Naoko Awa, translated by Toshiya Kamei,
The Fox’s Window and Other Stories
University of New Orleans Publishing, 2009.
The Fox’s Window by Naoko Awa is a collection of ‘modern fairytales.’ Naoko Awa (1943-1993) was born in Tokyo and was an avid reader of European fairytales as a child. She studied at Japan’s Women’s University, where she was influenced by a teacher and translator of Nordic children’s literature, Shizuka Yamamuro. The Fox’s Window is a representative collection of Awa’s work, the edited and translated cumulation of which reflects the translator Toshiya Kamei’s taste.
From the first story, “The Sky-Colored Chair”, I was immediately enchanted by Awa’s imagination. A chair maker and his wife in northern Japan are expecting a child. The chair-maker decides to make a rocking chair and paint it red for the child. Unfortunately, the child is born blind and the chair maker, dismayed, gives up on painting the chair as the child will never experience the world of color. However, one day a mysterious boy shows up and offers the chair maker an opportunity to paint the chair the color of the sky. Soon the daughter, by sitting in the newly painted blue chair, experiences for the first time, the color of the sky. This essentially synaesthetic quality of the narrative wherein a blind child experiences color through sitting on a painted rocking chair won me quickly over to Awa’s highly imaginative and poetic story-telling.
Other such stories in the collection are equally as compelling and enchanting. The title tale, “The Fox’s Window”, left a strong impression on my daughter. In the story, through the Fox’s window – the shape made by putting one’s index fingers and thumbs together to form a diamond – one can see through to an irrecoverable and magical past.
As these stories are ‘modern fairytales,’ they do not necessarily all have happy endings. Some end rather sadly, others abruptly, and still others end atmospherically. In this way, Awa’s tales are rather unforgettable – they leave a deep impression like the way certain paintings do, haunting the reader long after one has finished reading them. This collection takes a reader through a literary, magical journey full of symbols and imagery that tap the deeper parts of the psyche. I was thoroughly captivated by The Fox’s Window and recommend it highly for readers interested in Japanese tales of a slightly untraditional bent, yet still bearing the magical qualities of the country’s best known folk tales.