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Asada Jiro. Sogen kara no shisha: Sakoro kitan.

Asada Jiro. Sogen kara no shisha: Sakoro kitan. Tokyo. Tokuma Shoten. 2005. 283 pages. [yen] 1,600. ISBN 4-19-861977-8

SOGEN KARA NO SHISHA: SAKORO KITAN (A messenger from the prairie: Strange stories from the Sand-Tower), a collection of four stories previously published in a popular magazine, is a book for sheer entertainment. No thematic thread ties together the stories, but intrigues and diversions built upon fantasies, illusions, and absurdity are common elements among them.

The stories are told at a secret gathering in a penthouse atop Sakoro, the Sand-Tower, looming out of the darkness of Tokyo's Aoyama Cemetery and overlooking the distant lights of the Roppongi entertainment district. Inside the dimly lit apartment, old English decors and predominantly male guests in formal attire create an ambience far removed from the reality of contemporary Japan. As the transvestite host explains, the purpose of this meeting is for the socially prominent members to disclose their innermost secrets. The audience is to keep strictly to themselves what they have heard.

The first story, "Fit to Become a Prime Minister," narrated by the former secretary of a powerful politician, exposes deceptions in the man nominated for the prime minister's position. Timid and fearful, he is unable to decide whether or not to accept the nomination. Consequently, he has the secretary find fortune-tellers who would predict the outcome of the election. One of the hired diviners envisions Saionji Kinmochi (1848-1940) performing his duty as the prime minister to assist the Emperor Meiji in appointing a new prime minister. The prophet then asserts that his predictions are sacred and that rejecting them would mean death to his employer. The fortune-tellers all leave without offering any predictions, however, as they come to realize that the politician is motivated not by a genuine concern for the well-being of the country but by power. Left as fearful and timid as before, the man rejects the nomination and subsequently dies. Another candidate follows a similar fate, and a dark-horse candidate emerges victorious, much to the amazement of all concerned.

Reality and illusion are blurred, and absurdity predominant, in the rest of the stories as well. Both the second story, "A Lifetime Membership," and the third one, "A Messenger from the Prairie," deal with gambling, which weaves the dream of winning with the reality of losing. The narrator of the last story, "The Stars and Stripes Forever," is a retired U.S. colonel whose account of his conversations with his veteran "buddies" are littered with absurd sexual images that overlap with the image of the American flag. The story thus equates patriotism with male sexuality but also illuminates the deep anxiety of the aging men over their own diminishing sexuality.

As can be seen above, the stories of Sogen kara no shisha are all male-centered. They are also told in long monologues, some with lengthy encyclopedic information. Nevertheless, Asada Jiro has created another entertaining work to be enjoyed by readers in postmodern Japan.

Yoshiko Yokochi Samuel

Wesleyan University
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Author:Samuel, Yoshiko Yokochi
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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