In July 2009, right after I started The Reading Life, I signed up to participate in Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge 3. All you were asked to do is read one Japanese literary work. At that point I had never read any Japanese literature. It was not that I harbored any prejudice, it was just that back in the pre-Internet dark ages when I went to school there was literally almost no Japanese literature in translation. By the time the book stores had translations my reading dance card was already pretty full. Japanese Literature 3 opened up a fabulous new literary world to me. Since then I have read a lot of Japanese works, every thing from Medieval poetry to transcendent master works by Nobel Laureates to close to pornography. (On a side note, some of the near porn in the eyes of the prudes would be by one of the Laureates, Kenzaburo Oe whose work I cherish totally.)
Several Japanese authors are on my read everything by them I can list. The Japanese Literature Challenge 8 web page has lots of wonderful reading suggestions. I will be reading Japanese Literature the rest of my life. There are now thousands of translated works available. Historically, modern Japanese literature starts around 1890 when a small number of elite young men, often able to read French began to publish short stories in literary journals. (Many of these men were on an interesting to me note, descended from Samurais.) They were tremendously influenced by French writers like Flaubert, Stendahl, and Mauspassant. Writers like Poe, Chekhov and Turgenav were available in Japanese. Most of these young men had been educated in the Confucian tradition which looked down on literature for "entertainment". If you read novels and stories from diverse decades you can see a developing away from didactic learned Confucian influenced works to the post WWII era when Japanese writers begin to try to deal with the complete destruction of their cultural base brought about by their defeat in World War II. As I see it, this issue still is very important in the 21st Century.
Yesterday I took a wonderful collection of short stories, The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, edited and introduced by Theodore Goosen with me to The French Baker Cafe in Trinoma Mall to hang out while my wife did some shopping. I ended up reading five short stories. I really liked them all.
Inque Yashushi (1907 to 1992) was a very popular historical fiction writer mostly focused on China in the 1500s. (Sometimes he is listed as Yashushi Inque-I followed the usage in the Oxford edition.) "Passage to Fadaraku" centers on the Abbot of a Buddhist monastery. Traditionally once they reached sixty many of the abbots made a kind of suicide voyage to a paradise mythical island, Fudaruka. A raft type boat is prepared. The abbot, still alive, is sealed in a wooden box with a few days of food and water. Believers accompany the boat for a few miles of the Journey then turn back on another boat. It is expected the abbot will die and be reborn on Fudaruka. The preparations of the trip are marvelously described. We can feel the abbot's unvoiced fears. He visualizes himself walking on the ocean floor. He is not required by his office to do so but it will bring great blessings on those who follow his teachings. This is a very moving, deeply thought provoking and beautiful story.