The Reading Life Japanese Literature Project
Yesterday I read a great short story by Yukio Mishima. This morning I read another short story by one of the greats of 20th century Japanese Literature, Yasunari Kawabata (1899 to 1972-Nobel Prize 1968). In September of 2009 I read and posted on one of his most famous novels, The Old Capital. As I began to read The Old Capital I was struck by how many images from nature were in the book. I began to count them and in the 187 page work I found over 750 references to flowers, trees, plants and gardens. The novel deals directly with the conflict in post WWII Japanese culture between those who wanted to cling to old forms and their great beauty and tradition and those who rushed to adopt western consumerism.
After too long a hiatus, I am glad to be again reading a few Japanese works.
As "The Jay" opens an elderly nearly blind Japanese grandmother hears a baby bird outside their window crying. He has fallen from the nest. The bird's mother is seeking her. We quickly learn that the central character in the story, a young soon to be married woman, is living with her father and second wife, her step mother. Her mother left the family in pursuit of a faster more exciting life style than her husband could or would provide. Yoshiko begins to ponder why the mother bird cares more for her off spring than her own mother does for her. Yoshiko finds out her younger brother has done something very shocking. He has sought out and found their birth mother. Yoshiko feels only evil will come of this. Her step mother says she always knew and feared that one day the children would seek out their real mother. The son wants to get to know his mother. The normally calm father once flew into a wild rage when Yoshiko just showed him a picture of their mother.
The plot is very well resolved and narrated. I will not tell anymore of it. Readers of other works by Kawabata will find the story to be what they would expect, a nature centered story of great beauty and depth and new readers can "try him out".
You can read it online HERE