One of the short stories from Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces, “A Souvenir of Japan” reflects the influence of Angela Carter‘s residence in Japan (1970–72) on her writing. Written soon after her divorce from her first husband, this short story set in Shinjuku delineates the complex relationship between a British woman and her Japanese lover through descriptive snapshots. Critics have examined the story as an “evocation of culture clash—between men and women even more than between Japan and England” and have drawn particular attention to its autobiographical resonances as the narrative of a woman coping with personal loss (VanderMeer) and to the realistic setting of the story (Lurie).
The story captures the disillusionment experienced by the female narrator-protagonist and her lover, who are trapped in a static relationship based purely on physical attraction. In an alien country, the narrator is continually conscious of her otherness, not least because of her involvement with a younger man, Taro. She is also acutely aware of the status of women as objects of men’s passion in the obtrusively patriarchal setup of the Japanese society and candidly assents to this kind of inferior treatment of women rather “than never . . . be valued at all.” (31). Taro is obsessed with the idea of being in love but paradoxically experiences a feeling of extreme boredom as a consequence of “an affair which is so isolated from the real world” (33). 396 “A Souvenir of Japan” The story is marked by a tone of sadness and resignation at the transience of all objects of beauty and the human inability to delve beneath the surface appearance of things.
Throughout the story Carter tries to capture something of the culture and the customs of Japan. The name Taro originates from the Kabuki tale of Momotaro, the boy who was born from a peach, a story of unnatural birth. The narrator draws a parallel between the living man and the mythical character; both share “an inhuman sweetness of a child born from something other than a mother” (30). The Japanese fireworks, hannabi, form an ironical backdrop to the narrative. Carter’s fascination with mirrors is also apparent, as the city is described as a cold hall of mirrors that replicates reality as a series of perplexing yet intangible images.
Like many of Carter’s stories, “A Souvenir of Japan” appears feminist in its sympathies, largely because of its candid acknowledgement of the unequal treatment of women in a world that privileges men. The story draws on the conventions of postmodernism in the way it calls attention to the fictionality of the characters and the story. The narrator explicitly points out that Taro might be an invention of her mind and his name merely an exercise of her choice. Similar to the houses in this Japanese city of appearances, which are insubstantial and disappear overnight, the edifice of Carter’s story is also an illusionary construct.
Carter, Angela. Burning Your Boats: Collected Short Stories. Introduction by Salman Rushdie. London: Vintage, 1996.
Lurie, Alison. “Winter’s Tales.” New York Times on the Web. (May 19, 1996). VanderMeer, Jeff. “Angela Carter.” The Modern World.