I enjoyed Akinari’s Tales of Moonlight and Rain – eventually. Unfortunately, the translator’s introduction is long and gives the impression that one simply will not possibly be able to understand or enjoy the tales unless one is a scholar of Japanese history and literature – if that’s not bad enough, the intro also contains spoilers! This is a great shame because, while of course one will get more out of them if one has read the same texts as the author and has in mind the same history as readers of the day, they are perfectly accessible stories which can be enjoyed for their own sake.
If I may be so bold, I’d like to suggest a different order in which to read this book.
1)skip the book introduction and the introduction to each tale and go straight to the tales themselves (marked by a dark moon and a large, illustrated first letter) and read them for pure enjoyment, first. The footnotes that the translator supplies relate to notes at the end of each tale (not the notes at the bottom of the pages which are essentially language notes) and they provide plenty of information, if not a little too much, for pure enjoyment.
2)AFTER you have read each tale, read the translator’s introduction to each one, they will give you historical notes etc… which will shed a little more light on what you’ve just read but will also make more sense to you after you’ve read the tale, and you’ll also avoid spoilers.
3)After THAT, if you want to know more about the author and the place of the Tales in Japanese literature, read the introduction and the bibliography and throw yourself into an academic frenzy!
If you do enjoy the tales, then look for the works of Lafcadio Hearn 🙂