Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories: Part 3

The Izu Dancer by Kawabata Yasunari. This is an incredibly affecting tale of mutual hopeless attraction between a young student and a child on the cusp of adolescence. It seems to me to epitomise Japanese style: emotions are conveyed by the subtlest of actions, and because of this have a powerful impact. Kawabata Yasunari won the Nobel prize for literature.

The Lemon by Kajii Motojiro. The writer died when he was only 31 and this is a playful piece about the protagonist, who suffers from TB, plays a visual trick with a lemon. Along the way he describes the small shops and department stores in 1930s Japan.

The Accordion and the Fish Town by Hayashi Fumanto. A 'slice of life' type of short story about a peddler's family and their adoption of a town. Reading the author's notes I see it is autobiographical. The author put herself through High School by working nights to eventually become one of Japan's most populat writers. It is certainly very interesting and absorbing, and the relationship between the mother, father and fourteen year old daughter comes over very well indeed.

The Flower-Eating Crone by Enchi Fumiko. This is one of my favourites so far. A mature woman is losing her sight. She encounters an older woman who is even more blind. The older woman is articulate, knowledgeable and intelligent. She surprises the younger woman by suddenly eating the crab orchid blossom they have both been admiring. The common sexual implications of what she has done are discussed, but the old woman points out that soon the younger woman too will want to eat the flowers. It is a way of releasing the demons inside, allowing 'the night parade of a hundred goblins'. This leads the younger woman to reflect that maybe they have started to emerge already. Last night they uncovered letters from an old love-affair of her youth. She had felt embarrassed by them and didn't want to read them; but now she realises she ought to embrace her past (although that in itself is an admission that she has become old).

It has a good structure with a lot of internal reflection, and in some ways may be more heavily influenced by 'the West'.

Blind Chinese Soldiers by Hirabayashi Taiko. An incredibly powerful tale of a man's encounter with 500 blinded Chinese soldiers in wartime Japan. An experiment with toxic gas is implied, and the man attempts to understand the apparently unconcerned reaction of some of the crowd. It seems almost like an example of reportage.

In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom by Sagaguchi Ango. An unusual tale about a bandit who is afraid of a forest of cherry trees in full bloom. It has the feel of a folk story, and is surreal and horrific.

Passage to Fudaraku by Inoue Yasushi. A poignant story about the final voyage of sixteenth century Buddhist monks.

Merry Christmas by Dazai Osamu. The effects of war on two inhabitants of post-war Tokyo. Short and absorbing.

The Expert by Nakajima Atushi. Excellent story, and seems to me to be very zen: the ultimate master doesn't demonstrate his art at all. 'The ultimate stage of activity is inactivity; the ultimate stage of speaking is not to speak; the ultimate stage of shooting is not to shoot.' A true master has the demeanor of a vacant idiot.


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