Enigmatic, subtle and poignant are adjectives often used to describe Japanese writing, but you do occasionally find stories that are more raucous and chaotic, and Itō’s 1938 piece ‘Nightingale’ is a wonderful example of the type. We enter a rural police station one evening in the company of an elderly woman hoping for news of a foster daughter taken from her years before, and we stay there for a day (and forty pages) as the hard-working local police officers do their best to cope with a deluge of visitors, including a woman accused of being an illegal midwife, an adulterer and a chicken thief coming to blows, and a shady character who has been fleeced of his money by a man dressed as a woman. The story rarely stops for breath, and though all these anecdotes of poor people trying to scrape by, the story of the old woman runs in the background, in a tale that never outstays its welcome. It’s a portrait of human nature at its best, with petty squabbles forgotten when someone really needs help – and I haven’t even mentioned the nightingale. This collection was out of print for a while, but Tuttle recently rereleased it (with a new essay included), so you should be able to find a copy fairly easily.
First published in 1938. Included in Modern Japanese Short Stories: Twenty-Five Stories by Japan’s Leading Writers, Tuttle Publishing, 2019