“Prize Stock,” for which Kenzabur e received Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1958 while he was still in college, tells the tragic tale of a downed black American soldier in the last summer months before Japan’s unconditional surrender ending World War II in September, 1945. The black soldier at first terrifies, then mystifies, and ultimately befriends the Japanese villagers who are told to hold him captive. When orders arrive that he is to be transferred, a tragic misunderstanding leads to his death.
The story begins at dusk when the narrator Frog and his younger brother finish sifting through the ashes by the village crematorium, looking for uniquely shaped bones to use as play medals. Joined by their friend Harelip, nicknamed for his untreated birth defect, the two boys observe the low overflight of a huge American plane before returning home to the second floor of the village storehouse. Their taciturn father prepares the evening meal, after which the boys and their father go to bed.
Before morning, the village is awakened by the sound of a huge crash farther up in the mountains. The adult men go to investigate, forbidding the children to trail along. Harelip amuses himself by letting the village girls play with his penis at the communal spring. In the evening, the men return with their “catch,” the black American soldier who survived the plane crash. None of the villagers has ever seen an African American, and they consider him less an enemy than a strange big beast.
Because they cannot talk with their prisoner, they lock him in the basement of the storeroom and chain his ankles with a boar trap. The next day,...
(The entire section is 681 words.)