Tag Archives: japanese literature

Book Review – Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa


Rashomon and Other Stories (Tuttle Classics)Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short stories have always been a a challenge for me, and this is probably the most cryptic set of stories that I have read yet.

What is it about these enormously acclaimed Japanese authors of the earlier 20th century. The first I read was Yukio Mishima, who over and above being known for his controversial novels, is most remembered for his ritual suicide by sepukku; and now Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, who is called the “father of the Japanese short story” and has Japan’s premier literary award named after him, is also remembered for having killed himself at the age of 35.
Their literature and writings seem to have a cult following, because they definitely aren’t mass market material – and this is what attracted me to read some of their works.

This is a set of 6 tales that essentially explore dimensions of human nature. I don’t want to summarize the stories here, but I have to say that after reading each one of them, I looked up analyses online to understand the latent meanings that were clearly evading me – and in some cases I was surprised that I had almost completely missed the point – which in itself was amusing.

These are good stories to be read aloud, discussed and ruminated over. A good choice for book club reading. They are not very long, but some of them are complex.

The movie Rashomon was made based on two stories from this set and is highly acclaimed even today – with a rating of 8.3 on IMDb. That will be an interesting followup to the book.

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Book Review: Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima


Spring SnowSpring Snow by Yukio Mishima

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spring Snow is not a book you can rush through. The very style and period of writing gives it a reserved and restrained feel, as if it’s almost impolite to be reading it any quicker. Considered Japan’s most famous writer, Mishima’s own story is so strange that it almost doesn’t fit with his intellectual and philosophical writing style. But then again, probably only such a man, who so definitively broke cultural boundaries and traditional aesthetics, would have as strange a story as his own.

While the book isn’t a difficult one to read, there are many lengthy philosophical digressions, and some very very descriptive passages about the environment the characters are surrounded by. Sometimes a whole chapter will consist of only the description of the snow, trees, blooms, the sea or procedures of a ritual, often disconnected to the actual story. But what it does do, is that it creates a very detailed picture and mood of Japan in the 1910s.

I felt the need to read a couple of reviews and analyses after finishing the book, probably in an attempt to understand if there was more than met the eye and a deeper essence that I was supposed to have appreciated. In the end, the story was a simple tale of rash youth that ends in tragedy (an avoidable waste of lives), but the mystic setting of early 19th century Japan and the interesting characterizations that appear to be so mute and demure on the outside, but are really so vocal and unquiet on the inside give it a very classic ‘Japanese’ feel – which to me was the main appeal of the book.

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