‘Spider Lilies’ by Hiroko Oyamada, translated by Juliet Winter Carpenter / ‘Night Journey’ by Taeko Kono, translated by Lucy North

If we’re continuing with the autobiographical thread for now—which we are because I am doing this the day before it’s meant to be sent out to you, showing I haven’t changed much from my high-school self—then here are some Japanese short stories, because I taught English in Japan for two years after college. I had read Murakami in middle school, encouraged by a Russian friend just as zany, who had the most fun and drunken bat mitzvah I had ever been to, and we had to take two languages at my high school, so I took French and Japanese. I tried reading Murakami untranslated a few times, but I could never be sure if I was reading correctly and there really was a talking cat or a vanishing woman or if I was getting my verbs and subjects wrong. It wasn’t until much later that I read work by Japanese women writers like these two stories. Both are creepy in their own way – Hiroko Oyamada’s ‘Spider Lilies’ is about the deceit that lies beneath the surface of family stories, and Taeko Kono’s ‘Night Journey’ is the story of a couple who are on their way to visit another couple when their evening takes a strange turn.

‘Spider Lilies’ first published in English in 2014 in Granta 127: Japan, April 2014 and available for subscribers to read online here.

‘Night Journey’ originally published in Japanese in 1963. First published in English in Toddler Hunting, New Directions, 1996, and in a revised edition, 2018