Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Tokyo Stories - A Literary Stroll

After finishing The Book of Tokyo: A City in Short Fiction recently published by Comma Press, I turned to Tokyo Stories - A Literary Stroll edited and translated by Lawrence Rogers, I've had a copy of this for a long time and it seemed the natural book to continue on with. Similar to The Book of Tokyo, Tokyo Stories has a mixture of well known authors juxtaposed with those who are making their debut into English, as well as featuring stories from Mishima, Kawabata, Akutagawa, Kafu and Soseki, there are stories from, (among others), Takedo Rintaro, Irokawa Takehiro, and Ikeda Michiko. Where it might be said of The Book of Tokyo that the stories feel on the whole largely character driven, Tokyo Stories remains rooted in the city, an aspect to the collection is that a place or an area mentioned in one story may resurface again in another from a different author, with a different perspective lending them the impression of being impervious to time and a sense of permanence arises. The book is divided into four main areas, Central Tokyo, Shitamachi, West of the Palace, and The South End, and comes with a map included at the start to help with the locating, what is interesting is in his introductions to each of the stories Rogers elucidates their settings, for instance the location of the real fountains of one of the two Mishima stories here, Fountains in the Rain. The second story of Mishima's located in the shitamachi section is Fire Works which as far as I can see can only be found in translation in this anthology, it's a story of a chance meeting between two young men who share an exacting resemblance to one another, whilst working at a part time job the narrator stumbles into what could surmount as being a scandal involving a senior politician and the man with whom he shares the resemblance with, it carries the hallmarks of themes that feature in many of Mishima's writing.

Tokyo Stories is a book that inspires further reading, the Akutagawa story is the family chronicle The Death Register which acts as a prompt so seek out more of his stories, perhaps in Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, the offering of Soseki is a snippet from Inside My Glass Doors, a book which celebrates it's centenary this year, which you very much feel like continuing with when you reach the end of what is represented here, and from Kawabata is Kid Ume, the Silver Cat from The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa. Along with these prompts the suggested reading list points to further titles of interest, two standouts for me being Peter Popham's Tokyo: The City at the End of the World (Kodansha), which as far as I can see is out of print, and also Jinnai Hidenobu's Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology.

Contrary also to giving the impression of the permanence of some of the city's more famous locations is also that of places  disappearing from the map as can be seen in Ikeda Michiko's An Unclaimed Body which offers a rare female perspective of a worker living in the San'ya area, the main aspect of the narrative is made up of observations of the other women living in her shared dormitory, eventually focusing onto one woman who through the story becomes hostile to the narrator and falls ill which leads to a somewhat foreseeable fate, again the story prompts to seek out other works on the area and subject; Edward Fowler's San'ya Blues - Labouring Life in Contemporary Tokyo as well as, although a more broader study; Tom Gill's Men of Uncertainty, and of course Oyama Shiro's A Man With No Talents, the disappearance occurs when the narrator observes the change of the place name on bus time tables, which marks the beginning of the erasing of San'ya. Along with An Unclaimed Body Tokyo Stories offers a number of additional stories with prominent female narratives, Sata Ineko's Elegy from 1945, an autobiographically inspired piece has as it's narrator an assistant from Maruzen set just before the Kanto earthquake, and a story from the immediate post war years is The Old Part of Town by Hayashi Fumiko, a story with a more fraught edge is one of two from Takedo Rintaro, The Image, which conveys in a close up first person narrative style a woman's obsessive and unrequited love. The stories collected in Tokyo Stories span some nine decades of seeing events and places of the city from a fascinating array of perspectives and is well worth picking up for the number of translations some maybe acquainted with and more so of the authors and stories who remain untranslated elsewhere.

Tokyo Stories - A Literary Stroll at University of California Press                 



Parrish Lantern said...

This really appeals, The idea of using known & lesser known writers to tell the tale of this city sounds interesting

me. said...

This is well worth seeking out, the introductions and foreword from Lawrence Rogers are fascinating in themselves!