I may not have liked Usagi Yojimbo much, but I did like Yukio Mishima. I read his short story collection Acts of Worship for the Japanese Challenge. At first I was a bit put off by his style; it seemed to have so many hard edges that if I wasn’t careful I might cut myself. But as I grew accustomed to it, I began to enjoy it and found that it worked well for the stories especially since so many of them had a character who was striving for a crystal purity of self (one even wanted to be transparent).As the title suggests, the stories are all in one way or another about acts of worship. The thing being worshipped might be the self or an idea, or another person. And Mishima makes a fascinating study of what acts people do as part of their worship. In the story “Fountains in the Rain,” a young man who has never been the one to break up with a girl wants to know for once what it is like to be manly and in control in a relationship. So he courts a girl who becomes his girlfriend and plans out–fantasizes–about how he will break up with her and how she will respond. Of course the ideal he imagines is not how it plays out, much to his consternation.In another story, Jiro is the captain of the fencing team and Mibu, young and new to the team wants to be just like Jiro. He even goes so far as to begin copying Jiro’s mannerisms and ways of talking. Jiro doesn’t really pay attention, but that doesn’t matter to Mibu, he keeps up his own private worship. This goes on until a big practice retreat to prepare for an important competition when Mibu suddenly decides to rebel against Jiro and joins his teammates in going against Jiro’s and the team coach’s orders. The consequences for Mibu are devastating and made worse by the irony that Jiro had no idea Mibu worshipped him.My favorite stories out of the seven were “Sea and Sunset” and the titular story, “Acts of Worship.” “Sea and Sunset” is about a monk who climbs a hill everyday with a boy who is deaf and dumb to watch the sunset. One day the man is inspired to tell his life story full of divine inspiration, disappointment, and slavery, to this boy who cannot hear him. “Acts of Worship” is about an older woman who has served as cook and housekeeper and general dogsbody to a famous poet-professor for ten years, devoting her whole being to making him comfortable and happy. He asks her on a trip with him and at last she thinks that maybe he will tell her that he loves her:
there, perhaps, it was fated that the Professor and she should cast off restraint and come together in all their purity. For ten years, although the hope had never once been consciously acknowledged, she had dreamed of mutual respect exalted into no ordinary love, but a sublime love that dwelt in the shade of old cedars deep in the mountains. It would not bee the commonplace love of ordinary men and women…The Professor and she would come to each other as two transparent pillars of light, in some spot where they could look down with scorn on the people on earth below.
Of course the trip is not what she expected or hoped.There was one troublesome thing in the book and that was that several of the stories had characters committing suicide as something honorable. I know this is tied in with Japanese culture and even Mishima killed himself, but it is something I can never understand. I can only ever see it as disturbing and sad for a person to kill himself for making a mistake or as an attempt at some sort of redemption. This has nothing to do with Mishima’s writing which is beautiful, nor does it have anything to do with the stories which are all well done. It is simply my response to a cultural difference. Acts of Worship is an excellent book and if you are looking to read some short stories you can’t really go wrong with choosing this one.