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“Bewitched,” “Reunion,” and “Daydream” (thoughts)

January 5, 2009

shotsofshortHaving finished Akinari Ueda’s short story collection Tales of Moonlight and Rain, I want to talk about three specific stories. I chose them because they represent the very different styles of the collection, which generally fall into the classic, gothic, and Japanese categories.

Strangely enough, in the bookall of the mean or evil ghosts/spirits were women (there’s even a sentence in another story -“Demon”-saying “It may be that females, through their natural tendency toward fanatical devotion to vagaries, are apt to turn into such horrible monsters.”). “Bewitched” gives a good taste of the scarier side of the collection: a young man, Toyo-o, considered a good-for-nothing by his family, meets a mysterious woman while sheltering from bad rain.

…in stepped a beautiful woman less than twenty years of age. Her features, the way she wore her hair, her colorful robe, the perfume she exuded-all this, Toyo-o noted, made her bewitchingly voluptuous. With her was a pretty little maid of fourteen or fifteen carrying a bundle. Both were soaking wet.

Needless to say, Toyo-o quickly falls under the charming woman’s spell. Unfortunately, she isn’t what she seems, and Toyo-o finds himself in more and more trouble as their relationship progresses. I enjoyed the story’s feel-it definitely had a classic Gothic mood to it, and while the characters were all what one would expect, the story still feels fresh. It also felt very Japanese, like a window into the country’s eighteenth-century culture. This line stood out to me, when Toyo-o is speaking to the woman:

“Since he has made this offer out of kindness, I don’t see how we can refuse, even though you might collapse on the wayside.”

That’s an interesting style of politeness!

Japanese Lit Challenge“Reunion”
The next story I want to talk about also deals with classic Japanese themes: samuraisand male honour. Hasebe Samon, a scholar who lives with his mother, takes in a wounded samurai-Akana Soemon-and nurses him back to health. In the process, Soemon and Samon become as close as brothers, with Samon’s mother even adopting Soemon. I loved watching the relationship progress; here’s the key passage:

Akana Soemon accepted Samon’s suggestion, and on closer acquaintance the two became bosom friends. Samon, feeling he had acquired a good friend, spent days and nights with the samurai in deep conversation. Soemon himself began discussing the contents of classical books, showing that he, too, was a scholar, well versed particularly in the martial arts and philosophy. Soon, in their exchange of ideas, they found they were in agreement on every subject, which made them both happy. Finally the two sealed a brotherhood pact.

It’s definitely a case of telling rather than showing, but the narrative style has its own charm. Eventually, Soemon must go back to his home province for a short trip, but he promises Samon to be back by the Festival of Chrysanthemums. Whether he keeps that pact or not becomes the focus of the story, and there’s a wonderfully appropriate ending.

The final story I’m going to talk about explores yet another aspect of what I at least think of as traditional Japanese society: religion. It’s set during the tenth century and tells the story of a Buddhist monk-Kogi-who had quite an affinity for carps:

When in the course of concentrating on his artistic pursuits he became drowsy, he would reamily imagine himself plunging into th elake and swimming about among all sorts of fish, big and small. And as soon as he awoke from his daydream he would sketch what he had seen of the fish in their natural habitat. He would then paste the drawings on the wall of the temple. He called them muo no rigyo, or “dream carp.”

One day, in a dreadful illness, he falls into a coma. Upon waking up three days later, he has a fascinating story to tell that evokes that famous Zen koan of Chuang-zi and his butterfly dream.

My edition of this collection has a “critical interpretation,” which gives an interesting, if brief, description of the language. This part really struck me, because I think it sums up the unifying factor of all the stories:

Nor was [this book] simply a rehashing of the old tales and tastes in weirdness, a transmission of the old folklore. Though he did receive and pass on the folklore, Akinari created a truly fresh fantasy by means of his superior literary style. Critical readers in Japan are impressed more by the literary style of this work and by its freshness and strength in weaving together the strange fantasies than by the weirdness and mystery of its content.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2009 10:36 am

    Interesting collection – I have not come across Akinari Ueda. When I checked the Amazon Website it does not come up, and only some (very expensive) collections are available by this author. Is this published in paperback in the US?

  2. January 5, 2009 3:16 pm

    Though the sexism you mentioned before would definitely put me off too, you still made me very curious about these stories.

  3. January 6, 2009 4:14 am

    Seachanges, I’m not sure-I got my copy from the library. But I linked to a paperback version available on amazon on my ‘books read’ page-did you try that one? It’s still around $22…

    Nymeth, if you can ignore the fact that if a woman’s in the story, she’s either evil or going to end miserable, it’s a neat collection. ;)

  4. January 6, 2009 7:21 am

    This collection sounds like my husband would adore it. He loves short stories, Japanese anime (he has a collection of ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ and ‘Path of the Assassin’), loves Japanese horror films and we have a wall hanging in our living room that my mom made for him, showing a samurai ready to for battle. Thanks for this review – I’ll let him know about it.

  5. January 12, 2009 12:05 am

    Julia, I hope he does enjoy it. :)


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