American Stories

Nagai Kafū. Translated by Mitsuko Iriye

Columbia University Press

American Stories

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Pub Date: March 2013

ISBN: 9780231117913

192 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $26.00£20.00

Pub Date: March 2000

ISBN: 9780231117906

192 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $50.00£40.00

Pub Date: March 2000

ISBN: 9780231500241

192 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $25.99£20.00

American Stories

Nagai Kafū. Translated by Mitsuko Iriye

Columbia University Press

Nagai Kafu is one of the greatest modern Japanese writers, but until now his classic collection, American Stories, based on his sojourn from Japan to Washington State, Michigan, and New York City in the early years of the twentieth century, has never been available in English. Here, with a detailed and insightful introduction, is an elegant translation of Kafu's perceptive and lyrical account.

Like de Tocqueville a century before, Kafu casts a fresh, keen eye on vibrant and varied America—world fairs, concert halls, and college campuses; saloons, the immigrant underclass, and red-light districts. Many of his vignettes involve encounters with fellow Japanese or Chinese immigrants, some of whom are poorly paid laborers facing daily discrimination. The stories paint a broad landscape of the challenges of American life for the poor, the foreign born, and the disaffected, peopled with crisp individual portraits that reveal the daily disappointments and occasional euphorias of modern life.

Translator Mitsuko Iriye's introduction provides important cultural and biographical background about Kafu's upbringing in rapidly modernizing Japan, as well as literary context for this collection. In the first story, "Night Talk in a Cabin," three young men sailing from Japan to Seattle each reveal how poor prospects, shattered confidence, or a broken heart has driven him to seek a better life abroad. In "Atop the Hill," the narrator meets a fellow Japanese expatriate at a small midwestern religious college, who slowly reveals his complex reasons for leaving behind his wife in Japan. Caught between the pleasures of America's cities and the stoicism of its small towns, he wonders if he can ever return home.

Kafu plays with the contradictions and complexities of early twentieth-century America, revealing the tawdry, poor, and mundane underside of New York's glamour in "Ladies of the Night" while celebrating the ingenuity, cosmopolitanism, and freedom of the American city in "Two Days in Chicago." At once sensitive and witty, elegant and gritty, these stories provide a nuanced outsider's view of the United States and a perfect entrance into modern Japanese literature.
One of the great figures of contemporary Japanese literature.... [This] collection of twenty-three stories and essays is a perceptive outsider's view of American people (particularly the new immigrant classes),places, and customs, and a sharp-eyed tour of the world's fairs, concert halls, college campuses, saloons, and red-light districts of pre-First World War United States. The Globe and Mail
Elegant... the language is delicate and many and many images could have been lifted from haiku.... Kafu's work was very sophisticated for its time, and today is eminently readable as entertainment and as the adventures of a young man searching for points of connection between Japan and the West. Books in Canada
In a style that is lean and powerful, this Japanese novelist and short-story writer opens a door to early-1900s America that is riveting, poignant, and painful.... Kafu is brilliant at evoking the strange convocation of two cultures. John Dolen, Sun Sentinel
Inventive, surprisingly fresh... Kafu's observations are sharp, insightful, and even funny.... American Stories is a strong work, well worth the read. Blogcritics.org
1. Night Talk in a Cabin
2. A Return Through the Meadow
3. Atop the Hill
4. The Inebriated Beauty
5. Long Hair
6. Spring and Autumn
7. Lodging on a Snowy Night
8. In the Woods
9. Bad Company
10. Old Regrets
11. Rude Awakening
12. Ladies of the Night
13. January First
14. Daybreak
15. Two Days in Chicago
16. The Sea in Summer
17. Midnight at a Bar
18. Fallen Leaves
19. Chronicle of Chinatown
20. Night Stroll
21. A June Night's Dream
22. A Night at Seattle Harbor
23. Night Fog

About the Author

Nagai Kafu (1879–1959) was a Japanese novelist whose translated works include Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale, Autumn Wind and Other Stories, American Stories, and During the Rains and Flowers in the Shades: Two Novellas.

Mitsuko Iriye is an independent scholar working in the field of comparative literature.