Spook Train
Author: Masatoshi Nakao
Illustrator: Dolly
Specifications: ISBN  978-4591155318
32 pages
21.4 x 26.4 cm / 6.4 x 8.0 in (WxH)
Category: Children & YA
Ages: 3+
Publisher: Poplar Publishing Co., Ltd.
Tokyo, 2017
Buy now: amazon.co.jp


A young boy of elementary-school age is going on his first long train trip by himself, to visit his grandparents who live in a remote mountain village called Ryūjin. He boards the train as the departure bell rings, only to discover that all the other passengers as well as the conductors are yōkai (supernatural creatures). As he is wondering what might happen, a tengu (long-nosed goblin) conductor appears to say that a human has apparently snuck aboard the train, and he intends to find him.

The boy uses his quick wits to avoid being discovered by the first and second conductors who come through, but in spite of his efforts to disguise himself as an ogre, his luck runs out with the third. “You must be the human,” says the giant toad, and as the yōkai passengers close in around him, the boy is forced to admit that he’s the one. Then to his surprise, the weird creatures all break into smiles and lift him onto their shoulders with shouts of Wasshoi! Wasshoi! It turns out that Ryūjin village is a gathering spot for spooks from all around the world because of its still-pristine natural surroundings. In days gone by, yōkai and human children played together there, but in recent times such opportunities have grown scarce. So the yōkai are all delighted to have a human child in their midst again. Soon the train arrives in Ryūjin. When the boy’s grandfather welcomes him to the village, the ghostly creatures apparently are not visible to him. The boy surreptitiously whispers to his new friends, “Let’s play again tomorrow!”

Young children are fascinated by yōkai. But boarding a train to find the coach teeming with them might still be pretty scary. The story walks a tightrope between that fascination and fear. At its center is a city boy making his first solo trip to visit his grandparents in a remote village just like the one where author Masatoshi Nakao’s own grandparents lived. In spite of its supernatural content, the story expresses the true essence of Japan with both humor and pathos.