The Stationmaster examines the lives of the downtrodden, finding redemption in the strangest places. Extremely popular in Japan, this short story collection is about marginalized people: the stationmaster of an obsolete train station; petty criminals; a clothing salesman; a dying sex worker. According to Margaret Atwood’s introduction, Jiro Asada’s combination of “daily time in all its humble and often harsh detail with the hidden, haunted psyche—how people see themselves from the outside, contrasted with their knowledge of their own wounded inner selves—is a potent achievement.” Often a ghost or other supernatural element comes in to help right previous wrongs, allowing these characters to find some semblance of peace.
Jiro Asada’s The Stationmaster is among the most cherished works by this very well-known Japanese writer, and it’s a great pleasure to be able to introduce this version to English readers.
There are approximately 2.5 million copies of The Stationmaster in print in Japan, in a country of over 127 million. If translated into North American terms, this book would thus have sold over 6 million copies which would be unheard-of for a book of short stories. Short fiction, thanks to magazines and journals, but also to Japanese readers’ liking for this form, has recently had a more active life in Japan than in North America, but The Stationmaster is remarkable even in that context.
….. Some of them—like the stationmaster of the title story—belong to a world that is traveling very fast and leaving them behind; their accomplishments are the kind nobody important recognizes or values; they fill positions that will soon be obsolete; they’ve spent a lifetime of hard work that has led to very little. What does the life of the old stationmaster, Otomatsu, add up to from the world’s point of view? Or the life of the dying sex-trade worker in “Love Letter”? Hardly a whisper.
–from “Introduction” by Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake, and a current Vice-President of PEN International.
This is a collection of nostalgic short stories with an excellent original introduction by Margaret Atwood. The award-winning author revives a time when men lived like true men, proudly fulfilling their responsibilities. People still honored the dignities in life, and lived for those they cared about, in the spirit of samurai. The devotion of these characters to one another is quiet and reserved, not overtly thought of as love, but in a sense it is. So this is a collection of love stories in a samurai way, set in contemporary Japan.
- Introduction by Margaret Atwood
- The Stationmaster
- Love Letter
- In Tsunohazu
- The Festival of Lanterns
- No-Good Santa
- Invitation from the Orion Cinema
- Instead of an Afterword by Jiro Asada
- Author interview
- Author Bio and Biblio
Translated by Terry Gallagher
An Excerpt from The Stationmaster:
The unerring clock on the big post was pointing straight to midnight when Otomatsu Sato sensed there was someone at the passenger gate.
“Stationmaster! Stationmaster!” A soft voice was calling to Otomatsu through a gap in the acrylic window over the ticket counter.
“Who’s there at this time of night? Is there an emergency? Is somebody ill?”
Otomatsu stepped quietly around Senji, who was fast asleep with the quilt pulled up over his head. He opened the curtain that covered the window, and there stood a girl with a red scarf around her neck and her elbows propped on the sill of the ticket window.
This girl seemed bigger than the one from the previous evening, but her smooth-lidded eyes were very like those of the other girl.
“Did you come for the lost doll?”
The girl nodded.
Otomatsu was in his nightclothes. He pulled on a padded cotton house jacket as he went out into the waiting room. He noticed that at some point it had stopped snowing, and from the vestibule window a stripe of moonlight splashed across the floor.
There was a faint roaring sound.
“Are you her older sister?”
He handed over the plastic doll, and the girl smiled and nodded.
“She’s done nothing but cry since she lost her doll.”