Summer is for Chills: Japan’s Spooky Season

In Japan, summer vacation begins right around the time ours is coming to an end – in August. But did you know that in the land of sushi, Shinto shrines and anime, summer in Japan is also traditionally the season for ghost stories? That’s right! For centuries, the Japanese have honored their ancestors with a Buddhist festival of the dead (O-bon), and since the Edo period, our friends on the other side of the globe have been telling traditional ghostly folktales (kaidan) during the hot months of summer when it's believed that the barrier between the living world and the world of the spirits is thinnest. Over time, modern horror tales, scary movies, and haunted attractions have developed to make Japan's spooky-season an even more spine-tingling good time. And nothing chills your bones in oppressive summer heat like a good scare. Want to join in on the fun? Here are some morbid reading recommendations: 


“Morino and I found strange cases – and the people involved in them – darkly fascinating. Tragic human death ought to have torn our hearts in two – deaths so unfair that they made people want to scream. But we cut those articles out of newspapers, looking down the deep, dark well at the hearts of the people involved. Most people wouldn’t understand such interests – but it bewitched us like magic.”

GOTH is a collection of connected short stories following an unnamed narrator and his high school classmate, Morino, a strange girl who is drawn to death. Both characters have an unusual fascination with the macabre, and in each short story, readers follow the two as they investigate serial murders and find themselves in dicey situations. However, our protagonists never report evidence or foul play to the police. Why? Because their intentions are never to help the victims but to understand the killers. 

While author Otsuichi’s multi-perspective storytelling makes for a unique reading experience, the premise is a bit misleading. We are led to believe the book focuses on a teenage girl obsessed with serial killers, but the true star of the show is her classmate, the unnamed narrator– a talented puzzle solver and sociopath who enjoys visiting locations where people have died. The two characters make an enthrallingly dark pair, but readers will find themselves drawn more to the sharp-witted narrator and his unemotional reactions to the most gruesome crimes in the book. 

As one makes their way through one story at a time, horror readers will love the book for its blunt morbidity and upsetting imagery while mystery fiction readers will enjoy the characters’ keen observations on crime. Definitely give this a read if you enjoy books with morally neutral characters, grisly scenes, and dark subjects handled in pragmatic ways. 


“For a torture to be effective, the pain has to be spread out; it has to come at regular intervals, with no end in sight.”

Some readers might be familiar with author Yoko Ogawa from her well known dystopian novel The Memory Police. But if you’re completely new to Ogawa’s writing, an excellent place to start would be with her horror short story collection Revenge

Within these interconnected stories, readers are introduced to an elderly landlady with a kiwi orchard and a dark secret, a vengeful lover, a mourning mother, a bagmaker with a strange obsession, a museum of torture, and more. 

This is a chilling collection of dark tales, but not “dark” in terms of graphic depictions of violence or ghosts peeking around your open bedroom door in the night. The chills come from how unsettled the reader is made to feel by the mundane, from how brilliantly each story is connected to the next, how unnamed narrators are not always who they seem to be, how in the subtlest of ways innocent bystanders and individuals with dark intentions come together in a beautifully eerie dance of coincidental circumstance. Revenge is a glittering spider web, the author is its weaver, and the characters are her victims. 

This is a great book for readers who also enjoy authors like Shirley Jackson or Mariana Enriquez. If you’re a lover of clever storytelling, you’ll devour Revenge in one sitting.  

Now You're One of Us

"We have no need to hide or conceal anything from one another. We are a family united by blood!"

I’m currently new to Asa Nonami’s writing but after reading Now You're One of Us, I will definitely be on the hunt for more of her books. 

This one specifically is psychological suspense and it follows a young woman named Noriko who marries into a large wealthy family. Her husband lives with his parents, grandparents, two siblings, and great grandmother, making a household of 9 altogether including our protagonist. Noriko feels lucky to have married into a family that is so warm, welcoming, and admiring of everything she does. Her new life is almost too good to be true. But then so-called friends of the family die in a terrible incident and Noriko starts to grow suspicious of circumstances that lead back to the household she's become a part of.

From the very first chapter, readers will have alarm bells ringing in their brains. The story reminded me very much of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby in the sense that we’re given a sweet, trusting, female protagonist who is taken under the wing of seemingly kind people with ulterior motives. It's unnerving in the fact that family is supposed to offer a safe space, but instead our protagonist can't help but feel unease and her paranoia begins to escalate. This book is equal parts upsetting, unsettling, claustrophobic and you'll wanna stick around for a crazy ending!


“Nice person, bad person—that’s not the level this girl is at. I can see you’re crazy about her and probably won’t be able to hear this, Ao-chan, but I think you’d be better off staying away from someone like her. I can’t read her exactly, but I can tell you she’s either a saint or a monster. Maybe both extremes at once, but not somewhere in between.”

This is a fantastic introduction into Japanese literary horror. It’s a very slow, almost mundane story about a widowed documentarian named Aoyama. He’s been without a partner for seven years and decides it’s about time he should remarry. When his best friend suggests he search for the perfect woman by hosting auditions for a fake film, a skeptical Aoyama agrees, not knowing it will be the start of trouble. 

I always ask readers to be patient with slow-burn horror because there’s always a terrifying treat lying in wait if they push through. Audition is one of those examples. This novella comes with body horror, slow simmering suspense, and it’s easily a one-sitting read. Definitely check this one out! And if you can stomach it, feel free to also check out the 1999 movie adaptation (it’s even more disturbing)!!!

Looking for more scary entertainment from Japan to burn through this August? Here are a few more recommendations:




Dark Water


The Graveyard Apartment 







One Cut of the Dead


Dark Water

The slit mouthed woman

Apartment 1303

-Christina James is a Readers' Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.