Miyamoto Teru: Phantom Lights and Other Stories
Presenting a new collection of stories exploring the perennial themes of Miyamoto Teru's fiction, narrative sketches of the working-class world of the Osaka-Kobe region of his childhood employing memory to reveal a story in layered frames of time with consummate skill. His work examines the mutual proximity—or even the identity—of life and death, often touching on such grim topics with a touch of humor. Stories of personal triumph and hope are often set in situations involving death, illness, or loss, but what might be the stuff of tragedy in the hands of some writers turns into stepping stones for his characters to climb upward and onward.
Miyamoto's considerable and devoted following in Japan has come increasingly to be mirrored in other Asian countries and parts of Europe as his fiction has been translated into various languages. With renditions of only three of his works currently available in English, however, Anglophone readers have for the most part been unaware of the "Teru" literary phenomenon. The present collection aims to fill part of this lack by offering a selection of some his finest short stories along with one of his most admired novellas—Phantom Lights—which was made into the internationally acclaimed 1995 movie Maborosi by Koreeda Hirokazu.
The will to live, karma, and death are themes developed through the lives of Miyamoto's fictional characters, who struggle to achieve closure with their respective pasts and in their often difficult relations with others. The comments of Washington Times writer Anna Chambers in her review of Kinshu: Autumn Brocade aptly apply to the works presented here as well: ". . . existential crisis after existential crisis force the characters to question whether one can shape one's own karma—rather than construct one's own soul, as a Western reader might have put it. And herein lies the Westerner's entree into the book as more than an observer of Japanese culture." And like Kinshu, the stories in the present collection provide "a satisfying taste of what it means to grapple with fate at the intersection of modernity and tradition."
Miyamoto deftly weaves his tales using scenes and settings from his native Kansai region, and all are flavored with the language of western Japan. Like the depressed areas described in much of his fiction, his characters too are "left behind" by post-war Japan's rapid economic growth, by unexpected changes in their lives, or by the deaths of loved ones. His heroes are ordinary people who, as he puts it, "are trying to lift themselves up, who are struggling to live," and who achieve quiet triumphs.
- Phantom Lights (幻の光)
- Eyebrow Pencil (眉墨)
- Strength (力)
- The Lift (五千回の生死)
- Vengeance (復讐)
- The Stairs (階段)
- A Tale of Tomatoes (トマトの話) (now available online!)
- Evening Cherry Blossoms (夜桜)
- Pages: xix + 158
- Trade paperback 5" x 8" (127mm x 203mm)
- ISBN: 978-4-902075-42-7
- Kurodahan Press Book No. FG-JP0033-L40
- List Price: US$13.00
- ...'Phantom Lights', the longest piece in the collection, [is] one that stands out for its quality and its difference. Narrated by a young widow who has moved to a remote seaside town to remarry, it tells of her struggle to understand why her first husband committed suicide, leaving her and their young son behind. The slower pace, and the different voice of the young widow, made for an enjoyable read...
—Tony Malone, Tony's Reading List
- Phantom Lights collects eight stories that were first published between 1978 and 1986. Many feature death or the dying, or characters in terribly straitened circumstances—down to their last yen, dealing with a desperately alcoholic mother, etc. [...] Miyamoto presents these episodes from life very well; the stories are affecting and quite beautifully crafted. But it is gloomy stuff. [...] Miyamoto is certainly worth reading, however.
—M.A.Orthofer, The Complete Review
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Born in Kobe, Japan in 1947, Miyamoto Teru graduated from Otemon Gakuin University. He is a one of Japan's most popular writers, and becoming a globally acclaimed author with translations into multiple languages. His Kinshu: Autumn Brocade was published in English translation in 2005.
Miyamoto's work reveals his consummate skill in creating such narratives with his sketches drawn from the working-class world of the Osaka-Kobe region in which he grew up, creating tales interspersed with vignettes informed by his own life experiences. He has earned a devoted following among the Japanese readership, and numerous awards including the Akutagawa Prize for River of Fireflies (蛍川).
Roger K. Thomas is a professor at Illinois State University where he teaches courses in East Asian languages and cultures and directs the program in East Asian Studies. His primary area of research is early modern poetics and kokugaku. He also has an active interest in modern fiction, his published translations including Miyamoto's Kinshu: Autumn Brocade.