My final choice comes from the second of the Donald Keene collections, long a staple of Japanese Studies courses. When a troupe of penniless actors are abandoned by their manager at an inn, the remaining eight men and four women have no choice but to flee on a rainy night, choosing to take a dangerous coastal road in the hope of throwing off pursuit. What ensues is an entertaining tale in which the narrator’s philosophical recount of the arduous journey, describing the effects of cold, hunger and exhaustion, is interrupted by fights stemming from the jealousy the men feel towards the women (each of whom has had liaisons with several of the men). Cleverly, by the end of the piece, these petty affairs are forgotten, and it’s life itself and the cruel nature of time that are the main focus, as the narrator swings between the longing for a peaceful death and a desperate desire to keep on living.
Included in Modern Japanese Literature: From 1868 to the Present Day, Grove Press, 1956