Uncanny Japan review
I love folklore, and (as I have said before) living in Wales there is plenty on offer. Because of this, I am often drawn to the more mysterious style podcasts. Whether actual folklore or fiction inspired by folklore, I just can’t get enough. Maybe it’s because of my love of J-Horror or Anime, but Japanese folklore has captivated me for years. When I stumbled across Uncanny Japan I immediately subscribed and pressed play with baited breath.
So what’s it about?
Each episode, the host, Thersa Matsuura explores a different aspect of Japanese Folklore. Don’t expect to yawn through well trodden tales of the Kappa, Urei and Yokai so beloved of western audiences. This series also covers the lesser known traditions, festivals, and mythical beings said to lurk in the shady corners of the country. These episodes are what you could call “bitesize”. Most podcasts on folklore tend to run at one hour plus, so these 20 minute gems are very short in comparison. I think there have been a few even shorter!
The episode starts out with a brief introduction with the beautiful binaural recordings, and then Thersa starts telling the stories. Not all of these are discovered from ancient sources, although many are. There are some modern day cases that crop up too, and in the later episodes there are similar tales from all over the world. While this does technically leave the Japanese side of the stories, I don’t mind. All stories have a shared source, and drawing these parallels are great fun.
Is it any good?
Definitely. Thersa expertly covers so much ground in each relatively short episode, yet it never feels rushed. The fact that a 20 minute episode can feel much longer could be used as an insult for a review of a lesser show, but here it is absolutely a compliment. This is partly due to her amazing calm voice and the use of atmospheric recordings of her surroundings. The incessant piping of frogs or chirping of cicadas could be somewhat Lovecraftian in the bleak heaths of New England. Here though, it really brings her stories to life.
These sound effects coupled with Thersa’s soporific voice would lend itself to be the perfect sleep aid, although I can’t guarantee a peaceful night’s sleep from some of the content here! There are some very creepy tales indeed, and the thought of having some of these dark denizens of the Japanese countryside invade my dreams isn’t something I’d relish.
This is one of those shows that you don’t have to be interested in the subject to enjoy. Thersa is a joy to listen to and her knowledge of her subject matter is immense. She has also published books of fiction based on Japanese folklore as well (we are occasionally treated to some excerpts of these on the show).
Where other folklore shows have fallen by the wayside, either through the podcast coming to an end, or me getting bored, this one has got real staying power and is always great to listen to. Do yourselves a favour and give this series a go. You can thank me later.
This is also one of two podcasts on Japanese folklore that I had subscribed to, and the only one I am still subscribed to. Truth be told, I only ever listened to two episodes of the other one and gave up on it. Thersa has set the benchmark for Japanese culture!
You can listen to Uncanny Japan here:
Or wherever you get your podcasts.