Taking a Dive into Kyoka’s World

As a college student, I don’t often have time to read long books like I used to, curling up for hours on end with a book thicker than my arm and a cup of lemon tea. Instead, I turn to novellas, short stories, poems, and articles that I can finish in a couple minutes, or an hour at most.

One such short story that I have read recently is The Holy Man of Mount Koya (Koya hijiri, 1900) by Izumi Kyoka, or simply Kyoka, as he is popularly known. Kyoka was a modern Japanese writer in the late 1800s to early 1900s who wrote darkly romantic short stories laced with horror and the supernatural. His rich decadent style has been compared to that of Edgar Allan Poe and other great “gothic writers.” His masterful use of complex plot, dynamic dialogue, and color-coded symbolism has allowed his writing to flourish and become hugely popular almost 100 years after his death in 1926.

I picked up this story in the UCLA Powell library after my last final Winter quarter. Perhaps it was because of my dark mood or sense of “doneness” I had after my finals were over, but I was drawn to the book because it was so different from what I had studied and provided insight into a culture unfamiliar to me. This is not to say that I enjoyed the story purely for how different it was. I liked it not only for its beautiful prose and engaging storytelling, but also because of the sense of longing and missing a loved one I felt from reading it.

“Kyoka’s world” is a term aptly applied to the writer’s uniquely fantastic and imaginative setting in which his stories take place. In The Holy Man of Mount Koya, an old monk retells his experiences as a young man to his young traveling companion. This story within a story transported me into “Kyoka’s world” as though I were the young man listening to the monk telling his story by candlelight late at night.

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