This series is a collection of stories set in medieval Japan, in the Nara (AD 710 to 794) and Heian (AD 794 to 1185) eras. I wrote the stories as “historical fantasy,” with influences from Japanese mythology and folklore, and combined them with my love for BL and Yaoi. That means the Takamagahara Monogatari series depicts love stories between two men. However, none of these love stories are written as “romance,” so beware.
Shinigami is the second in the series. It is set almost three hundred years before the events in Kogitsune—the first story—published in October 2018.
Kogitsune is about a young fox god (called a kitsune in Japanese mythology) and his childhood friend, and it’s a retelling of Kokaji, a famous Noh play. I strongly recommend you read Kogitsune first. The little kitsune’s story may take place in the future but it will not spoil Shinigami. If you decide to read Shinigami first, it will contain spoilers for Kogitsune.
There are more stories to write. You will find the WIP drafts in the subscriber-only space of this site.
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Shinigami inspiration: Research Materials
Whenever I read a story that draws inspiration from mythology and folklore, I get all excited about reading the books the authors used for research.
If you are like me, here is the list of books used to research Shinigami:
- For mythology:
- The Kojiki: Records of Ancient Matters by Ō no Yasumaro & Princess Iwa (Contributor), translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain
- Nihon Shoki (or Nihongi) by Ō no Yasumaro, translated by William George Ashton
- For matching the historical atmosphere required for the Nara period:
- Xiao Jing, Classic on Filial Piety by Zengzi, translated by James Legge
- Tales of Old Japan: Folklore, Fairy Tales, Ghost Stories and Legends of the Samurai by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford
- The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan by Ivan Morris
- The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Royall Tyler
- For the descriptions:
- 1000 Poems from the Manyōshū by Ōtomo no Yakamochi (Compiler), translated by Japanese Classics Translation Committee
- One Hundred Leaves: A new annotated translation of the Hyakunin Isshu by Fujiwara no Teika, translated by Blue Flute ( http://www.followtheblueflute.com )
- Japan : its architecture, art, and art manufactures by Christopher Dresser
- Japanese Proverbs: Wit and Wisdom: 200 Classic Japanese Sayings and Expressions by David Galef
- The Folk Arts of Japan by Hugo M. Munsterberg
- Elements of Japanese Design by Boyé Lafayette de Mente
- A Japanese Miscellany: Strange Stories, Folklore Gleanings, Studies Here & There by Lafcadio Hearn
I started the research in December 2018 and spent about three months surrounded by maps, history books, ancient literature and mythology focused chronologies. You can find all the books used for research in my folder on Goodreads.
Shinigami inspiration: Layered Storytelling
Inspiration comes from everywhere, movies, places, people, history, songs, you name it. Today I would like to talk about the inspiration that came from an anime called Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju.
SGRS is among my top 5 favorite anime ever. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling, built upon layers and layers of twists and turns, spanning over seven decades and passing through several generations.
Created by Studio Deen in 2016 as an adaptation from the manga with the same name by Haruko Kumota, SGRS is a story about friendship, love, loss and Rakugo–a form of Japanese verbal entertainment, where a lone storyteller sits on a stage in a seiza sitting position, with no props except a paper fan and a small cloth , and depicts a long and complicated comical (or sometimes sentimental) story.
The story has one character as a centerpiece: Yakumo Yuurakutei, a legendary rakugo performer who is haunted by his past.
We meet Yakumo through the eyes of Yotaro, an ex-con released from prison with nothing to his name. At the prison gates the guard asks him about his plans, and Yotaro mentions he wants to learn the art of rakugo from one of Japan’s greatest masters, Yakumo Yurakutei VIII. This because of an unforgettable performance he had seen the master deliver of a story called….Shinigami.
Yakumo, notorious for taking no students, was in the end persuaded to take him on, and nicknamed him Yotaro-the fool. Yotaro had no formal training or elegance, but something about his charisma reminded Yakumo of someone from his past. And from here on, the past began unraveling.
It captured my heart and my soul completely. A story about love, art, and storytelling, the likes I have rarely experienced.
I watched this anime twice, both times in tears, awed by the beauty of every scene, the emotional weight of every line. A story told by an unreliable narrator, where you have to pay attention to clues in order to understand the full depth of the story. Everything had a double meaning, every act had ramifications that shaped character development for decades. Nothing is told “in your face”, you are forced to draw your own conclusions and sometimes you have to go back and re-watch episodes and scenes several times to “get it”.
This anime taught me about storytelling, but most importantly, taught me about layered storytelling, and the art of a “story within a story”. It helped me understand how to shape the plot around secrets that unraveled slowly with each page.
And in regards to the rakugo story called Shinigami… well… *points toward my own Shinigami*… I was as inspired as Yotaro.
The first time I saw the anime was in 2018, one month before publishing Kogitsune. It inspired me to add a story about a shinigami in the Takamagahara Monogatari. The second time I saw the anime was in February 2019, while finishing the first draft for Shinigami.
Watching SGRS again, while writing my own Shinigami, had a strange effect on me. I looked at the draft and got annoyed with myself. It was too superficial, too simple. So I changed the story completely.
Shinigami is dedicated “to my otaku family, my fujoshi sisters, my fudanshi brothers, and my non-binary siblings from the otaku world,” but it is also dedicated to Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju.
If you enjoy watching anime, or reading manga, and appreciate beautifully told stories, layered, emotional and with unreliable narrators, please watch this anime. You will not regret it.
Why was Shinigami built around the history of the Fujiwara clan? It all started with a ghost.
Glossary Agekubi [a-ge-ku-bi]: Nara and Heian era robes for males, high-necked, with a circular neckline and tailored sleeves Amaterasu [a-ma-te-ra-su]: Goddess of the sun Ame no Ohabari [a-me-no-o-ha-ba-ri ]: The sword used by Izanagi to kill his offspring Kagutsuchi. The literal translation in English is ‘sword of Takamagahara with blades on both sides of the…