Introduction to Speculative Japan Vol. 3


Darrell Schweitzer

It's not for me to say if these stories are "typically Japanese." As an outsider, I can only point out what non-Japanese think are "typical" Japanese characteristics, and whether or not they are present. You will find some of those expectations fulfilled here. Certainly Asamatsu Ken's "A White Camellia in a Vase," in which a samurai is preoccupied with aesthetics and the placement of a single flower in an otherwise bare room, seems very Japanese to me. This is the sort of minimalism we see in Japanese art, where the subtlest details matter. But what seems more "typically Japanese" is that the elderly samurai can care about such things without any suggestion that he has lost any of his masculine, heroic character. You would not see a medieval European knight or a Homeric warrior behaving that way. So the foreign reader can indeed see that these stories are—unsurprisingly—written from a different set of cultural assumptions, which is part of their charm and their fascination. At the same time I think I see a Western influence here. The winking flowers at the end call to mind nothing more than Arthur Machen's observation (from "The White People") that true evil is a perversion of natural law: ". . . if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad."


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