[SS] Japanese Stories

June 12, 2010 § 12 Comments

Short Saturday: I join Mee on her journey in search of 5-star quality short stories. It’s all about the journey, she says, not the destination.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read any short stories, so imagine my delight when I found this little treasure of a book sitting on my aunt’s shelf! It’s a collection of 178 different short stories written by different authors of different nationalities. How’s that for diverse? To begin with, I decided to read two Japanese stories, which also coincides with Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge 4, which I’ve not talked about, but am really excited to be participating in.

The first of the two short stories I want to talk about is The Forty-Seven Ronins, written by an anonymous author in the early 18th Century. It was later translated by A.B. Mitford in 1870.

I found this story to be very delightful, in the sense that it reminded me so much of the very traditional Japan that I grew up loving. The samurai spirit, the taking revenge for masters when they have been wronged; all the faith and loyalty that we call ‘old-fashioned’ these days. Granted, it’s not pleasant to be reading about people performing the hara kiri (committing suicide by disemboweling), however it’s something that is very distinct about Japanese history, and to my mind, it’s part of that spirit that makes Japan so unique in so many ways.

I found the translation a little difficult to read, but it could be because of the language at the time when it was written/translated. But still, it’s nice to read stories that tell of a time so different from ours, something that reads like a fable, or myth, yet remains so deeply rooted in culture and history.

Rating: 4


Next is a short story by Mori Ogwai, The Pier. For a story that is only 4-5 pages long, I was a little surprised at how long I spent reading and understanding it. For one thing, that language is not what I have come to expect of translated Japanese literature. The prose is disjointed, and really, after giving it more thought after finishing the story, it read more like a movie or short film, rather than written prose.

This story is basically about a woman saying farewell to her husband at the pier as he prepares to go off. That is the whole of the story. What makes it what it is, is the fact that the scenes happen right before your eyes, as if you’re watching her every move, how her hair flutters in the wind, how the people around her are responding to each other. It’s like watching a silent film, there are no sounds, just movements, enough to portray the character’s emotions and thoughts.

It’s an interesting way to tell a story. I haven’t yet come across other stories like this. It takes a little getting used to, I think, and a little bit of rereading (which isn’t difficult, considering that it’s only 5 pages). It’s like wanting to discover more of the little details that you’ve missed the first time round.

Rating: 3.5


§ 12 Responses to [SS] Japanese Stories

  • JoV says:

    Use to have one of those sewing machine in my parent’s home! I was drawn to the sewing machine rather than the book! Nice to have you back. 😉

    • Michelle says:

      Don’t you just love those old-fashioned sewing machines? I grew up watching my grandmother using one of those. =)

  • mee says:

    LOL my eyes went straight to the sewing machine too! It’s like one of those machines my dad has. That sounds like an awesome collection. I can see Poe and Chekhov names there. Which stories of theirs are there? I have Poe collection at home and I’ve been meaning to read him forever.

    • Michelle says:

      It does seem like a great collection. I’ve yet to read the others yet, but I’m definitely planning to read from this collection for the next couple of [SS] posts that I do.

  • Bellezza says:

    I find Japanese short stories to be very interesting, although I’ve only read a few of Haruki Murakami’s and the others were from ghost story books. One is called Realm of the Dead, and the other was Tales of Moonlight and Rain; both of them depicted stories so eerily, and so vividly, that I still remember them four years later!

    The two you describe here sound fascinating (I like how you rated them, too!); I need to remember this genre in my reading because I seem to read only novels. Thanks for reminding us, and steering us in fresh directions!

    • Michelle says:

      I think I don’t read nearly enough Japanese short stories too! It was just such a coincidence that I found this collection at my aunt’s house, and I was really excited to see that there were a couple from Japan.

  • Suko says:

    The Pier sounds absolutely fascinating to me, like a sketch. Terrific review.

  • Novroz says:

    I really want to read 47 ronins, especially because it will be made into movie soon.

    You should try reading the square persimmon by takashi atoda…I love his short stories

    • Michelle says:

      It will be made into a movie? Really? That sounds interesting. Must keep an eye out for it then.

      Thanks for the suggestion. I don’t think I’ve heard of Atoda before… Hmm..

  • chasing bawa says:

    The 47 Ronin is such a famous story – they always do a period drama every year or so on Japanese TV because it’s so dramatic – you practically grow up with it if you live in Japan. I haven’t read any Mori Ogai yet but I’ve got a copy of Modern Japanese Stories edited by Ivan Morris ,which I’ve just remembered I’d kept safely somewhere and need to dig up, in which I think Mori features, perfect for JLC4. Great Short Stories of the World sounds like a wonderful anthology!

    • Michelle says:

      Ah. It takes someone who knows a little more about Japan to be able to tell us that 47 Ronin is a famous story. I didn’t know that! But now that you mention it, it does sound like something that would be well-known in Japan. The same way some stories are so well-known in China.

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