Wednesday, 9 June 2010

New Writing in Japan

The early 1970's saw Penguin Books publish the New Writing in...series, which devoted a volume of prose and poetry of each country it covered, the cover of the Japan edition features a detail from a painting by Kawabata Ryushi, and was edited by Geoffrey Bownas and Yukio Mishima, in Geoffrey Bownas's translator's preface, the shock of Mishima's suicide of some months previously is felt, Bownas recalls the last time he met Mishima and looks back at the last movements of the author's life . The collection contains many of the big names from Japanese literature and also some that are not so recognised outside of Japan, many of the translations are by Geoffrey Bownas, although other translator's pieces are featured. Mishima's story Patriotism is included, which has recently been republished by New Directions. The Catch by Oe Kenzaburo is included here, translated by John Bester, the story also featured in the anthology in The Catch and Other War Stories. The Cosmic Mirror is a short story by Haniya Yutaka, Haniya was born in Taiwan in 1910 and was imprisoned during the war due to his political leanings, the story is set in the realm of sleep and dream, here the protagonist has learned the skill of controlling his movements within his dream. As he progresses within his dream we follow him as he makes his way to a room in a cellar, which is at the bottom of a very long and dark staircase. In the room hangs a mirror that has a strange light to it, the character tells us that since he was young he had come to regard mirrors as the 'tool of the devil' , and that they offered glimpses into other worlds, night after night he returns to the room staring into the mirror. One night he stares very closely, putting his eyes up close to the mirror, and cupping his hands to block the light from within the room, he stares again, concentrating his vision on the blackness of the pupils of his eyes, he begins to see movement.

Yoshiyuki Junnosuke's story included here is Sudden Shower/Shu-u(1954),which won the Akutagawa Prize, it tells the relationship of Hideo Yamamura who works in an office on board a steam ship, and that of the prostitute he visits, Michiko. After visiting her a number of times Hideo realizes that he has feelings of jealousy when he contemplates her being with her other customers. Together they visit a fortune teller who foresees that Michiko will succeed in her life, recently she has been contemplating leaving her profession and maybe opening a flower shop. Hideo has to travel away to a colleague's wedding, whilst away Hideo finds it harder and harder to keep Michiko out of his thoughts, after seeing what he believes was a look of relief on her face when she discovered that he's actually single and not married. When he returns from the wedding, his jealousy seems to be at breaking point, when he's told that he has to wait before he can see her as she's with a customer. Junnosuke's prose is taught in capturing Hideo's confusion at trying to decipher if her feelings for him are real, or just a tool being used to keep him returning. Kobo Abe's Stick and Red Cocoon, two well anthologised stories, also in the prose segment of the book stories from Ishihara Shintaro and Yasuoka Shotaro. Inagaki Taruho is a writer I've been looking forward to explore, whose book One Thousand and One Second Stories is soon to be reissued, the piece included here is Icarus.

The poetry that Mishima and Bownas chose comes from the poets, Tanikawa Shuntaro, Tsuji Takashi, Yoshioka Minoru, Anzai Hitoshi, Tamura Ryuichi, Shiraishi Kazuko, Takahashi Mutsuo, tanka from Tsukamoto Kumio and Mizushima Hatsu's modern haiku. Most of these I've got to know through this collection, Shiraishi Kazuko has recently had a collection published by New Directions, My Floating Mother,City. Takahasi Mutsuo has six poems included here, some taken from his un-translated collection, Rose Tree, End of Summer, a dark poem about obsessive love. This is quite a unique little anthology for a number of reasons, which is sadly out of print at the moment.

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