Book cover for The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories by Various, Jay Rubin

The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories

by Various, Jay Rubin



I’ve been picking this up every other week since I was gifted it last Christmas and I finally finished it with a burst of completionism. It’s a beautiful curation of Japanese short stories from between 1898 and 2014 translated to English. I enjoyed all of them with the exception of the gory “Patriotism” by Mishima Yukio.

It was so rewarding to read each short story before flipping back to the commentary from Murakami. I now have a much deeper appreciation for Japanese literature and will definitely seek out some of the further reading.

Here are my favourite short stories in this collection:

Kono Taeko – In the Box

This is a story of a petty grudge and sheer irrational behaviour. I loved it for the lack of explanation and the domestic yet unpredictable setting.

Natsume Soseki – Sanshiro, Chapter 1

A strangely nostalgic tale of transition to a big city.

Tanizaki Jun’ichiro – The Story of Tomoda and Matsunaga

The book starts with this novella of sorts: a mildly unbelievable but alluring mystery that slowly unravels.

Genji Keita – Mr English

I enjoyed just how mundane this story was. A tale of work politics and salarymen.

Betsuyaku Minoru – Factory Town

An allegory with a plausible backbone. Written in 1973 but could have been published in the last decade.

Uchida Hyakken – Kudan

This short story was from the section entitled “Dread” and describes a Kafka-esque world of transfiguration and misunderstanding. Haunting.

Sawanishi Yuten – Filling Up with Sugar

An unsettling depiction of the decline of a relative to a fantastical disease. Pay close attention!

Seirai Yuichi – Insects

A heartbreaking account of the fallout from atomic warfare, wonderfully crafted and deeply evocative.