No one reads Junnosuke Yoshiyuki (1924-94), a prolific Japanese author who wrote short stories, novel(la)s, essays, translations of stories by Henry Miller and Kingsley Amis, and, for a time, edited and wrote for—what he later described—a “third-rate” scandal sheet.
With the additional intent of briefly highlighting anthologies of Japanese literature, here is an annotated list of Yoshiyuki’s writings available in English translation:
- “Sudden Shower” (Shūu), trans. Geoffrey Bownas, New Writing in Japan (Penguin, 1972). This is the anthology that Bownas compiled with the legendary Yukio Mishima, they completed their collaboration just a few months before Mishima’s coup attempt and seppuku. In the introductory essay, Mishima wrote:
The delicacy of Yoshiyuki’s language and sensibility is probably more subtle and sophisticated than that of any Japanese writer since the war. “Sudden Shower” is not just a love story; Yoshiyuki gives us first-hand experience of the woman’s sensuality and we are made to feel somehow like skin-divers on the sea-bed of man’s passions and emotions. […] The lyricism of Yoshiyuki’s writing is semi-neurotic and, by restricting his subject, he is able to convey a deeply sensual experience in a world as confined as a bath-tub. The idée fixe of Japanese youth today—that love is impossible and impracticable—lies deep at the root of Yoshiyuki’s thinking.“Sudden Shower” was Yoshyuki’s first literary success, he was lying sick in a hospital bed when he was told that it had just won the 1954 Akutagawa Prize. (Also, this collection begins with Bownas’ translations of two excellent stories by other Japanese writers no one reads, “Icarus” by Taruho Inagaki and “Cosmic Mirror” by Yutaka Haniya.)
- The Dark Room (Anshitsu), trans. John Bester (Kodansha, 1975; orig. 1970). Yoshiyuki’s only novel, thus far, available in English. It was awarded the Tanizaki Prize. With that said, he is often compared to Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, and they do have much in common, but Yoshiyuki’s subdued style makes his writings bleaker and more haunting. The narrator’s pessimism toward domesticity and procreation is the basis of this disconcerting novel—however, I think Yoshiyuki achieves as much or even outdoes this novel with some of his shorter works.
- “In Akiko’s Room” (Shōfu no heya; literally, “A Prostitute’s Room”), trans. Howard Hibbett, Contemporary Japanese Literature: An Anthology of Fiction, Film and Other Writing Since 1945 (Alfred A. Knopf, 1977). Another historic anthology; the 2005 reprint is a bit pricey and it only adds a two-page preface by Hibbett, so look for the older editions.
- “Are the Trees Green?” (Kigi wa midori ka), trans. Adam Kabat, The Shōwa Anthology - Modern Japanese Short Stories, 1929-1984 (Kodansha, 1985). One of my favourite Yoshiyuki stories, and it’s only found in this must-have anthology, which features neglected authors and lesser-known stories by well-known authors, e.g., Kōbō Abe, Ōe, Kawabata. (Note: it’s common that sellers only have one of the volumes from the older, two-volume edition: Yoshiyuki is in the first book.)
- “Three Policemen” (Sannin no keikan), trans. Hugh Clarke, The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories (1997). Even though this anthology covers a broader timespan, and it’s easier to track down, I prefer the overall selections in the aforementioned anthologies. “Three Policemen” is a quick and entertaining introduction to Yoshiyuki’s portraits of (postwar) nightlife.
- “Personal Baggage”, trans. John Bester, The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, vol. 2 of 2 (2007). The most ambitious and comprehensive anthology to date. (One of the editors, Van C. Gessel, also worked on the above Shōwa collection.) “Personal Baggage” is a clear example of what Yoshiyuki meant by “internal realism”, a term he proposed as a more accurate classification of his later works. The story is a nightmarish and disorientating account of the mind’s unsteadiness and unreliable self-righting mechanism.
- Fair Dalliance: Fifteen Stories by Yoshiyuki Junnosuke and its companion Toward Dusk and Other Stories were published by Kurodahan Press in 2011. Fair Dalliance features two biographical essays on Yoshiyuki and fifteen previously uncollected stories that span his diverse career; “My Bed is a Boat”, “The Man Who Fired the Bath”, “I Ran Over a Cat”, “Three Dreams”, “The Flies”, and “Katsushika Ward” are my favourites from the collection. Toward Dusk and Other Stories opens with an interesting exegesis on Yoshiyuki’s fiction, and presents nine previously uncollected short stories, plus the title novella; “Burning Dolls”, “The Molester”, “Treatment”, and the seven (somewhat loosely connected) chapters of “Toward Dusk” are the standouts for me.
For more online material about Yoshiyuki and his works, see:
- “Obituary: Junnosuke Yoshiyuki”, one of the three hundred obituaries the poet and translator James Kirkup contributed to The Independent. (Fittingly, here’s a snippet from The Independent’s obituary for Kirkup: “He was a one-man world literature necrology department, […] an evangelist for the untranslated […]”.)
- Two reviews of The Dark Room: one by Nihon Distractions and another by Bibliophilia Obscura.
- A review of Toward Dusk and Other Stories in The Japan Times.
(Image: the front cover of the first edition of The Dark Room: “Jacket design by S. Katakura, incorporating a pen-and-ink drawing by Masuo Ikeda from My Imagination Map (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1974).” Ikeda was also a film director and an award-winning novelist, see: obituary (another by Kirkup), blog article, web gallery, and 50 Watts.)