‘Autumn Rain’ by Yasunari Kawabata, translated by J. Martin Holman

Not as lionised or as well-known as either Mishima or Tanizaki, Nobel laureate Kawabata was easily their equal, as exemplified by his compact novels, Thousand CranesBeauty and Sadness and Snow Country. He was equally masterful when it came to the short story. The short tales collected in Palm-of-the-Hand Stories are almost a precursor of flash fiction, given their brevity and density of thought, emotion and observation. ‘Autumn Rain’ begins with the line: ‘Deep in my soul I saw a vision of fire falling on mountains red with autumn leaves’ and continues with the same intensity, until it suddenly switches to more quotidian matters. The narrator is a man travelling by train to Kyoto to see a girl he remembered from a hospital when she was a baby, born at the same time as another girl who died. Now in the prime of her life, the girl who survived is about to be married. The nature of the narrator’s link to the girl is opaque – is he her father? Or was the girl who died his daughter? Or did he even aspire to marry the girl herself? The story is too brief to provide the answers. Yet the imagery of decay and death, of fire and water, of vulnerable children, adds up to a poignant picture of the fragility of life, and mankind’s tenuous place in the universe.  

Collected in Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1988

‘The House of the Sleeping Beauties’ by Kawabata Yasunari, translated by Edward Seidensticker

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