Review of “Hikari” (1976)
Kōno Tensei (writer).
Read in 2020.
Read in Speculative Japan.
A stocky stranger on a train explains the strange sight of a village seen in passing, where the lights (hikari) seem to be off, but a soft glow silhouettes the buildings in the night.
Dana Lewis’s translation is very good: not fully idiomatic, it conveys a sense of Japanese indirectness and propriety in this intensely Japanese story. That’s important. It’s as if Kafka wrote The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), with the supernatural invasion concerning only the enforcement of public morals, not Wyndham’s higher stakes.
Most especially, the fulcrum of this narrative is the shōben, literally the “small convenience”, which is what Swedish drunks call slå en drill. It’s the ancient and controversial practice of men quite openly peeing in public places, still common in Japan at the time. Kōno brilliantly elevates this ridiculous antisocial act to a quintessentially organic form of baseness in opposition to one’s sore Buddhist conscience, and then brilliantly alienates even this supposedly more human side of the conflict. It’s a very funny story about moral dichotomies, well balanced between dream and meaningful narrative.