The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories : Part 4
Unzen by Endo Shusaku. An unusual story relating how a modern-day writer makes a pilgrimage to Unzen - a mountainside near a town named Obama - where many Christians were tortured and then executed in 1629. He retraces the steps of a man called Kichijiro who had renounced his Christian faith to save the lives of his wife and children, exploring ideas of guilt and belief along the way.
The Bet by Abe Kobo. A weird and wonderful story about an architect who has been called in to design an office for the president of an advertising company. It is modern - Brave New World set in a sixties TV programme like the Avengers. It has a surreal dream-like quality and is about creativity and the power of advertising.
Three Policeman by Yoshiyuki Junnosuke. A very short story featuring a 'gay-boy' and indicating the attitudes of the post-war generation to the war years and the 'oldies' that lived then.
Onnagata by Mishima Yukio. An engaging tale about an 'onnagata' from a traditional kabuka company who falls in love (a silkworm enveloped in a cocoon of love) with a young director who has been called in to direct a new play. An onnagata is a man in drag in a kabuka performance, who is accorded special qualities. 'Even after Mangiku disrobed, it was apparent that he was still wearing several layers of splendid costumes beneath his skin...' An accomplished onnagata must live as a woman in real life - must keep up the pretense at all times. 'An onnagata is the child born of the illicit union between dream and reality.'
It is a very well structured and interesting story, and through it I learnt a lot about traditional Japanese theatre.
Toddler-hunting by Kono Taeko. Akiko, as a small girl aged between 3 and 10, felt herself to be repulsive - like the silkworm pupa still faintly squirming inside its cocoon, slowing binding itself up in the thread issuing from its own body. Later, she finds all girls that age to be similarly repulsive. She does like little boys, though, and these have an important part in her sado-masochist fantasies. According to Wikipedia Kono is one of the most important modern writers in Japan, and this story is one of her most famous. She deals with the modern Japanese woman who has moved on from the traditional role, and is childless and unmarried with unconventional sexual practices. Although I can see this story is interesting, unusual and powerful in its characterisations and descriptions, there are others I like much better.
Mr Carp by Mukoda Kuniko. A really good story about a family-man whose former mistress leaves a carp (symbol of love) in his kitchen. The carp causes him to eventually return to where his mistress used to live with his son.
The Duel by Kaiko Takeshi. Brilliantly described duel between the habu snake and the mongoose - with a strong setting. Mysterious and with strong undercurrents.