Best known as a poet, Japanese writer Miyazawa (1896-1933) turns to folklore and European modernism alike in this welcome collection of short fiction.
It’s a pleasing sign of cultural flexibility that Japanese pop culture, by way of anime, has found room for Miyazawa as inspiration and model; it’s hard to imagine an American superhero comic making similar room for, say, Sherwood Anderson. Yet Miyazawa is certainly playful enough to sustain a cartoon or comic, even when his purpose might be darker than it would seem at first glance. Consider his story “The Restaurant of Many Orders,” whose title does not refer to the rush of customers to keep the cooks busy but instead to a bossy establishment that instructs would-be patrons to go through a series of mandates, from combing their hair to spreading cream over their faces and ears, and lots of it, too. Finally, one of the well-groomed hunters who wanders into the place comes to a realization: “I’ve an idea that ‘restaurant’ doesn’t mean a place for serving food, but a place for cooking people and serving them.” Spot-on. Some of Miyazawa’s enigmatic stories seem to conceal hints of Kafka, as with “Gorsch the Cellist,” in which a not so very accomplished musician finds that his best audience is a studious cuckoo: “In fact, the more he played the more convinced he became that the cuckoo was better than he was.“ Badgers, cats, rabbits, and other critters figure in the story, as they do in many of Miyazawa’s pieces—and it’s a stroke of Kafkaesque brilliance that in one of them, a trap that catches a rat should have a speaking role. A hallmark is “The Fire Stone," a story in which a family of puzzled rabbits comes into possession of a dazzling jewel that burns “like the fires of a volcano…[and] shone like the sunset” and that touches off all kinds of discord before it takes flight like a bird and disappears.
A marvelous writer who deserves to be much better known in English.