Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, Volume 2

Editors: Motoyuki Shibata and Ted Goossen
Publisher: A Public Space
ISSN: 2159-7138
Released: April 2012

I have anxiously been awaiting the second volume of the English-language edition of Monkey Business ever since I read the debut issue last year. Japanese readers are lucky—they generally only had to wait a month between issues of the original Monkey Business literary journal. At the moment, the English edition is published annually. Motoyuki Shibata, editor of the Japanese Monkey Business, and Ted Goossen once again serve as the head editors for the 2012 issue of the English Monkey Business. They have put together a volume that is even bigger and maybe even better than the first, drawing from at least as early as the November 2008 issue of the Japanese literary journal and including selections from some of the more recent issues as well. Shibata and Goossen don’t limit themselves to works found in the original Monkey Business journal, either. A few of the contributions in Monkey Business, Volume 2 are being published for the first time in any language. The English edition of the journal is published with support from the Nippon Foundation.

Monkey Business, Volume 2 collects twenty-two works of short fiction, manga essays, and poetry—eight more selections than were included in the first issue. The second volume begins with “What Do You Wish We Had in Japan Today?,” a question that was asked of seventeen creators a month after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011. Their responses are a wonderful mix of the serious and fanciful. This is followed by Masatsugu Ono’s short story “I Chase the Monkey and the Monkey Flees from Me, the Monkey Chases Me and I Flee from the Monkey.” Although it has moments of frequent brilliance, I found it to be a difficult story to read overall. It almost seems like a prose poem, similar to Mieko Kawakami’s “A Once-Perfect Day for Bananafish,” which is also found in Monkey Business, Volume 2, although the two works vary substantially in feel. Other poetry collected in the second volume includes “Tales in Tanka” by Mina Ishikawa (my personal favorite), “Nowhere” by Stuart Dybek, and Minoru Ozawa’s haiku collection “Ghosts and Ghost Paintings” which includes the original Japanese along with the English translation.

Two manga selections are included in this issue of Monkey Business. The Brother and Sister Nishioka return with another manga based on a short story by Franz Kafka, “A Fasting Artist.” The second manga is by Fumiko Takano and is based on Lafcadio Hearn’s short story “The Futon of Tottori.” Takano’s work is quite clever and requires some familiarity with Japanese kanji to fully appreciate, although there are plenty of editor’s notes included for guidance. I was immensely pleased to discover continuations of Hiromi Kawakami’s series of quirky vignettes “People from My Neighborhood” and Sachiko Kishimoto’s fictional yet semi-autobiographical “The Forbidden Diary” (neither require having read the first Monkey Business issue to enjoy) as well as another hoodlum short story by Barry Yourgrau, “Medicine.” Hideo Furukawa also returns in this volume with the story “Breathing Through Gills.”

Other short stories, all of which I enjoyed, include: “Meditations on Green” by Toh Enjoe; “At the Delta” by Rebecca Brown; “Sleepyville” by Mimei Ogawa, first published in 1914, making it the oldest work in Monkey Business, Volume 2; “The Seaside Road” by Tomoka Shibasaki; and “John” by Yoko Hayasuke. Although it’s difficult to choose, Keita Jin’s “Bridges” was probably my favorite story in this volume although I was also quite fond of Keita Genji’s “Mr. English,” especially as it is accompanied by the essay “What’s Eating Soichirō Mogi” by Naoyuki Ii which examines Genji’s work in more detail. One other essay is included in this volume of Monkey Business, “The Great Cycle of Storytelling” by the world-renowned Haruki Murakami. The volume concludes with Comes in a Box’s short story “Black Space, The Sound of Rain.”

Everyone who worked to put together Monkey Business, Volume 2 has done a wonderful job. What I loved most about the first volume was the wide variety of contributions. This is still true of the second volume. And because it is longer than the first it includes even more variety. Some of the contributions are immediately accessible while others require the reader to put in some effort in order to really appreciate them. Admittedly, it’s not always easy reading. The works selected for Monkey Business, Volume 2 are drawn from nearly a century of creative output. While most were originally written in Japanese, a few started out in English. I’m beginning to more easily recognize the contributors’ work outside of Monkey Business; the journal has introduced me to creators who I want to follow and that I seek out. With its mix of eccentric fiction, nonfiction, poetry, illustration, and manga, I can’t wait for the next volume of Monkey Business to be published.

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