Back in July 2019, I published a post with brief summaries of some of the collections of Japanese literature I’d reviewed. That post has been updated a couple of times since, and now (January 2022), with #JanuaryInJapan in full swing, I thought it might be a nice idea to turn it into a permanent page and relaunch it. If I find and read any further collections, I’ll be sure to add to the page, but for now, here’s a quick overview of a dozen different collections, with links to my full review of each book and to many of the writers featured in them. I hope this will encourage some of you to give a few of these a try 🙂
The Book of Tokyo, edited by Michael Emmerich, Jim Hinks and Masashi Matsuie
This is another in the Comma Press series featuring cities in short fiction, and while you won’t find any classics here, if you’re looking for a quick introduction to contemporary Japanese writing, this may be for you. The featured writers include Hiromi Kawakami and Banana Yoshimoto, with a nice mix of the established and new in terms of authors translated into English.
Tony’s Tip: Hideo Furukawa’s ‘Model T Frankenstein’ (translated by Samuel Melissa)
Granta 127: Japan, edited by Yuka Igarashi (Granta)
Another collection focusing on contemporary writing, the Granta Japan edition has both short pieces by Japanese writers as well as some written in English about Japan (such as an Akutagawa-inspired piece by David Mitchell set in a coffee shop…). Again, there are some big names involved (Sayaka Murata, Tomoyuki Hoshino), with some interesting non-fiction pieces, too.
Tony’s Tip: Hiroko Oyamada’s ‘Spider Lilies’ (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter)
The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, edited by Theodore W. Goossen
(Oxford University Press)
This would probably be at the top of my list for those wanting an introduction to Japanese literature, with stories from the greats (Kawabata, Mishima, Endo, Akutagawa) and some more recent writers, too. This one probably includes more of the must-read writers than any other collection, taking you from the start of the modern era right up to the 1990s – a great collection.
Tony’s Tip: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s ‘In a Grove’ (translated by Takashi Kojima)
Modern Japanese Stories, edited by Ivan Morris (Tuttle Publishing)
A similar concept to the Oxford collection, but far older (here, modern means Kawabata…). This used to be hard to find, but Tuttle have recently released a new edition, so you’re in luck 🙂
Tony’s Tip: Einosuke Itō’s ‘Nightingale’ (translated by Geoffrey Sargent)
Modern Japanese Literature, edited by Donald Keene (Grove Press)
Keene’s collection treads similar ground to the Morris anthology but is differentiated by the inclusion of poetry and drama (including plays like Kan Kikuchi’s The Madman on the Roof), meaning it’s the one to go for if you want more than just fiction.
Tony’s Tip: Nagai Kafu’s ‘The River Sumida’ (translated by Donald Keene)
Anthology of Japanese Literature, edited by Donald Keene (Grove Press)
The legendary Keene didn’t stop at modern literature. This anthology takes the reader back to the beginnings of Japanese writing and offers snippets from all the classics through the ages, including The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book (perhaps this isn’t one for J-Lit novices…). Even more so than its modern companion book, Anthology of Japanese Literature prefers extracts to short stories, so many of the pieces are taken from longer works.
Tony’s Tip: Yoshida Kenkō’s ‘Essays in Idleness’ (translated by G.B. Sansom)
The Mother of Dreams, edited by Makoto Ueda (Kodansha International)
Sadly, the subtitle ‘Portrayals of Women in Modern Japanese Fiction‘ proves to be a little deceptive. While women feature heavily in the stories, unfortunately (as is the case with most of these collections), most are written by men. It’s still an interesting collection, but you’ll probably have to hunt down a second-hand copy as it appears to be out of print.
Tony’s Tip: Yumie Hiraiwa’s ‘Lady of the Evening Faces’ (translated by Patricia Lyons)
For Dignity, Justice, and Revolution,
edited by Heather Bowen-Struyk and Norma Field (University of Chicago Press)
Something a little different… This is an anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature, and it feels nothing like any of the other collections here, a fascinating glimpse of a side of J-Lit you won’t find promoted in the usual places. I wouldn’t say that everything included is necessarily of the highest quality (some of the stories can be a little preachy and obvious), but it’s well worth a read for anyone with more than a passing interest in Japanese fiction.
Tony’s Tip: Yuriko Miyamoto’s ‘The Breast’ (translated by Heather Bowen-Struyk)
Keshiki: New Voices from Japan (Strangers Press)
This isn’t a collection as such, but a series of eight chapbooks featuring stories by contemporary writers, a project associated with the British Centre for Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia and supported by the Nippon Foundation through Writers Centre Norwich. The biggest name here is probably Yōko Tawada, but Masatsugo Ono has also had longer work published in English.
Tony’s Tip: Keiichirō Hirano’s ‘The Transparent Labyrinth’ (translated by Kerim Yasar)
The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature,
edited by J. Thomas Rimer and Van C. Gessel (Columbia University Press)
This was originally a monstrous two-volume affair, spanning the modern (post-1868) era, but I have the condensed one-volume edition, which still runs to over 900 pages. Sadly, despite owning it for several years, I still haven’t got around to finishing it, mainly because it’s hidden behind rows of other books 😦
Tony’s Tip: Mori Ōgai’s ‘The Dancing Girl’ (translated by Richard Bowring)
Autumn Wind and Other Stories
Selected and translated by Lane Dunlop (Tuttle Publishing)
This one is slightly different in that it’s a one-man show, with Dunlop translating all the stories. It’s an excellent collection featuring fourteen stories, with a mix of big names and lesser lights, and with none of the pieces available elsewhere, it makes for another book to track down for those who have already devoured the other collections showcased here. There is one drawback, though – it’s currently out of print…
Tony’s Tip: Yumiko Kurahashi’s ‘Ugly Demons’
The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories,
edited by Jay Rubin (Penguin Classics)
This recent arrival on the anthology block takes a slightly different approach by grouping the many stories into various categories. While Haruki Murakami pretty much phones in his introduction, there’s far more quality in the actual fiction, with a nice mix of interesting stories from classic and modern writers. One major inclusion here is Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s lengthy novella, ‘The Story of Tomoda and Matsunaga’, but there are many more great stories to enjoy 🙂
Tony’s Tip: Fumiko Enchi’s ‘A Bond for Two Lifetimes – Gleanings’