I’m going to keep my descriptions short, in the hope that you’ll all just go out and read some of these instead of listening to me waffle on. I’ve tried my hardest to pick things available to read online.
Note: Japanese names are given in their Japanese order as in SURNAME First name (e.g. MURAKAMI Haruki)
A twisted tattooist finds the perfect human canvas on which to tattoo a spider. The joke’s on him, of course…
First published in Japanese 1910. Collected in Modern Japanese Short Stories, Tuttle 2019. Read a different translation by Howard Hibbett under the title ‘The Tattooer’ available for PDF download here, or as ‘The Victim’ in the Paris Review here
Fantastic morality story from the master of Japanese short stories, pontificating on a man’s journey climbing a spider’s thread from hell to heaven.
Included in Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories, Penguin 2006. Available to read online here
I love this writer. Everyone should go read her first novel Snakes & Earrings.
First published in Japanese in 2009. Published by Granta in 2015. Avaliable to read online here
Murakami Ryū is so compelling. This has an amazing premise, too – a writer gets a call from a hostess club where someone has been impersonating him, running up a massive drinks tab, and having an affair with one of the hostesses at the club.
First published in Japanese in the collection Run, Takahashi! in 1986.. Collected in Tokyo Decadence: 15 Stories, Kurodahan Press 2016. I cannot find a version of this online, but apparently it’s available to subscribers of The New Yorker through online archives… I think…
It was literally impossible to pick one short story from Murakami Haruki. I thought about picking just 12 from him alone. Thinking about it, I should’ve picked ‘Silence’. But I didn’t. Whoops.
First published in Japanese 1986. Included in The Elephant Vanishes, Vintage 2003. Available to read online here
You might know her from Convenience Store Woman, but this was my first exposure to Murata Sayaka. An asexual man and woman get together with the understanding that there will be no sex in this marriage, thank you very much.
First published as part of the collection Satsujin shussan, Kodansha 2014. First published in English in Granta 127: Japan in 2014, and available to read online here
I read this story years and years ago when I first lived in Japan. I haven’t re-read it since, but I remember it blew my socks off. A guy finds a piece of magic chalk and draws a door to another universe on his apartment wall. A bit like that cartoon Penny Crayon.
First published in Japanese 1950. Collected in The Shōwa Anthology: Modern Japanese Short Stories, Kodansha 1992. Available to read online here
I love Matsuda Aoko’s writing. I wanted to choose The Girl Who Is Getting Married (part of the Keshiki series of chapbooks from Strangers Press), but I thought I’d pick something people can read online instead.
First published in Japanese in 2018. Included in Where the Wild Ladies Are, Tilted Axis 2020. Available to read online here
Hoshi Shin’ichi is awesome. I feel like he deserves to be translated into English more than he currently is. He writes these great Sci-Fi short, short stories. This one is a sort of morality tale about the environment (and an increasingly relevant one).
First published in Japanese 1957 and available in the collection Bokko-chan in Japanese. Available here and there online: On someone’s blog here or there’s a weird scanned version here
I don’t know what it was about this story, but I loved how arrogant and silly the main character is.
Collected in The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories, Penguin 2018
In Japanese literature, you often get these long short stories which are part of a mini-collection. This is one of those. I remember really enjoying this story when I read it – I remember it being narrated by the town, following the exploits of one woman who lives there.
Included in The Bridegroom Was a Dog, New Directions 2012 or Kodansha 1998
Similar to ‘The Bridegroom Was a Dog’ mentioned above, this is also a long short story available in a mini-collection form. But this is just about the creepiest, weirdest story I’ve ever read. An older man pays to sleep next to a young woman at a weird brothel-esque house for narcoleptics.
First published in Japanese 1961. Included in The House of Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories, Vintage International 2017
I’ve long wanted to submit my own Personal Anthology but, as I hope previous contributors have found, where to begin? Where to end? How to choose twelve stories that highlight the best of what short fiction can be?
At the moment I’m in lockdown away from home: safe, comfortable, but separated from my own and personal library. Knowing this might be the case for a while, I took a small selection of books with me, mostly ones I had yet to read, but one or two I didn’t want to be without or else because the urge to read them simply struck me. I’ve since added to this selection, resisting the temptation to buy books I already own but which happened to not be to hand… It may not be the Personal Anthology I might have written, but it’s the one I’ve got.
Of course, the internet abounds with good fiction and perhaps an alternative anthology could be made of the best of an online library, but I liked the Oulipian approach outlined above. Some of the stories discussed here were new to me, but they all – I think, hope – have something to recommend them, both in and of themselves, but also the rest of their authors’ works, something I’ve found the best Personal Anthologies have always done.