I love Japanese writing. The fact that the text has been translated from the Japanese and that this is very evident on reading, really appeals to me. I feel as though I am experiencing the story in its original format. Some have criticised the often clunky translations but I have yet to come across a story that I struggled to get into because of this.
My reading choices are often dictated by my mood so I go through period where I crave a short story. The first set of short stories that I can remember reading and being mesmerised by were those of Roald Dahl; Tales of the Unexpected. I read these as a child and was obsessed. Royal Jelly is a particular favourite of mine!
The Japanese short stories that I have read (as per the photograph, and one which was lent to a friend, never to be returned) feature some of funniest, darkest and intriguing writings I have encountered in a short story. I read these a long time ago and it has been a short trip down memory lane, going through my library to find these and rediscover some favourites.
- Banana Yoshimoto – Asleep
Yoshimoto’s Asleep and Kitchen (not pictured but described here) are two collections of short stories each tackling various themes affecting humanity. Asleep contains three stories covering sleep, dreams and death and there is often a romantic and fantastical element.
“Every thought I had just made me unhappy. And then, like an army in pursuit of an already thoroughly pummelled foe, the phone started to shriek. It was an awful sound. The insisted clangor got on my nerves so much that I answered with intentionally exaggerated vitality.” – Love Songs
I love this excerpt from Yoshimoto’s “Love Story” as it perfectly describes the feeling of a hangover and noise sensitivity. Her descriptions are so vivid with a quirky edge that I love that keep me reading and coming back for more. This is a great collection to dip your toe into the Japanese short story world
- Yasutaka Tsutsui – The Girl who Leapt through Time
I loved this story about a girl who accidentally discovers that she can time travel. I think it is worth a read, though I would not describe it as my favourite.
Japanese Lit.net also reviews the stories and indicates a preference to the second shorter story which touches on the aversion of a young girl to Japanese prajna/hannya masks. This book was clearly marketed at a younger audience that the next one on my list (clearly that title isn’t very child friendly!) though I do not feel that this detracts from the writing; I just have other favourites.
- Yasutaka Tsutsui – Salmonella Men on Planet Porno
This is the second collection of Tsutsui short stories that I own and title aside, I thoroughly enjoyed and found these stories much more entertaining that the previous. They are definitely more adult stories with a sci-fi, fantasy and comedic edge to them. I laughed out loud to several of these stories. Surreal and unexpected, much akin to Roald Dahl’s aforementioned collection, but with a Japanese edge, I sometimes felt that the author got really carried away with his imagination to outlandish and epic proportions. Then again, with the title being what it was, I wasn’t expecting War and Peace!
- Kenzaburo Oe – Teach us to outgrow our madness
This collection was my first experience of Oe’s work. I read this a number of years ago as a bookseller and admittedly did not finish it. Years later I think that I could appreciate these passionate writings on human relationships, acceptance, disability and death. Oe was the winner of the 1994 Nobel prize for literature and the following quote on the back cover perfectly sums up the collection,
“His poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament.” The Nobel Committee
Looking back at my bookshelves has stirred up a desire to re-read these. Perhaps I will do a post on the changing perceptions and appreciation of childhood books over time.
Let me know your favourite short story authors. Also, tell me, do you re-read books? Does your enjoyment/ understanding/ appreciation of stories alter over time?