Book review: Seven Japanese Tales

Seven Japanese Tales.Seven Japanese Tales by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Japanese culture, when compared to what’s generally passed off as Western culture, seems to be a little off. That’s not a value judgement, but an observation that compared to what Western Canon readers are used to, there’s more dissonance, and a willingness to examine topics which (at least in the time Tanizaki was writing) were either not covered in polite society, or were swept under the rug in bowdlerised editions.

It’s not the case here. Incest and fetishes, and the annihilation of the self in the service of one’s object of desire are the cornerstones of these works.

The result is a collection of tales which embrace the uncanny and unusual as well as the traditional, the setting for most of the stories gathered here.

It’s easy to see elements of Mishima and Murakami in here: oddity mixed with overpowering desire, and a feeling of dedication to duty. Some stories are short – the shortest (and earliest, from 1910) details a woman forcibly tattooed in a design which reveals her darkest nature, which she embraces. Others, though, are long and are best served by knowing a little of the history of Japanese feudalism, as they’re woven from the truth.

Despite their age, these are confronting stories. If you don’t like tales of obsessive love – obsessive to the point of self-harm – then you probably won’t like these. But if you bypass them you’ll miss a look at the discordant parts of nature which seem to be examined so well by Japanese authors, none more accomplished than Tanizaki.

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