Preface [slightly abridged]
This book is designed to propel you beyond the humdrum world of magazine and newspaper articles into the rewarding but relatively impenetrable world of Japanese literature. Breaking into Japanese Literature presents only complete and unedited short stories. Extracts from longer works have been deliberately avoided. This guarantees that you can enjoy a full aesthetic experience and a sense of uncompromised achievement. The seven stories in this book are all recognized masterpieces. The two authors, Natsume Soseki and Akutagawa Ryunosuke, are both literary giants who form part of the Japanese national curriculum. The seven stories cover a variety of genres: "The Nose" is a comedy; "In a Grove" and "Rashomon" are fast-paced thrillers set in ancient Japan; and the four tales from Ten Nights of Dreams are thrilling, hallucinatory accounts of love, death, suicide and murder.
** Three-level Structure
The book is divided into three increasingly challenging levels.
Level One consists of four stories from Soseki's Ten Nights of Dreams (1908). The Dreams are very short -- only two or three pages each in the original Japanese -- and are composed in short, simple sentences. The repetition which Soseki uses to create a dreamlike atmosphere has the convenient side effect of providing automatic kanji review opportunities. For all their gothic subject matter, the Dreams offer very practical study benefits: they contain a very high proportion of the 1,945 common-use kanji characters that all students of Japanese have to master.
Level Two consists of two Akutagawa stories, "In a Grove" (1922) and "The Nose" (1916). These two stories are about five times longer than their predecessors in Level One, while the sentences of which they are composed are also lengthier and more involved. "In a Grove" was selected not only for its exciting subject matter (robbery, rape and murder), but because its unusual structure -- with seven different narrators retelling the same story with slight variations -- again provides unconscious review opportunities. "The Nose," despite some difficult religious and historical vocabulary, is a humorous fable with a simple story line. Apart from its significance as Akutagawa's breakthrough work, "The Nose" also provides some comic relief in this slightly noir collection.
Level Three features a single Akutagawa story, "Rashomon" (1916). "Rashomon" is about the same length as "The Nose," but is more densely descriptive -- and thus more difficult -- than any of the other stories. This atmospheric story is historically significant both as the title story of Akutagawa's first collection and as one of the inspirations for Akira Kurosawa's celebrated 1951 film.
The illustrations and prefaces on the title pages should help you locate the story that is most to your taste. Most important though, is to choose a story of the appropriate ability level. Starting with one of the shorter Dreams is definitely a good idea.
** Core Components
Reading Japanese literature unassisted can be frustrating. This book is designed to help you bypass all those feelings of bewilderment and irritation. With the story in Japanese on the left-hand page, the English translation on the right-hand page and the dictionary running along the bottom of both, each double-page spread is totally self-contained. There is no need for any dictionaries. Since everything you need is right there in front of you, you can read the stories fast enough to enjoy them as works of literature. On the one hand, the custom dictionary means you will not waste time deciphering words of little practical use, like proper names or official titles. On the other hand, it means that any useful kanji characters or expressions that occur are there ready to be memorized. It's no pain, all gain.
** Element 1: Japanese Original
The Japanese text is based on the Iwanami bunko editions of Soseki's Ten Nights of Dreams and Akutagawa's "In a Grove," and the Shincho bunko editions of the two other Akutagawa stories. These editions were selected because they reflect modern kana usage. Further modifications have been made: some words that are rarely seen in kanji anymore have been written in hiragana, and hiragana superscript has been added to difficult words that even some Japanese would find puzzling, as well as to a number of simple words that the reader might recognize if not for the kanji.
The Japanese text has been printed across the page (rather than from top to bottom) to allow for easy cross-referencing between the two languages. Large point-size makes the kanji physically bigger and thus easier to read. Generous line spacing also enhances readability while providing space for notes.
** Element 2: Literal English Translations
The translations follow the Japanese scrupulously. I have striven for direct semantic parity, omitting nothing and taking nothing away. Thus, if there is a noun in the Japanese, it is rendered -- as much as possible -- by a noun in the English. The old woman in "Rashomon," for example, is referred to as "the old woman" if that is how she is described in the Japanese. I have tried not to substitute the pronoun "she," and I have tried not to make things more complicated by turning a simple "old woman" into a "crone," "hag," or "droopy-dugged trollop." With a few exceptions, sentence order and paragraphing in the English also follow the Japanese. The overriding aim is to help you figure out what in one language corresponds to what in the other.
The style of the seven translations is not completely uniform. Soseki's four Dreams -- which are short and relatively simple -- have been translated literally (making them easy to follow), but with a hint of the literary (encouraging you to think about word choices and style). The English deliberately echoes the lushness of nineteenth-century authors like Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe who influenced Soseki in the first place.
The three Akutagawa stories, which make up the two more-advanced levels of the book, are considerably longer and harder than the Ten Nights of Dreams. I have therefore translated them in a plain, austere manner, since too much polish would just be a distraction.
** Element 3: The Zero-Omission Dictionary
The running dictionary at the bottom of the page provides a translation of words in the order that they appear in the text. The dictionary covers every kanji-based word in the book, as well as the more difficult hiragana words. Note that when a kanji word appears twice or more on the same page, it is listed only on its first appearance, but with a [special] icon to warn you that it will recur. If a kanji character belongs to the 2,230 characters (including all the 1,945 common-use characters) featured in The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary, its entry number is provided in square brackets after the English definition. This means that you can track down the individual characters with ease and master their on and kun readings, meanings, compounds and so on in a time-efficient way.
The dictionary does not include basic particles, ko-so-a-do demonstratives, the auxiliary -so (as in nemu-so "looks sleepy"), or the copula da (including desu and de aru). It assumes knowledge of simple hiragana words (such as anata, ikutsu, suru or naru) that every student learns at beginner level. It also omits some phrasal conjunctions, such as soko de (at which point), sore kara (after that) and suru to (whereupon), which can be understood by their constituent parts....