Rabbits, Crabs, Etc. Stories By Japanese Women

Kanai Mieko


Kanai Mikeo's "Rabbits": A tale of Innocence Convoluted with Hedonism
sgregory@middlebury.edu
“Rabbits”, by Kanai Mieko is a riveting story that explores the troubled past of a young girl named Lily; who speaks her past to an unnamed narrator we are introduced to at the beginning of the story. Lily’s past is filled with horrific scenes of ritual rabbit slaughter and feast. These serve as potential innuendos ... read more

“Rabbits”, by Kanai Mieko is a riveting story that explores the troubled past of a young girl named Lily; who speaks her past to an unnamed narrator we are introduced to at the beginning of the story. Lily’s past is filled with horrific scenes of ritual rabbit slaughter and feast. These serve as potential innuendos for the incestuous relationship between Lily and her father. These “feasts” and slaughters tether Lily and her father together, so much so that Lily decides to create a Rabbit costume she dresses in to surprise her father on his birthday. However, this surprise does not go as planned, Lily’s father ends up dead and Lily with a pierced eye. Shrouded by guilt, Lily explains to our unnamed character that this is the reason she lives her life in the costume, continuing the rituals her father had taught her. With that, the two end their encounter. It isn’t until sometime later, after searching, that the narrator meets Lily again, where she takes on the role of wearing the rabbit costume herself.

It is evident from this brief synopsis that this story has a lot to unpack. Mieko blends innocence and horror to create a story that is forbiddingly twisted. This story conveys themes of grief, guilt, hedonism, and innocence. A deep impression is instilled on its readers due to its outwardly grotesque and disturbing nature. This story has a huge shock factor associated with it, making the reader think about the underlying symbolism in the story. Not only is this story filled with symbols that the reader can interpret, including rabbits, eyes, and blood, but many innuendos are used as well including the rabbit feasts and slaughters. Assembling all these things together, this story is definitely one that keeps the reader’s interest. However, this story is not at all for the weak-stomached. The scenes are described vividly in an extremely gruesome and gory manner, which in part speaks to why this story leaves a deep impression on its readers. This is definitely not a story I recommend for an immature or young audience, but I would recommend this story to someone who enjoys an ambiguous read. There are so many ways you could read this story and so many symbols that can be interpreted in different ways that there is not one correct way to interpret the story. Personally, I enjoyed this story due to its obscure storyline, but understand why this would not be some people’s interest. Honestly, rating this story is hard because it is not a clear cut story and the imagery is extremely disturbing. If I were to rate this story simply based on shock and if it is interesting or not it would receive a 5/5 without a doubt. It certainly left a lasting impression on myself and draws attention to some dark themes which deserve recognition. For this reason, I recommend this story, but as mentioned above there is definitely a particular audience this was written for.

Kanai Mieko. "Rabbits." In Rabbits, Crabs, Etc. Stories By Japanese Women, by Phyllis Birnbaum, 1-17. University of Hawaii Press, 1982.

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gdevries@middlebury.edu
Grace DeVries: 4/6: Rabbits is yet another disturbing story that, taken at face value, is extremely distasteful and difficult to read. However, in the secondary source it is said that "an artist does not paint an apple because she wants to eat an apple." Meaning, the story is a very literal take on what women are subjected to. However, it is said in the preface of Rabbits that the author is simply trying to "solve the puzzles of her imagination" in the story. Does this simplistic reason for writing hide her deeper intentions? And is the former what was told to the general public?

nlara@middlebury.edu

Lily's father was not conventional in many ways. How did their shared interest of rabbits and binge-eating affect Lily's development as a young child?


cetrillard@middlebury.edu
Question 4/6: I read the selected Kurashi stories, and I was wondering how horror plays a role in communicating Kurashi's message. Why communicate the literature through the use of horror rather than other mediums? What kind of effect does Kurashi intend to evoke on the reader and was it successful?

sgregory@middlebury.edu
I am honestly interested in hearing people's take on the overlying takeaway from this story as a whole. There is a lot of different areas of explanation that are interesting to think about and I would love to hear more people's opinions on the "message" of this story?
 

sgregory@middlebury.edu
What is the role of the character listening? - Is she some sort of medium that follow's Lily's death, or is there more significance in her character especially with the way the story began and ended?
 

alinas@middlebury.edu
Daily Question 4/6: I found the story to be really disturbing, especially the parts that described how she slaughtered the rabbits and later bathed in their blood. It seems odd to me that the main character seems to enjoy the power she has over rabbits but then decides to in a weird way become a rabbit herself. I don't understand why she would want to become a rabbit after it seems like she relishes her ability to kill the defenseless rabbits. Why would she want to become the creature she slaughters?

jayhoc@middlebury.edu
I found myself a little confused after reading this story. To say the least, it was very shocking and its plot was captivating. I wonder if this text is feminist. Is Kanai critiquing Lily's attachment/obsession to her father, to the point of having an incestual relationship?

mmflores@middlebury.edu
The story was disturbing to say the least. I am interested in the metaphor related to rabbits. The author made sure to point out that rabbits are seen to be innocent. I think what was most disturbing was the quick switch from innocence and curiosity can turn into something sinister. Does the author implement these methods to show that everything has a dark side, regardless of how innocent it may seem?

swittig@middlebury.edu
My question is in regards to the connection the narrator and the girl in the rabbit costume seem to have. The narrator can uniquely identify the girl through smell and is the only one in the neighborhood even aware of her house. Then, in the end as the narrator puts on the rabbit costume herself, she, the girl, and a group of blind rabbits all just remain in that space, motionless. Is this connection supposed to represent women in society and or an unspoken bond between them? I know at least from my background, equating a woman to a rabbit/bunny can either be taken as someone who is cute but dumb, or an overly sexualized representation. By making them all occupy the same space and emphasizing their blindness, is she traying to express that women as a collective whole are perpetuating their suffering and repression by turning a blind eye to or playing into this stereotype?

nquizon@middlebury.edu
What kind of social backlash or censorship, if any, did Kanai's work receive? Did similarly grotesque works from this literary period gain popularity in the rest of the world at the time? I'm having a hard time thinking of popular Western equivalents, so I'm curious how they were received and interpreted outside of Japan.

mgromero@middlebury.edu
Rabbits is definitely a story like no other I have read and frankly not the type I enjoy particularly. However, the preface raises a really interesting point, "Women were apparently more often than men, obliged to abandon ordinary human comforts in order to write." Rabbits is riddled in its connections to the lack or loss of reality from Lily and her dad, the unnamed narrator, dreams and houses in the forest no one has heard of. Did Kanai's writing adopt (a) bizarre plot(s) to grab attention and have her work recognized considering the rejection of Japanese women writers or was she writing for pure pleasure or could it be described as the effect to the youngest generation who grew up in Post-War Japan who were influenced by a country who was grappling with the question of reality? In other words, what influenced Kanai?

egavin@middlebury.edu
I am honestly pretty confused reading the Rabbits story. Outside of telling a story of a strange relationship between a girl and father, I struggle to see the underlying themes that would connect the story to real-life problems or people's lifestyles. Are the rabbits a symbol of something or is it more so Lily's actions with her father that serves as a societal critique?

rurbina@middlebury.edu
Daily Question 4/6: Kaina writes her stories with gruesome details and it reads like previous stories that we have read. She writes this way in order to reveal the truth in a different manner to get her readers to see the problems in a different perspective. We talked a lot about these experimental writing styles, but we haven't talked too much about their real world effects. My question revolves around whether or not her stories have inspired change.

sabrinak@middlebury.edu
Daily Question 4/6: As the story, Rabbits, tells a gory tale of a father and her daughter (in her perspective), who both share their love for skinning and eating rabbits, I can't help but wonder if there is a mother figure in this story. The daughter is so caught up in pleasing her dad, even making a rabbit costume..., I'm just curious as to why a mother figure wasn't introduced in the story.

ttanchanco@middlebury.edu
After reading Rabbits, I'm left wondering if Kanai Meiko is trying to make a message about animal cruelty, or if there is something to gather regarding femininity, weak masculinity, and sexuality correlated to the violent and eerie themes of Rabbits. What is the message she is conveying when the main character decides to put on the costume in the end?

ayepizmedina@middlebury.edu
I am wondering why the author chose rabbits specifically and not any other animal, do they have any significance in Japanese culture or do they symbolize something?


sgregory@middlebury.edu

Monden, Masafumi. “Being Alice in Japan: Performing a Cute, ‘Girlish’ Revolt.” Japan Forum 26, no. 2 (2014): 265–85. https://doi.org/10.1080/09555803.2014.900511. 

This article highlights the manifestation of Alice in Japanese culture. In Lewis Caroll’s works, Alice is only seven years old but despite her age, her heroine is portrayed as a character who is independent, emotionally flat, and autonomous. Often Alice is referred to as the picture perfect Shōjo-girl.  Shōjo was a term used to describe the hyper-feminine ideal at the time and is someone who is often represented in terms of girlish attire and presumed asexuality. This assigns a degree of independence to the category of adolescent girls separating them from both older and younger women. There is something to say about this dichotomous relationship between girlhood, womanhood, and sexuality and often gives undertones to a dark interpretive understanding of who this character is and what she represents in Japanese culture. One of Alice’s most alluring qualities is her clothing - that which instills a girly cuteness that is conservative in nature. This fashion underplays the eroticism that many associate with Alice and in fact can serve as an alternative to such a restrictive binary. Such is the case because emphasizing sweetness, demureness, and femininity without hinting at sexual allure or seeking the objectifying male gaze serves to repudiate the stereotyped representation of femininity as passive, compliant and powerless against the sexual objectification of women. We can relate this article to Mieko’s Rabbits as we can view Lily as an Alice-esque character; not only is she mature beyond her years but she represents the hyper-feminine ideal for her father. However, she diverges in her atypical fashion and actions. This may relate to the fact that she wears a rabbit costume, connecting themes of sexual desire with the costume and innocence with her Alice-esque character demeanor. We can critically evaluate Lily’s character with information from this article and paired symbolism from the text that allow us to better understand the meaning of the text as a whole.

White, Anna. “Merry March Hares and Rabbits.” V&A Blog (blog). Victoria and Albert Museum, March 10, 2014. https://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/caring-for-our-collections/merry-march-hares-and-rabbits. 

To explore the main theme of the short story Rabbits, it is important to explore rabbit’s symbolism in literature. This source explores exactly that and is intended for an audience fraught with questions on rabbit meaning in literature. Rabbits have paradoxically been used as both symbols of sexuality and virginal purity. They have been a sex symbol since antiquity as representation of sexual purity and intimate connections. This makes the reading of Rabbits and the use of the animal make perfect sense. Lily is a young girl who is sexually involved with her father. She uses rabbits as her main connection with her father so much so that she dresses as one herself to impress him. This rabbit interconnection represents Lily’s antithetical character as an innocent young girl whose intimacy with her father is rooted in atypical sexual desires. Both her father and herself’s obsession with the rabbit ritual insinuates some deep rooted sexual innuendos referring to Lily’s purity as a child and the hypersexualized relationship between her and her father.

Professor, Deborah Shamoon. “SHŌJO.” Japanese Media and Popular Culture, April 17, 2020. https://jmpc-utokyo.com/keyword/shojo/. 

This source deals with the different definitions and characterizations of Shōjo. Shōjo is a term that works antithetical with itself; it both represents an image of an innocent teenage girl but also a sexualized female character. For men, Shōjo represents female characters that are both alluring and frightening. Out in public for the first time, the Meiji schoolgirl  represented the flower of bourgeois girlhood, but her Western education posed a real threat to male control of public and private life.  The Shōjo aesthetic represented both freedom and liminality for Japanese girls as the Shōjo years end with adulthood when the woman is expected to forgo her own pleasure and become a wife and mother. The Shōjo emphasizes the fact that adolescent years are limited and particularly for Japanese women a bittersweet adulthood will follow. The Shōjo is dichotomous in the way that it represents women who live beyond the male gaze but the tragic realization  that this does not last forever. This article is a super interesting read and delves into many interesting and different ways the Shōjo aesthetic is degraded and empowered. When we think about the story Rabbits in conjunction with this article we begin to question Lily’s association with the rabbit instead of the typical Shōjo schoolgirl. Her incestuous relationship with her father is hypersexualized and strips her of her innocence as a child. This plays interestingly into the role of an atypical Shōjo character. Lily’s young age reflects the innocence of a child, but this is convoluted with the sexual themes that surround her character; two opposing themes that could seemingly connect to the antithetical nature of Shōjo representation.

Larry. “Food and Sex in Children's Literature.” SLAP HAPPY LARRY, November 3, 2021. https://www.slaphappylarry.com/food-children-literature-fiction/. 

In this short article we explore food’s meaning in literature - a constant theme throughout Mikeo’s Rabbits. Food in the story is used as an innuendo for sex and as we read this article we explore the apparent relationship between food and sexual desire. Food in literature is often used as a representation of human pleasure in life, insinuating the hedonistic nature of the human species. Glutton and greed are typical motifs in literature and are often followed by punishment. We see this expertly produced in Rabbits. The sexual desires between Lily and her dad are represented by the gluttonous nature of the meals they eat together and albeit wrong it is the insatiable desire of Lily and her dad to partake in these meals in order to satisfy their cravings and bring them pleasure. These meals continue throughout the story but in the end the one thing bridging them together is ultimately the thing that breaks them apart when Lily’s father passes away. The gluttonous nature of Lily and her father is representative of the innate sexual desires of humans that creates animalistic tendencies, maybe another relation to Lily’s rabbit costume before her father’s death. Food in literature, is often representative of sexual intercourse but does so in a way that naturalizes the lesson being taught in terms that are not as culturally shocking as many references to sex can be. In a story that is already as shocking as Rabbits it makes sense that the author would use innuendos to mask the appalling nature of Lily and her father’s relationship, but do so with symbolism that is extremely representative of the underlying sexual themes.

 

Professor R Shaldijan Morrison, “Study Guide: Kanai Mieko’s “Rabbits” (Usagi 兎, 1972),” Youtube Video, 12:57, May 19, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4--IijG24po

This source follows Rabbits as a professor answers questions for his study guide. This source is well suited for an audience who has not read Rabbits but is interested in the main themes and takeaways from the story. The professor begins by stating that this story is one that is grotesque and shocking, often laying a deep impression on its readers. However, the rabbit killing ritual should not be taken literally; it is a possible source for the writer in the beginning of the story to process her trauma in order to get over her writer’s block. In order to move on with her life after trauma the narrator must come to terms with her dark past. This forms the story in a way that the rabbit girl, or second narrator, is an extension or past version of the writer in the beginning of the story; she talks about this grotesque tale to make reconciliation with her past in order to move on with her life. This study guide allows the watcher to look at Rabbits in a new and exciting way - making connections between the two narrators who, upon first reading, seem surprisingly disconnected, but seemingly have something interconnecting them due to the nature of their interaction.