It’s a heavy, obviously ambitious production, thirty-five short works by thirty-two authors, in a collection overseen by much-lauded translator Jay Rubin and introduced by much-lauded novelist and short story writer Haruki Murakami, and its format isn’t the limit of its unconventional nature ... Rubin ignores an important factor he knows all about: Japanese authors don’t just react to real-world events ... they also react, and always have reacted, to other Japanese authors. Students reading those boring old chronological surveys can’t help but see this, and good-time readers of this anthology can’t help but miss it. Missing also are some fairly towering names. Writers of the caliber of Shusaku Endo, Kobo Abe, Kenzaburo Oe and Naoya Shiga are nowhere to be found here, and either of the possible reasons for that is unappealing. But maybe all these unconventional choices are part of the package of an anthology like this, a full-sized original hardcover appearing in the Penguin Classics line to shake things up and provide an adventurous alternative to the many Japanese short story collections that have preceded it. Readers ready for such an adventure will find it here.
The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories, selected, edited and sparingly annotated by Jay Rubin, collects 34 short stories from across the literary spectrum and spanning nearly 150 years of modern Japanese literature. This superb collection differs from others of its ilk in that it's organized not according to chronological period, but rather according to a set of broad theme ... The result is not merely another college lit anthology, but a fascinating collection of short stories from all periods and from several authors who all too rarely make it into English translation.
I found the bizarre, gory tales in The Penguin Book Of Japanese Short Stories infinitely more absorbing than those involving the humdrum arena of everyday life, an area much more acutely handled by Western writers ... The earliest story in the entire book was written in 1898. Even though Japanese literature stretches further back in time than our own – they were even writing science fiction as long ago as the 10th century – the editor offers no explanation for this strange cut-off point. I am no expert, but a little part of me suspects that the mischievous Murakami may have a point, and despite several shining exceptions, this is, indeed, ‘an unconventional selection of works by an unusual assortment of writers’