Books / Reviews | RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOKS ABOUT JAPAN

'Modern Japanese Short Stories' review: A bridge between past and present

by Kris Kosaka

Contributing Writer

A classic introduction to Japanese short fiction is Tuttle’s “Modern Japanese Short Stories.” First published in 1962, the collection remains essential today as a first look into the diverse landscape of contemporary short fiction in Japan and to the many magazines that support their publication.

Modern Japanese Short Stories: Twenty-Five Stories by Japan’s Leading Writers, Edited by Ivan Morris.
512 pages
TUTTLE PUBLISHING, Fiction.

Ivan Morris, acclaimed translator and scholar of Japanese literature, edited the 1962 collection, with a new edition to be published in July. Morris also wrote a comprehensive introduction and penned many of its translations. With a new foreword by Seiji Lippit, the upcoming volume showcases the great breadth of the short story form, and also acts as a bridge to more recent collections.

Since most of the stories included reflect the immediate postwar period, the book acts as a time capsule of the issues and themes reflected in the literature of the day. In doing so, one weakness is the lack of women writers represented: Only two out of 25 authors are women.

Despite this, the collection enthralls with its varied, thoughtful selections: Junichiro Tanizaki’s “Tattoo,” an erotic exploration of art, obsession and power; the juxtaposition of humor and horror in “The Camellia” by Ton Satomi; Tatsuo Nagai’s “Morning Mist,” part essay, part fiction; as well as stories by Yukio Mishima, Osamu Dazai and Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

Offering readers a doorway into the past and gorgeously illustrated by black-and-white Japanese woodblock prints, it is a worthy collection to savor.