Sayonara Flower Arranging

One of our hoariest stereotypes of Japan is that the national genius is one of adaptation rather than invention — that it is a nation of copycats rather than creators. However, the Japanese have a good claim to having invented the novel. Lady Murasaki's Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari), written some 600 years before Don Quixote, is a weirdly fascinating narrative of erotic and court intrigue. For Western readers it can only reinforce the image of Japan as, in Yukio Mishima's words, "a nation of flower arrangers."

Genji was something of a one-off. Modern Japanese fiction begins more or less with...

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