosts of greedy humans, who are cursed to eat human corpses at night

Ikiryō – a special case, this is the spirit of a man who is still alive, but is so angry and vengeful that their spirit has left the body in search of a victim to haunt.

YŌKAI – the name can be roughly translated as “Mysterious Apparition”. These are creatures which have a more physical form than the Yurei, and are not connected to the dead souls.

Obake (or Henge): A great category of beings, the shape-shifters, who can often take on human forms, or indeed, any form it wishes. Many wild animals of Japan are said to possess this ability; in stories, they usually play the roles of tricksters. The most widely recognized Obake include: Kitsune, the magic foxes (white in their true form), who serve the Goddess Inari; Tanuki, raccoon-dogs, famed for the ability to stretch their testicles; Mujina badgers, Hebi snakes and Okami wolves.

Some cats and dogs can also change their forms, especially if they are found in service of the Gods or wizards; these shape-shifting creatures are called, respectively, Bakeneko and Inugami. Finally, the spirits of the sacred trees, called Kodama, can also take on hman form, usually that of an old man.

Oni: the giant ogres living in the mountains, the Oni have been variously called Japanese demons, devils or trolls. Having crossed into our world through the kimon gate, the Oni terrorize the villages, eating humans and destroying crops. Although they too can change shape to some limit, their popular appearance is that of a terrible giant with bull’s horns, tiger fangs and claws, and tiger-skin loincloth, armed with an iron-studded mace.

Tengu:  the forest and mountain goblins, the tengu have a long and complex history. Originally, great humanoid demon-birds, similar to harpies, with beaks, wings and claws, later grew more human, red faces with long noses. The tengu are variously regarded as spirits of dead Buddhist monks, or as protective demons of the forests; they are usually wearing the clothes of the mountain hermit, yamabushi, and are smart and fierce warriors. Japan’s most famous historical hero Yoshitsune was said to receive his martial training from the tengu of Kurama.

Kappa: these water sprites are one of the most peculiar of Japan’s magical creatures. Turtle-like in appearance, with webbed hands and feet, the kappa have a fondness for pickled cucumbers and an indentation on the top of their heads called sara, where they keep water; whenever they leave their home lake or river, the water must always fill the sara, lest they lose their magical powers.

The kappa are mischievous, and sometimes dangerous, but not very smart; therefore, their victims are usually animals and children. A kappa is said to be able to suck a human’s spirit through the anus, or drink one’s blood if it manages to wrestle somebody into their under-water domain.

Tsukumogami: In Japanese mythology, all old and great things are inhabited by kami spirits: rivers, trees, stones, mountains. But so, too, do old household items. Once a broom or a sandal grow over 100 years old, it’s ready to be inhabited by a Tsukumo-gami. Like Pratchett’s Luggage, a Tsukumogami-inhabited item becomes animated, can move on its own and play pranks. But the worst thing you can do to a tsukumogami is to throw it away while it’s still good to use; nothing angers Japanese spirits as much as being wasteful!

About The Shadow of the Black Wings:

 It is the Sixteenth Year of Queen Victoria. In the powerful empire of Dracaland, Bran, a young dragon rider, joins his father on a military expedition to the mysterious lands of the Orient. In the reclusive Yamato, Sato, a tomboy samurai girl, strives to prove her right to inherit her father's school of western magic. Nagomi, a timid shrine apprentice, is haunted by the visions of dark future she must keep secret even from her best friend.

They don't know it yet, but their paths will cross... And when they do, nothing will ever be the same again.

Welcome to The Shadow of Black Wings, a steam-powered romp across the land of dragons, wizards and samurai. It's big, it's fast, it's been compared to Tolkien in terms of world-building, it has strong female characters and lots of carefully researched detail. You will meet the Royal Marines sailing mighty ironclads and Chinese walking machines; mysterious warlords and crazy inventors; you will discover dark prophecies, family secrets and blood-thirsty demons. And all that in just the first volume!

About the Author:

James Calbraith is a 34 year old Poland-born writer, foodie and traveller, currently residing in South London.

Growing up in communist Poland on a diet of powdered milk, Lord of the Rings and soviet science-fiction, he had his first story published at the ripe age of eight. After years of bouncing around university faculties, he moved to London in 2007, found a decent IT job and started writing in English. His debut historical fantasy novel, ""The Shadow of Black Wings"", has reached ABNA semi-finals. It was published in July 2012 and hit the Historical Fantasy and Alternate History bestseller lists on Amazon US & UK.


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  1. Thanks so much for the neat post. I read a story once that featured a Japanese supernatural entity.
    Debby236 at gmail dot com

  2. I love stories based in Japanese mythology. Euro stuff gets stake after a while! Thank you!

    brendurbanist at gmail dot com


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