Stephen Addiss is, quite frankly, my hero. Any book he puts out combines in-depth knowledge, thorough (but accessible) scholarship, and a kind of keen commentary that reveals the experience of one who has had hands-on exposure with his subject matter. For example, another work of his entitled _77 Dances_ is an exceedingly beautiful collection of Japanese calligraphy, with mind-blowing commentary on every page.
The volume under consideration here ranks among one of Addiss' best. As a coffee table type art book, the print quality is superb, the proportions generous, and the colour detailing exquisite. Addiss has provided a comprehensive selection here of artists and subject matter: from Buddhist iconography, to woodblocks from Edo period ghost stories [kaidan], to the eroto-grotesque masters of the Meiji period, such as Kyôsai.
Far from simply compiling the pictures, Addiss provides brilliant detail and historical information, never flying off into punditry. He is an absolute model of clarity combined with research, making his work totally enjoyable to the non-specialist. Asian Studies PhDs out there, take note: you can publish books without losing yourself in a morass of insider cant.
I notice this book a lot on the selves of tattoo artists: obviously, the quality must be good if those who practice that craft trust it for deriving their stencils. I'm not into that scene myself: I think of this volume as providing the kind of illustrative detail, and sensory impressions, that Lafcadio Hearn could not have mustered in his time.
The subject matter detail includes a range of sources: religious, folkloric, theatrical (literary), and so forth. Addiss never condescends when describing the superstitions and spiritual practices associated with the personages.
That this book is out of print is a shame. I would say that, even at twice the price, it is will worth getting a hold of if you have an interest in the subject. It is *vastly* superior to the usual scruffy insights that travellers pass off as 'mysterious Japan'.