“The House of a Spanish Dog” (short story) by Haruo Satō
English Publication History: The Transatlantic Review No.7 (Fall 1961), Modern Japanese Stories: An Anthology (Charles E. Company, 1962)
Original: Japanese (西班牙犬の家), 1914
Translated by George Saito, 1961
Synopsis: Fraté is put for walk with his dog, whom he likes to follow as the dog tends to lead him off the beaten path. After a few hours, Fraté finds himself deep along a forested path then within the neck of the woods itself. Suddenly, just before him, it seems his dog had led him to a rustic little home under the forest’s canopy. Peeking inside, Fraté sees no one but a dog inside; upon opening the door, the only remnant of a anyone is a still-smoking cigarette. The simple dog and simple decor encourage Fraté’s daydreaming before he leaves, yet peeks inside for a surprise.
Pre-analysis: While the author’s “early poems show[ed] a strong socialistic tendency”, his later poems exhibited “his profound knowledge and passionate love of Japanese classical literature” (Morris, 1962). Morris further describes the story as having a “strong lyrical vein”, a story that was one of Satō’s few speculative stories before “adopt[ing] a more realistic approach to his material” later in his life.
Analysis: This 8-page story is largely a work of fiction that takes a vein of a story of a man and his dog. Simple as it may begin, the progressive series of placid mysteries impinge upon the man’s idle curiosity. With only the other man’s worldly belongings to stir his imagination, Fraté lets his imagination wander before exiting and peering through the window, where he sees the dog has disappeared yet the man seemingly materialize.
For Fraté, his curious nature is led by his trusty canine, a natural beast that is prone to curiosity and investigation; thereby, Fraté does likewise, albeit vicariously. For the forest hermit, however, this isolated man is more of an observer rather than a investigator. Where Fraté is an active pursuer of objective truth, the hermit is a passive observer of subjective sense. In the state in which they meet, both modes–active and passive–can be mutually explored only when innocent deceit is leveled.
Review: Morris remarked that the story shows a “strong lyrical vein”, but reads more like an immersive subjective story in a bucolic setting. Things are seen through the eyes and curiosity of Fraté, but the expected reflective poetry to his insights are not to be found; rather, it’s Fraté’s small flights of imagination and piques of insight that stir the reader to follow him through the hamlet, out the door, and to peer back through the window.