One more by Taguchi: Enkiri jinja 縁切り神社 ("Breakup Shrine," maybe?). Also 2001, also from Gentôsha.
This is a book of 12 short stories, a paperback original from Gentôsha. The stories were first published in “Webmagazine Gentôsha” Vol. 1-12 (dates unspecified in the book, but still available on Gentosha’s website: March through September 2000, every two weeks). The series title there was “Watashi to anata o tsunagu mono” (What connects me and you).
Since Konsento was published in June 2000, that means these stories started to appear just before her official debut as a fiction writer. It seems pretty likely that the project was part of Gentôsha’s publicity push for her (I have to admit I wasn’t paying attention at the time, so I can’t say for sure).
The stories are all pretty short – ideal for an e-zine – and they all deal with love and/or sex. Relationships. In that hard-boiled, sexually explicit way that made Konsento leave such an impression. However they no more than barely hint at the occult obsessions that would inform that novel and dominate her next two.
Unsurprisingly, I find it the more satisfying because of that: the stories are grounded, limited to the here-and-now, the real. They’re concerned with exploring the jagged edges of contemporary relationships, from a defiantly female (if not always doctrinally feminist) point of view. She’s good at that: these are good stories. Not always great, but good.
The title story has the narrator (different narrator in each story) stumbling across a “Breakup Shrine” in Kyoto where people have written wishes on votive plaques and hung them up as offerings to the gods. Only, instead of the usual “let our love last forever” or “let Kôji-kun notice me,” these are praying for a love to end – “let Kôji-kun break up with Megumi” or whatever. That’s curious enough (and a characteristically tart reminder that love not infrequently involves ill-wishing and schadenfreude), but then the narrator finds a plaque with her name on it. Someone wanted her to break up with her boyfriend – and, coincidentally, she just has. The Twilight-Zone-esque discovery isn’t the point, though – it’s that her lover had someone who felt that strongly about the narrator, the “other woman.” Love’s complicated.
Other stories involve a woman who only sleeps with AIDS patients – and is bummed when one falls in love with her; a woman whose married lover’s wife dies, and she (the narrator) decides to go the funeral, to see what her lover looks like mourning; a woman who gets back together with an old boyfriend and is embarrassed by how sexually experienced she’s become in the meantime, and how dull she now finds him in bed.
I’m not sure quite where I’d place these in the pantheon. Her frank and liberated way of dealing with sex is not new in the history of J-lit – lots of women writers were doing this in the ‘60s and ‘70s (Setouchi Jakuchô, Tomioka Taeko, even Enchi Fumiko come to mind). But they tended to be Serious Writers, writing for Serious Readers – a minority then and now, and what’s more an audience that, one can assume, was more receptive to the idea of the sexually liberated woman than society as a whole might have been. That Taguchi is writing like this in 2000 might not be new; that she was doing it for a mass audience might have been. Although she certainly wasn’t alone.