You may have heard of people who say they had trudged into certain paths because of certain life-changing events, like how a moving speech of a leader can prompt one to take the route of a public servant. Sometimes, it only takes one moment to change a pathway in one’s history. I had a similar experience with Japanese literature. I only heard that Japanese writers have had very good literary yields and yet my interest was tepid at best. Many years ago, I started reading Tokyo: A Biography by Stephen Mansfield, but, despite my profound appreciation for the richness of Japan’s culture and heritage, I remained inattentive to its literature and focused my immersion elsewhere, such as in the works by Agatha Christie and Filipino writers Estrella Alfon and Gilda Cordero-Fernando.
This changed. And it’s because of one book: The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue. I bought my copy from a local online seller for two reasons. While other buyers were scrambling to beat each other for books on philosophy, poetry and feminism, this little beautiful green book published by Pushkin Press went with almost little attention. Then I thought about starting small in my repassage into Japanese literature. I bought it, read it and unexpectedly broke my heart over it. I talked with my patient husband about The Hunting Gun for hours and used it as reference as I plowed to understand men’s libertine affairs apart from and beyond those with their wives.
Before long, I hunted and hoarded books translated into English from Japanese, which is just as well because I want to read more works by Asian writers. As a fan of the theater arts, I eagerly started reading Five Modern Nō Plays written by Yukio Mishima and translated by Donald Keene, University Professor Emeritus and Shinchō Professor Emeritus of Columbia University. Keen also wrote a brief history of the Japanese literature in the Encyclopedia Britannica, which is helpful in terms of context for readers like me who are relatively new to Japanese literature. In between reading plays, I take breaks and read a short story in Rashōmon and 17 Other Stories written by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and translated by Jay Rubin who is well-known for his translations of Haruki Murakami’s works.
Another book I’m thinking of reading within the next three months is The Woman in the Dunes written by Kobo Abe and translated by E. Dale Saunders. I have many other books by Japanese writers, but I also want to read other genres, like works by Chinese-American writer Yiyun Li, Filipino writer Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas and French writer Marguerite Duras, so I need to manage my time well. So far, I have yet to come across a Japanese story in whatever form and genre that has a happy ending. What I have already read are very emotional, a distinct contrast to the moralistic, religious and humorous tones I would often find in Philippine literature.
These will be what I will be reading for the Japanese Literature Challenge 13 hosted by Dolce Belleza. It’s my first time to join, even though I heard about it long ago and perhaps pledged to myself at one point in time to join someday and had long been piqued by the enthusiasm of many book bloggers for the works of Kazuo Ishiguro, Banana Yoshimoto, Shusaku Endo, Yukio Mishima, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and Haruki Murakami, among many others. Now that I understand a little and share in their enthusiasm, I look forward to what memorable moments this challenge will give me.