Three distinguished short stories by modern Japanese authors make use of the cruelty and pathos in their country's ancient tradition. Each story has an historical setting in the sense that they are not stories about modern Japan, but, on the other hand, no story is very closely tied to any particular historical period. In Songs of Oak Mountain, in a village where there is never enough food, a son must take his aging mother to the top of a sacred mountain and leave her there to die. An enormously successful story, which is technically interesting for its recurrent use of song snatches to advance the plot, it was the first published story (in 1956) of a new Japanese writer. Ohan is about a vacillating man and his deserted wife who fulfills, to the last measure, the submissive role expected of her. The third story, Asters is a brutal allegorical piece about a young noble's consuming desire to kill. Written in an English style unusually free of translator's infelicities, this collection of Japanese stories is always absorbing, frequently moving, sometimes horrifying.