Rediscover Japan Through Short Stories Inspired by Local Legends
Would you like to learn more about everyday life in Japan? Read three short stories set in Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Kumamoto written by young contemporary Japanese writers. These stories were inspired by local legends and traditional performing arts.
Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Kumamoto in Short Stories
Miyajima Island. Photo by Pixta
The beauty of Japan's natural scenery is often the first incentive for a trip to or around this country. But many visitors are eager to get a glimpse of the thoughts and feelings of the people who live here. Few things answer this need better than stories. The result of sublimated experience, thought, and feeling, narratives offer the best means to explore the human side of Japan.
Creation of stories set all around Japan is a project run by Japan Cultural Expo in collaboration with the Short Short Film Festival & ASIA 2021. In the frame of this project, young contemporary writers create short stories inspired by local legends set in various locations around Japan.
This year, the project introduces three exciting short stories set in Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Kumamoto that can be read in English. Moreover, the SSFF & ASIA 2021 Autumn Film Festival hosted a panel discussion with the three writers involved in this project. The video of their talk can be viewed online for free with English subtitles!
We introduce the synopsis of the stories below. If you'd like to learn more about the places and legends they feature, do watch the writers' talk!
Stories about Miracles Found in Everyday Life
Photo by Pixta
“Mom’s Celestial Robe of Feathers” by Takahashi Kumiko (translated into English by Terry Gallagher) is set in Okinawa. The main character, Ruri, is a high-school girl struggling to decide what to do after graduation.
While cleaning the garage one day, she finds something that belonged to her mother when she herself was in high school. That's when she realizes that her mother had dreams that she willfully abandoned in order to be able to raise her and her brother. Ruri decides to rekindle her mother's old career dreams and takes action to support her.
Poster for a performance of “Mekarushi” at the National Theater Okinawa
This story was inspired by a legend known in Okinawa as “Mekarushi” and performed as a traditional dance. The legend is about an angel who marries a human man after he hid her celestial feather robe, without which she couldn't fly anymore.
Takahashi Kumiko's story is a heartwarming take on this legend transposed into contemporary life. The narrative offers plenty of details of daily life in Okinawa's outlying islands.
Photo by Pixta
Tamaru Masatomo's “Time Arrows,” translated by Sharni Wilson, is set in Hiroshima. The main characters are three adult siblings facing the need to find a nursing home for their ailing father.
They overcome their disparities in order to fulfill their father's wish. During the trip that they have to do together to Miyajima Island, they recall happy childhood memories and get to realize the one important thing that their father wanted them to remember.
“Time Arrows” draws inspiration from a legend about Mori Motonari (1497-1571), a feudal lord that ruled in Hiroshima during Japan's Warring States period. His wisdom about what "real strength" consists of echoes beautifully in this story about contemporary Japanese people.
©egu / PIXTA
If you've visited Hiroshima in the past, the passages mentioning the local trams or okonomiyaki, Hiroshima's soul food, will surely make your heart beat faster.
©Noel H Vincent
“Dancing Girls,” a story by Mori Nako, translated by Emily Balistrieri, is set in Kumamoto. The main characters are three high school girls who discover a new way to have fun and interact by taking part in Otemoyan, a local summer festival dance.
Poster for Hinokunimatsuri Festival where the Otemoyan dance is performed.
The song and the moves performed during Otemoyan traditionally reflect young girls dreams about marriage. Mori Nako's take on this tradition is filled with glimpses of high-school life in Japan in the age of social media, captured with humor and subtle insight into the nonverbal connection between high-school girls.
Each of these stories is a chance to feel the joys and struggles of people living in Japan. The locations that serve as the background of these stories may seem familiar at first sight. Fiction, however, reveals their true depth and cultural richness.
The Writers Introducing the Background of Their Stories
The three authors of the stories introduce above talked about the background of each story in an online event that can be watched for free with English subtitles. You'll learn details about the places, people, and legends that inspired these narratives.
The talk video includes the short film “The Old Woman Skin,” which is based on one of the stories presented at last year's edition of the project. “The Old Woman Skin” is a fascinating story inspired by a legend from Fukushima. Inoue Hiroki, the director of the film, joined the talk.
This online event offers a chance to learn more about the cultural side of Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Kumamoto that often remains out of reach to visitors on a short stay. At the same time, it is an inspiring discussion about the local cultures that deserve to be preserved and transmitted to future generations.
We hope you'll enjoy the writers' talk along with their stories.
Main image by Pixta
Written by Ramona Taranu
Sponsored by Committee for ShortShorts