Seven stories spanning most of the career of the foremost Japanese novelist of his time (1925-70), best known in America for The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea and his Sea of Fertility tetralogy. Mishima's favorite themes--the ambiguity of love, the discovery of identity through ritual, self-surrender and self-control--make him an acquired taste in the West, and this new volume of chips from an austere master's studio isn't likely to win him many new American friends. But all the stories--even the slightest of them, the atypically comic ""Fountains in the Rain"" and the inconclusive ""Raisin Bread""--give valuable glimpses of Mishima himself, less obviously intent on heroic delicacy than in his novels. ""Sword,"" a story of friendship, hero-worship, and tragic machismo at a fencing club, reads like a sketch for a Mishima novel;""Sea and Sunset,"" about the Children's Crusade, and the obscure parable ""Martyrdom"" show the author as he rarely appears elsewhere. The best of the stories--the early adolescent initiation tale ""Cigarette,"" and the long and remarkably sustained title story, which shows at length a housekeeper's selfless devotion to an aging professor before finally revealing the true relationship between them--are both (especially the last) worth the price of admission. Not major work, but rewarding both for devotees of Mishima's novels and for new audiences who wonder what the fuss was about.