The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories

The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories

A major new anthology of great Japanese short stories introduced by Haruki MurakamiThis fantastically varied and exciting collection celebrates the great Japanese short story collection, from its origins in the nineteenth century to the remarkable practitioners writing today. Curated by Jay Rubin (who has himself freshly translated several of the stories) and introduced by...

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Title:The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
Author:Jay Rubin
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Edition Language:English

The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories Reviews

  • Jerry Pogan

    An absolutely sensational collection of short stories. It includes some of my favorite authors such as Mishima, Kawabata and Murakami but more importantly many authors I was unfamiliar with. I was a little disappointed that it didn't include one of my all-time favorites Kenzaburo Oe but that doesn't take anything away from just how good this book is. It opened a whole new field of authors that I can now read by giving a sample of the work they do. The translations were incredible and I felt that

    An absolutely sensational collection of short stories. It includes some of my favorite authors such as Mishima, Kawabata and Murakami but more importantly many authors I was unfamiliar with. I was a little disappointed that it didn't include one of my all-time favorites Kenzaburo Oe but that doesn't take anything away from just how good this book is. It opened a whole new field of authors that I can now read by giving a sample of the work they do. The translations were incredible and I felt that they were able to convey the feeling and intent of the authors and also the poetry of the writing. This has got to be one of the finest books I've ever read.

  • Andrew

    This book has taken me a while to read - not because it’s bad, but because I tend to read a few short stories between books. I can’t get into short story collections like a novel, I dip in and out of them over a period of time.

    This is actually one of the best collections that I have read. It has a very high hit rate - most short story collections are, for me, more miss than hit, but this is definitely the other way round.

    The stories vary from three pages to just over seventy. They are grouped

    This book has taken me a while to read - not because it’s bad, but because I tend to read a few short stories between books. I can’t get into short story collections like a novel, I dip in and out of them over a period of time.

    This is actually one of the best collections that I have read. It has a very high hit rate - most short story collections are, for me, more miss than hit, but this is definitely the other way round.

    The stories vary from three pages to just over seventy. They are grouped together in themes - Japan’s relationship with the West, disasters (natural and man made) and are not presented in chronological order, although there are a number of suggested reading orders and one of those is based around when the stories are set. I read them in theme order as presented in the book.

    There are a number of standout tales here. I adored the opening offering, “The Story Of Tomoda and Matsunaga” as well as the grim “Hell Screen” and a tale of people of lived in Hiroshima when the nuclear bomb fell. In fact, as I read the title list I have a distinct memory of most of the stories, most of the time if I looked back through a list of titles on a short story collection after reading it I would remember less than half as many would singularly fail to grab my attention. This is a collection based on the opinions of worthiness of one editor, and he has done a spectacular job. It is also a bonus that the introduction is written my Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite authors Japanese or otherwise, and two of his short stories are included here (oddly, two of the less memorable ones!)

    I hope there are more books like this. A similarly constructed collection about cultures that I don’t know all that well would be fascinating, such as China or Mexico. But definitely worth a look - it has reinvigorated my interest in short stories, unexpectedly so as this was not a book that I would necessarily have chosen to buy, it was an unexpected gift from a good friend.

  • Karen

    This is a collection of both well known to me Japanese authors, as well as those I have not heard of before. I enjoyed this collection, with an introduction by a favorite author, Murakami. As always, I enjoyed some more than others.

  • Claire

    While this has taken me nearly a month to read, I have very much enjoyed it. And it's great the stories are both old (early 1900's) and new (as recent as 2012)

    My favourite sections was 'Dread' the three stories in this sections , 'Hell Screen', 'Filling Up with Sugar' and 'Kudan' were fascinating stories. Loved them.

    Other favourites include: 'Shoulder-Top Secretary', 'Patriotism' and 'Weather-Watching Hill' as well as 'The Smile of a Mountain Witch'

    Stories that will stay with me: 'UFO in Kushiro

    While this has taken me nearly a month to read, I have very much enjoyed it. And it's great the stories are both old (early 1900's) and new (as recent as 2012)

    My favourite sections was 'Dread' the three stories in this sections , 'Hell Screen', 'Filling Up with Sugar' and 'Kudan' were fascinating stories. Loved them.

    Other favourites include: 'Shoulder-Top Secretary', 'Patriotism' and 'Weather-Watching Hill' as well as 'The Smile of a Mountain Witch'

    Stories that will stay with me: 'UFO in Kushiro', there is a strangeness to this story that makes me at peace as well as curious.

    Also enjoyed: 'The Tale of the House of Physics', 'Factory Town'

    - from 'Patriotism'

  • L S Popovich

    Since I've read every word Haruki Murakami has published in English I felt obligated to read his introduction once it showed up in the preview on Amazon. People saying "Haruki Murakami is my favorite author" has now become a cliche. But cliches can sometimes be true.

    His introduction was nice and long and juicy. My impression of the collection of stories was that they were chosen, as Mr. Rubin explains, for the casual reader. Maybe it's pretentious but I consider myself more than a casual reader

    Since I've read every word Haruki Murakami has published in English I felt obligated to read his introduction once it showed up in the preview on Amazon. People saying "Haruki Murakami is my favorite author" has now become a cliche. But cliches can sometimes be true.

    His introduction was nice and long and juicy. My impression of the collection of stories was that they were chosen, as Mr. Rubin explains, for the casual reader. Maybe it's pretentious but I consider myself more than a casual reader of Japanese fiction. I have an entire bookcase devoted to Japanese literature.

    I like to imagine what stories I would have picked if I had the opportunity to compile an anthology of this kind.

    There are new translations, which are sorely needed in this day and age. Akutagawa's previously untranslated short story "General Kim" was my favorite inclusion. Out of Akutagawa's 300+ works only 77 have thus far been translated into English. Since he's one of my other favorite authors I've actually gone to extremely nerdy lengths to read them all. I wish Rubin would just translate all of Akutagawa already. And maybe Bakin while he's at it.

    I am glad that he put a lot of translating into this volume, but why include "Patriotism" and the first chapter of Sanshiro? Not only do they take up valuable space but they are available almost anywhere. I buy anthologies because they contain stories on the brink of obscurity. Where are all the translations of Hiromi Kawakami or Junnosuke Yoshiyuki? I would have liked to see something new from Ryu Murakami, who never gets anthologized but is one of the best Japanese writers of all time.

    I gave this book four stars because it was excellent, but it really could've gotten five. The two stories by Haruki are previously available, but luckily we get something new by Banana Yoshimoto and Akutagawa which save this collection, in my opinion, from being a rehashing. It's hard to find Kenji Nakagami and we are treated to a new story by Mieko Kawakami, which was appreciated, so while I would not recommend this for your shelf if you can only have one Japanese literature anthology - it's hard to beat the two volume Columbia anthology - I'd put it in my top 5 Japanese literature anthologies. Yes, I am that much of a geek that I would create a top five.

    Though this is a step in the right direction there's about 3000 miles of stepping left to do if we are ever going to get the most out of J. Lit. I keep asking myself, why can't I just read Japanese? Oh yeah, it's insanely difficult. Anyway, check it out if you are a fan.

  • Shivani

    While I was reading this book, I found myself wondering why I love Japanese literature to the extent I do. It is one of the most exclusive set of literature based on a culture that differs markedly from any other. Even though Japan has been one of the fast developing nations in the past century, one cannot draw parallels with the West. A nation that had closed itself off to the rest of the world, went through feudal wars for centuries, saw the birth of samurai class, emergence of shogunate and g

    While I was reading this book, I found myself wondering why I love Japanese literature to the extent I do. It is one of the most exclusive set of literature based on a culture that differs markedly from any other. Even though Japan has been one of the fast developing nations in the past century, one cannot draw parallels with the West. A nation that had closed itself off to the rest of the world, went through feudal wars for centuries, saw the birth of samurai class, emergence of shogunate and gave birth to one of a kind art forms. And only as late as the 1800s did they start opening up to the West. A point in history that marked a brutal upheaval on a national scale in coming centuries.

    Despite the ensuing turmoil, Japan can be credited with a stubborn hold on its tradition. And therein lies my answer. The surviving body of literature from the writers of the past who overlapped with the assimilation of the West and those of the present gives one a taste of a world gradually lost and a new world born from the ashes. Reading the old works is akin to getting whisked back to simpler times before atomic bombs and insidious moral corruption. It is this feeling of traversing between worlds that brings me back for more.

    1) The editor/translator Jay Rubin, who has worked on some of the notable Japanese books (including Murakami's)

    2) Murakami himself, who has added a contextual introduction for the stories contained herein

    Last but definitely not the least,

    3) The stories, from a horde of authors

    As with my other reviews of short story collections, I concur that the stories here deserve a mention with their own ratings..

    5★ The Story of Tomoda and Matsunaga

    3★ Behind the Prison

    4★ Sanshiro

    3★ The Late Testament of Okitsu Yagoemon

    5★ Patriotism

    3★ Flames

    3.5★ In the Box

    4★ Remaining Flowers

    3★ Bee Honey

    4.5★ The Smile of a Mountain Witch

    4★ A Bond for Two Lifetimes - Gleanings

    3.5★ Peaches

    4★ The Tale of the House of Physics

    4.5★ Unforgettable People

    3.5★ The 1963/1982 Girl from Ipanema

    3.5★ Cambridge Circus

    4★ Closet LLB

    5★ Mr English

    5★ Factory Town

    3.5★ Dreams of Love, Etc.

    3.5★ Shoulder-Top Secretary

    5★ Hell Screen

    4★ Filling Up with Sugar

    5★ Kudan

    4★ The Great Earthquake and General Kim

    5★ Hiroshima, City of Doom

    5★ Insects

    3★ The Silver Fifty-Sen Pieces

    4★ American Hijiki

    3.5★ Pink

    3.5★ UFO in Kushiro

    4★ Weather-Watching Hill

    3.5★ Planting

    5★ Same as Always

    Just going through the titles evokes the much-relished stories in my mind. Yes, I will keep coming back to Japanese literature. And if Japan has made me devour mangas and anime with a zeal, it has also made me a more grounded reader in search for nuances and subtlety. To anyone wondering if they need lessons in Japanese culture before picking its literature, I say this : Go to the stories instead. The slow almost sensual pace of the stories makes one relish the anachronism without getting mentally jarred with each turn of the page. More than anything else, they draw heavily on human emotions. And no one needs lessons for those.

  • Pyramids Ubiquitous

    This was a very strong collection of stories. My only criticism is that there was a bit too much content regarding "Disasters, Natural and Man-Made;" they were mostly one-dimensional.

    Favorite Stories: The Story of Tomoda and Matsunaga, Patriotism, Unforgettable People, The 1963/1982 Girl from Ipanema, Mr English, Hell Screen

  • Gavin Leech

    All the classic contradictions -

    and banality, sullen obesiance and batshit intensity,

    and sexual frustration.

    There are five great stories (“

    ”, '

    ', “

    ”, “

    ”, “Mr. English”) and 10 or so enjoyable squibs (out of around 40). There aren't many great sentences, but greatness doesn't strictly need em.

    All the classic contradictions -

    and banality, sullen obesiance and batshit intensity,

    and sexual frustration.

    There are five great stories (“

    ”, '

    ', “

    ”, “

    ”, “Mr. English”) and 10 or so enjoyable squibs (out of around 40). There aren't many great sentences, but greatness doesn't strictly need em.

    Conspicuous by its absence is Shōwa fascism* - there are no positive or negative references, nor (modern German-style) defensive rightful disownment. The war is there, the terrible firestorms, the terrible hunger; but nothing of the cult (a

    , king cult, Prussia cult, and race cult) that caused them. There is a little bit of Edo totalitarianism (a lord having a maiden burned alive to render a painting of hell more realistic) at least.

    That said, one of the great achievements of 'American Hijiki' is to show how resentment and insularity can come from other sources than

    trauma or psychotic Imperial pique.

    The allure and/or horror of Western things (booze, books, bodies) features in maybe half of these. It is very common for the stories to end on an inconclusive, ambiguous, middle-distance-staring notes.

    I continue to see little in

    's lascivious, sadistic honour, though I suppose I should thus admire the portrayal of an alien outlook, which might well have overtaken the liberal-ironic-rationalist one. But Akutagawa does that better. In general I didn't see much correlation between eminence and quality (though this judgment is from behind that thick screen, translation).

    Only one piece, 'Same as Always' (about harming your child) stands for Japan's powerful, distinctive kind of horror.

    The Hiroshima piece is surprisingly flat, journalistic. I've cried at exhibits about the bombs before, so it ain't me.

    I liked Murakami's introduction, where he admits hostility to, and ignorance of, modern Japanese fiction:

    though both of his included stories are kind of dull, unaffecting.

    ---

    * In a sense, Imperial Japan was too fascist to be fascist, since "fascism" was

    .

    ---

    Ranked:

    • “Hell Screen” by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

    • 'Sanshirō' by Natsume Sōseki

    • “American Hijiki” by Akiyuki Nosaka

    • “Pink” by Tomoyuki Hoshino

    • “Mr. English” by Keita Genji

    • “In the Box” by Taeko Kōno

    • “Remaining Flowers” by Kenji Nakagami

    • “Hiyoriyama” by Kazumi Saeki

    • “Closet LLB” by Kōji Uno

    • “The Story of Tomoda and Matsunaga” by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki

    • “Filling Up with Sugar” by Yūten Sawanishi

    • “The Silver Fifty-sen Pieces” by Yasunari Kawabata

    • “The Tale of the House of Physics” by Yōko Ogawa

    • “Hiroshima, City of Doom” by Yōko Ōta

    • “Shoulder-Top Secretary” by Shin'ichi Hoshi

    • “Cambridge Circus" by Motoyuki Shibata

    • “Peaches” by Abe Akira

    • “UFO in Kushiro” by Haruki Murakami

    Below the cut:

    • “Unforgettable People” by Doppo Kunikida

    • “The Last Testament of Okitsu Yagoemon” by Ōgai Mori

    • “The Great Earthquake” by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

    • “Patriotism” by Yukio Mishima

    • “Same as Always” by Yūya Satō

    • “Bee Honey” by Banana Yoshimoto

    • “Dreams of Love, Etc.” by Mieko Kawakami

    • “The Smile of a Mountain Witch” by Minako Ohba

    • “A Bond for Two Lifetimes—Gleanings” by Fumiko Enchi

    • “Planting” by Aoko Matsuda

    • “Flames” by Yūko Tsushima

    • “The 1963/1982 Girl from Ipanema” by Haruki Murakami

    • “Factory Town” by Minoru Betsuyaku

    • “Insects” by Yūichi Seirai

    • “Kudan” by Hyakken Uchida

    • “Behind the Prison” by Kafū Nagai

  • Mike

    Looking back at the books I have read recently has left me a little disappointed, so I thought "why not find something classic to pull me out of this funk?"... I just downloaded this collection to my iPad. If I cannot find something surprising here, the problem lies in me.

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