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‘Blue Bamboo: Japanese Tales of Fantasy’: Between the fantasy and reality of Osamu Dazai

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Osamu Dazai packs wry humor and warm humanity into seven short stories, as his collection, “Blue Bamboo,” inventively blurs the line between fantasy and reality.

Blue Bamboo: Japanese Tales of Fantasy, by Osamu Dazai, Translated by Ralph F. McCarthy.
184 pages
KODANSHA, Fiction.

The first and last stories feature a realistically quirky group of siblings who take turns at competitive, oral storytelling. The resulting story-within-a- story narratives firmly establishes the tone for the entire collection by slyly acknowledging the craft, ego and crazy inventiveness that narrative creativity engenders. Inspired equally by Chinese folk tales and mundane aspects of Japanese life, Dazai’s other characters include chrysanthemum fairies and vengeful mermaids alongside pedantic scholars and prideful gardeners.

Considered one of Japan’s best prose stylists, Dazai’s confident skills and imaginative genius are fully on display, as is a purity and lightness in tone that contrast deeply with his later works. Both wise and life-affirming, these stories blithely accept the ugly realities of humanity alongside fantastic, supernatural possibilities, and the combination makes for a surprisingly uplifting read. A classic short-story collection and a must for any fan of Japanese literature, “Blue Bamboo” celebrates life, love and the supernatural in ways consistently intelligent and thoughtful.

A rarely seen side of Dazai in English, the collection also reveals the humanity of a writer best known for his lost humanity of his 1948 autobiographical novel, “No Longer Human.”

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.