Shin'ichi Hoshi* 星新一
Shin'ichi Hoshi (1926–97) was born in Tokyo. His grandfather was an anatomist, and his father founded Hoshi Pharmacological University and the pharmaceutical company Hoshi Seiyaku. Hoshi graduated from the University of Tokyo with a degree in agricultural engineering and went on to study agricultural chemistry, but after his father’s sudden death, he dropped out to take over management of the company, which was in dire straits. When the company collapsed, Hoshi was left with having to sort out the messy details.
When he was 31, Hoshi contributed to the inaugural issue of Japan’s first major science fiction magazine, Uchujin (Cosmic Dust), which went on to become the publishing venue for many of the country’s finest writers in the field, including Sakyo Komatsu, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Baku Yumemakura, and Yoshinori Shimizu. Hoshi pioneered the science fiction “short-short story,” writing more than 1,000 works for which he became known as the “god” of that genre. He also wrote works drawing on the lives of his father and grandfather and exploring the historical background of their times.
Among Hoshi’s best-known stories is Bokko-chan, which at a mere six pages long is about a gorgeous young bar hostess named Bokko-chan. No one suspects that she is a robot designed by the owner of the bar to do only two things: make simple conversational replies and drink alcohol. One young man, entranced with her beauty, cannot stay away, and when he has run out of money, he says in desperation, “Shall I kill you?” Bokko-chan replies, “Yes, please do.” He thrusts a poison-filled glass at her and asks pointedly, “Will you drink it?” “Yes, I will,” she responds. After the young man sees her drink it down, he leaves into the night―whereupon the owner siphons out the liquid that has collected inside Bokko-chan and serves it to his customers. The bar lights stay on and no one leaves, yet no murmurs of conversation are to be heard. When the announcer on the radio signs off with “Good night,” Bokko-chan softly echoes, “Good night.”
Sofu Koganei Yoshikiyo no ki (A Record of Yoshikiyo Koganei, My Grandfather) is a full-length biography of Hoshi’s grandfather. Koganei, born in 1858 in what is now Niigata Prefecture, graduated from Daiichi Daigaku-ku Igakko (now the University of Tokyo Faculty of Medicine) in 1880, studied in Germany, then returned to his alma mater as a professor of anatomy. Well known as a pioneer of anatomical dissection in Japan, Koganei also took interest in the Ainu, the indigenous people of the country’s northern regions, believing that they offered a clue to the origin of the Japanese. He undertook a study of Ainu anatomy and bone structure, initiating the field of physical anthropology in Japan, and extended his research to archaeology as well. This work not only tells the story of one scientist’s life―at a time when Japan, having just ended its long period of isolation, had much to learn from the West in politics, economics, and above all medicine―but also pulses with the excitement of that moment in history.
The 15 short stories in the collection Nokku no oto ga (A Knock Sounded) all begin with the line, “There was a knock at the door,” and develop in ways to suit a variety of tastes. In the first story, a woman knocks at the door of a well-appointed apartment where 30-year-old Kunio Suzuki is nursing a hangover. He opens the door to a beautiful young woman he has never seen before. “Hot, isn’t it,” she says, and proceeds to undress until she is in her underwear. Accepting Suzuki’s advice, she showers. Suzuki is on his guard, realizing that this is too good to be true. He asks her who she is, and she brushes the question aside. When he tells her that she’d better check herself into a hospital, she docilely agrees and leaves. She soon returns with a man in tow―the doctor. She explains to the newcomer that Suzuki has apparently hit his head and “doesn’t even remember me, his own wife.” The doctor replies, “Seems to be a case of mild amnesia.”
*Nokku no oto ga (Mainichi Shimbunsha, 1965, 186 pages)
*Bokko-chan (paperback edition, Shinchosha, 1971, 289 pages)
*Sofu Koganei Yoshikiyo no ki (Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 1974, 451 pages)