Monthly Archives: August 2016

Japanese short novel translation: ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想): Chapter 2: “Masatoshi Sakizaki”

”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” is a story written by Yuki Fujimura that is published on syosetsu.com. I enjoyed it so much I decided to start translating it into English.

This story takes place in a unique society, where each citizen is legally obligated to write a single book during their lifetime.

You can see more information about this novel including a brief synopsis, my original review, previous translated chapters, and the original Japanese chapters at this table of contents page.

Chapter 2: Masatoshi Sakizaki

Saki Mitsumura was a weird girl.

I felt bad judging her just because she’d made a slightly odd request of me, but the next day something happened to convince me completely.
I always darted out of the classroom as soon as school was over, but today she’d somehow preempted me.
I was the first person to reach the school’s main entrance, where I opened my steel shoe box.
Someone had placed a letter inside it.

Its white envelope was addressed to me.
I flipped it over; the sender’s name was nowhere to be found. But I recognized the beautiful handwriting.
I’d always seen these clean characters on the blackboard expressing the correct answer.

“…Saki”
By no means did I did get excited that this might be a love letter, but when I realized she’d sent it, what little expectations I had dispersed like dust in the wind.
I tried to return the letter to her shoebox––––but stopped my hand midway.
Orderly characters written on stationery paper were visible through the partially transparent envelope.

With only a glance, I knew it was a novel. A chill ran down my spine.

My intuition is wrong pretty much all the time.
But now, for the first time ever, I knew that my intuition was right.
In other words––––I knew that once I read this letter, there was no turning back.

“Read it.”

The gentle voice moved something deep within me.
When I turned around, just as I expected Saki was standing there.
My beautiful classmate–even in her everyday standing pose she was a work of art.
I took one look at her imposing form, standing like a lone victorious soldier on the battlefield, and answered weakly,
“I don’t want to get involved.”

The moment that words are used to express a thought, they restrict that thought.
The instant the words are spoken, that thought is transformed.
In order to convey information to another person, a small sacrifice is required, like a spray of water disappearing into the air.
But I wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice.
That’s why I wanted to avoid saying anything unnecessary.

Getting involved with another person’s novel was the last thing I wanted to do. This was because I also had to write my own book someday.

Saki wrinkled her well-formed brows into a frown.
I held out the envelope to her.
“Give this to someone else. You’ll be better off that way.”
“But I wrote this for you.”
“I don’t understand why you chose me.”

Could she really have been that impressed by ‘Memories traced by a corpse’?
I’m happy she enjoyed it, but I only introduced it to her. I didn’t expect her to repay me in any form.

But upon seeing my response, she suddenly smiled wide-eyed at me.
My eyes were drawn to the sight of such fragile beauty, like flowers being scattered from a cherry blossom tree.

“––––Sakizaki, you’re always so careful with your words.”
I gasped.
But I won’t say that she had figured me out.
After all, that could have been said by anyone. It was well known that I, lacking any particularly close friends, was silent except when I had something important to say.
But the next thing that came from her lips, nobody else could have said.

“You don’t have to write a single word of your own. Just read my story for me. The book I write will remain with you forever. It will surely change your life–more than a countless number of stories written by others.”

Saki clasped her hands together in front of her and bowed her head.

“So please read my story.”

Her words were utterly beautiful, lacking even the tiniest bit of waste.

––––She’s quite sure of herself.
The book I write will change your life–what the hell is she talking about?
But her words resounded deeply within me, as if they were part of a story told just for me.

I looked down at the white envelope in my hand.
I only hesitated for a few seconds before opening the thin envelope. I withdrew the single sheet of stationery.

It contained the beginning of a story.
There was something about the passage–a sense of serenity–that touched me.
I held my breath and followed the string of characters with my eyes.
Before I knew it, there was a lump in my throat and tears streaming down my cheeks.


––––This girl is completely crazy.


Her self-confidence was the real thing.
I now understood.
Saki would–without a doubt–change my life.



                                                                               ※



“So will you do it?”
Before I knew it, she was right in front of me, leaning over slightly and staring intently at me.
Maybe she was trying to determine my facial expression when I had my handkerchief held to my eyes. I had the urge to tell her “No!” just to spite her relentless persistence pursuing a wounded enemy.
But that would be an unnecessary utterance. So I simply nodded.
“Yeah, count me in. Is this the story you are writing? Around how many pages are you planning?”
“3,500 pages.”
“What?!”

That number of pages would easily amount to the combined size of ten to fifteen regular-sized books. With that thickness, she’d have to spend quite a bit of her own money.
Even ignoring financial considerations, that book would be long. Too long. Bookstores wouldn’t be happy and printing companies likely wouldn’t be either.
But more importantly, any book that long would surely have unnecessary parts. This girl should give some consideration for her readers.

As if sensing my unspoken thoughts, Saki puffed her cheeks out and pouted.
“Let me get your advice about that stuff later. For now, I’m going to start writing, so just read.”
“…I want to see the plot outline ahead of time.”
“There is none.”
“What?!”
Writing a 3,500 page book without an outline–what in the world is this girl thinking?
Maybe she’s planning to spin off an epic side story in the middle of the main story arc.
For some reason, Saki was now standing tall with a defiant attitude, head raised.
“Also, if I told you about the story in advance, you’d know all the plot twists and it’d be no fun, right?”
“I’d still rather see it first. Modifying the plot structure after you write all 3,500 pages would be a nightmare.”
“But it’d be no fun right?”
“…”
This girl is hopeless. She’s not even listening to a word I’m saying.
She’s looking to recruit someone to proofread her work, then doesn’t listen to suggestions. Certainly, since everyone has their own perspective it’s not necessary to listen to every single piece of advice, but there’s a limit to everything. It’s like going mountain climbing in the snow wearing a thick animal costume–there’s a mix of “That makes sense,” and “Are you crazy?”

Saki realized I was getting annoyed and quickly waved her hand in front of me.
“Don’t worry. I write really fast.”
“Just please make sure you don’t end up finally publishing your book when we are both 80 years old. If that happens, I’ll have to hurry up and fulfill the responsibility for writing my own book.”
“Wait until I finish writing the book. I promise I won’t make you wait long.”
“But it’s 3,500 pages.”
“I’ll finish by the time I’m 18, before I get old and senile.”
Saki smiled, ignoring what I said.
There was her defiant attitude again, but she was making sense.


“There are some conditions though.”
“I have some as well.”
“My first is that the manuscript I give you has to be read in front of me. I want to see your reaction.”
“My condition is that you don’t tell anyone I’m helping you out with your book.”
“Sure, and that goes the same for me. My other condition is––––you can’t start writing your own book until you finish reading mine.”

That’s a strange request, I thought, but I guess she wants me to focus on proofreading.
I wasn’t planning on publishing my book until after high school anyway. I plan to spend ample time carefully refining my words.
Reaching agreement on the conditions, we both nodded.

“Alright. So when should I start?”
“Right now.”

Saying that, she pulled a few pages of report paper from her bag.

I guess the paper from her letter came from that. I was so excited about reading through the next part of her story, I almost screamed.

Saki grinned at me.

“Let’s go, Sakizaki. It’s time to get busy novel writing.”
I just couldn’t resist her words.

=== End Chapter 2 ===

Note: If you enjoyed this chapter and would like to see more, please consider liking or commenting on this post.

Japanese short novel translation: ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想): Chapter 1: “Saki Mitsumura”

Recently I reviewed the short story ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion”  (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想) which I discovered on the site syosetsu.com.

After reading through several stories on there, this is one of the few that I really liked (this is one of the others), and I felt it would be a perfect candidate for an English translation. I wrote a message to the story’s author (Yuki Fujimura, 藤村由紀) and she gave me permission to translate and put the result on my blog. You can see her home page here, which contains many of her other stories.

This story takes place in a very unique society–where each citizen is legally obligated to write one, and only one book during their lifetime.

You can find the prologue translated in English here, and the original Japanese text of this chapter (chapter 1) in full here if you are interested.

I hope you enjoy it!

 

Chapter 1: Saki Mitsumura

Saki Mitsumura was a special girl.

In the midst of her high school classroom’s constant commotion, the air around her seemed to exhibit a special type of tranquility.

Sitting by a window, her beautiful profile with long hair shining dark brown in the sun gave Saki appearance of a skillfully crafted doll.

She excelled academically. But it wasn’t like grades meant anything. No one ever bothered her or asked for her help.

Head always in a book, she hardly ever spoke with her classmates.

Everyone was conscious of her presence, and yet no one came into physical contact with her, as if she was enclosed within glass walls.

Saki Mitsumura was that type of person.

That’s why one day when she suddenly spoke to me, I thought to myself, “This girl is like a doll come to life!”



“What’cha reading?”

It was the same voice that had given the correct answer when called on by the teacher in class.

I was the only student who stayed behind in the classroom after school. At least that’s what I thought until now. I gazed at my sunlit desk for a moment and then raised my head to see the source of the voice.

Saki Mitsumura stood directly behind my desk, staring at me with her hair held back to keep it falling in her face.

“What’cha reading, Sakizaki?”

I hadn’t answered her question, so she repeated herself.

For the first time, I realized this girl–who was in the same class as me–was a living, breathing human being.

I hurriedly showed her the book which lie opened on my desk.

“It’s an atlas.”

“An atlas?”

Her well-formed eyebrows drew together in distrust.

The girl’s response was only natural. The atlas I had before me was published over 20 years ago.

Even the country names were considerably different. But I liked reading this atlas that I’d found at home.

Looking at it, my imagination would run wild and I’d think about using this country name or that location for the setting of my own novel when I got around to writing it.

But I didn’t say anything about that to her.

You see, I’m not very fond of talking about things that haven’t been directly asked of me.

Saki looked intently over my shoulder at the atlas, and then withdrew a step.

“You don’t read novels much, do you?”

“Nope.”

 

In my elementary school days, I had heard that long ago there were career authors, and to be honest, I wish I had been born back then.

I’ve also heard that the obligation to publish, given to citizens as the final stage of compulsory education, was a symbol of our country’s high cultural level. But the reality was that there was a good and bad side to this practice.

I have no interest in reading novels written by students with the carelessness of a summer homework assignment.

Even assuming a book was written with heartfelt emotion, there is no guarantee that it will be a good fit for me.

Word of mouth or online review sites don’t help much. The way I see it, the act of reading a book essentially boils down to choosing a person.

That’s why I don’t read too many books. Even if by chance I do stumble upon a novel I really enjoy, that author’s second book will never exist.

By forcing everyone to write, the number of readers is decreased significantly. I sometimes wonder if the politicians back then had considered this.


Hearing my answer, Saki nodded.

“Did you write your book yet?”

“Nope.”

“Have you found anything you want to write about?”

“Not yet.”

I stated the facts frankly and to the point.

What could this girl be planning? I wish she would just cut to the chase.

As if reading my mind, Saki smiled broadly.

Just as I was thinking, Wow, she’s as cute as a real girl, she spoke again.


“In that case, would you mind reading my book that I‘m about to start writing?“


I digested what she said for moment and then realized that this girl is crazy.


                                                                            ※


Despite looking very much like a doll, she was human enough to say some pretty crazy things.

But I’d never say something like that out loud. I refused her offer in a more socially appropriate manner to avoid hurting her feelings.

“But everyone will want to read your book.”

That was an undeniable truth. Whenever news got out that someone finished their book, all their classmates would rush to the bookstore.

By the same token, there were many who would keep quiet, wanting to avoid creating a big fuss when their book came out.

But to a large number of people, there wasn’t much difference between their personal book and a journal posted in the elementary school hallway at the end of summer break.

If the cutest girl in school was writing her book, I’m sure everyone would be interested.

That is why Saki should just pick whomever she likes from the crowd. Just don’t involve me.


I stood up, intending to go home, but Saki didn’t back down.

“But if everyone read my book there’d be no point.”

“Books are made for everyone to read. They are published, after all.”

“But I want someone to read mine before I publish it. Someone who will keep quiet about it and hasn’t written their own book yet.”

“Oh, you want someone to proofread your manuscript?”


For all of us who have been given the obligation to publish, the government has set up funds to assist with things like cover design, illustration, and revision.

Up to age 18, the author is responsible for ten percent of these costs. After that, the percentage changes based on age and income, but naturally there are those who want to create a book good enough that is worth spending money on, and well as those who are satisfied with a half-ass result if they can avoid spending money.

Getting detailed advice about things like plot structure will cost a certain amount of money.

And I guess asking a friend or classmate help out with proofreading is one option.

But count me out.


“You’d be better off asking someone else.”

Even if the author was a smart, beautiful girl, I don’t want to help read through a badly written novel.

And even assuming the book was well written, it will not necessarily mesh well with me.

If the book was something I bought, I could simply close it and never come back, but when proofreading a classmate’s book there is some level of responsibility.

I closed the atlas, packed it into my bag, and quickly left my desk.

As I headed for the door, I heard her voice from behind.


“Your presentation in last year’s language class…“


Startled, I quickly turned around to face her.

My reaction was because she had reminded me of a time I had “talked about things that haven’t been directly asked of me.”

Our eyes met.

Her brown-colored eyes reflected the evening sun, giving them a red tinge.


“I bought and read the book you presented in class: ‘Memories seen by a corpse.’ ”

“No, it’s ‘Memories traced by a corpse,’ ”

I said, and immediately realized I’d been tricked.


Saki grinned again. She had purposefully said the title incorrectly. I was sure of it.

She repeated the title, clearly enunciating it this time.

“I could really associate with ‘Memories traced by a corpse.’ So I became interested in the one who had recommended it, you.”

“That book didn’t sell at all. Its author has long since been forgotten.”

“I haven’t forgotten it. Neither have you.”


I’m on the verge of saying something unnecessary, I thought to myself.

I don’t want to get involved. That’s not the type of thing I normally do.

For expressing the things deep inside of me using words, one book in a lifetime is enough.

Even for that single book, I want to reduce my words to the bare minimum, and not ruin it with unnecessary words.

Because when something is put into words, it changes irreversibly.


She spoke, and once again it was as if she saw right through me.


“Read my book, pretty please–just do that, and you’ll never have to write anything yourself.”


It was a beautiful declaration–one completely devoid of waste.

In response to her statement (which sounded more like an order than a plea) I frowned silently.


Now you have some idea what a weird person Saki Mitsumura is.


=== End of Chapter 1 ===

Note: While the author has completed this story in Japanese, it is quite long and will take a good amount of time and effort for me to translate all of it. So if you are interested, please consider liking this post, or even better leave a comment. Or if you found this from a site such as novelupdates.com, please consider leaving a rating or review on that site.

This will help me to make priorities as to what I should translate.

Japanese short novel translation “Memoirs of a Traveller” (ある旅人の手記): Ch.4 “Festival Girl”

This is the fourth chapter of the story “Memoirs of a Traveller” which I am translating from Japanese to English. As you might guess from the name, this is a fictional tale about someone’s travels throughout various places. You can see my review of this story here, and the translation of the prologue here, chapter 1 here, 2 here, and 3 here. I highly recommend reading all of these before you read this chapter, but if you are short on time you could potentially just read the prologue.

Each of the chapters in this novel I liked for different reasons. This is the first chapter that has elements which are decidedly Japanese, and I found out from the author that there are specific cultural references that inspired it. I won’t say more since I don’t want to ruin the fun.

I hope you enjoy it! You can see the original chapter 4 in Japanese here if you are interested.

Note: this is the last chapter published on syosetsu.com from the author, Romo Mamiya. If you want to see more of this story (I definitely do), please consider liking, or even better writing a comment on this post. I have the author’s contact info and will inform him of how many of his fans are eagerly waiting, and also translate messages into Japanese as needed. I think he is working on other projects in parallel (aren’t we all) and hopefully we can get him to up the priority of this story. In the meantime, you can check out my other translations here.

Chapter 4: Festival Girl

That day, a festival was going on in the village.

As I was driving around searching for my hotel and parking my car, a crowd of what looked like village locals was heading towards presumably where the festival was being held.
I heard the faint sound of taiko drums coming from that direction.

After dropping off my luggage and changing into a fresh set of clothes, I decided to check out the festival myself.
Most likely it was being held in the plaza in the center of the village.
As I proceeded inwards, the number of glowing decorative paper lanterns hanging and displayed on long stands gradually increased, as did the number of street stalls.

I decided to grab a bite in one of the stalls nearby before things got too crowded, and then continued further in towards the festival’s center.

It suddenly occurred to me I should have brought my light summer kimono with me.
Of course, my car was small enough as it was, and there was no room for it.
I looked around, and sure enough there were many people wearing summer kimonos in the crowd.
Those with a relaxing navy blue color seemed to be popular around here.

The number of people attending the festival had grown so large that I couldn’t figure out where they had all come from.
Before I knew it, I was holding a mask that someone had passed me.
I put it on, still unsure of who I got it from.
It was a white-colored fox mask, with the mouth and eye holes framed by a deep scarlet color.
When I looked around, suddenly everyone in the crowd was wearing similar masks.

In the sea of navy blue kimonos, a young girl wearing one with a red goldfish pattern caught my eye.
She was wearing the same fox mask as everyone else, but it was pushed up diagonally, revealing her face clearly.
The girl was very beautiful with slightly slanted eyes and strong facial features.
As she looked around, her eyes darted here and there, eventually settling on me.
For a brief moment, we silently gazed into each other’s eyes.

I wonder if I should say something.
Maybe just hello.
But when I opened my mouth to speak,
the girl suddenly ran towards me, her wooden clogs rattling on the ground.
She grabbed my hand and quickly led me to the center where the villagers were gathering.
It was amazing how easily we reached the center of the plaza in the midst of such a massive crowd.
There stood a large tower, illuminated by lights of various colors.

Ching Chi-ri-ring Ching Chi-ri-ring
Tohko-tohko Tohko-tohko-tom Tohko-tohko Tohko-tohko-tom

Near the tower, I could hear bells ringing and taiko drums being pounded on.
The villagers seemed to be dancing around the tower to the simple, repeating rhythm.
The lower part of the tower was quite dim, probably because the lights got brighter the higher the tower went.
There, as I stood watching the crowd form a circle and dance together,
I remembered a dance from my hometown and something a close friend had said as we watched it together.

When this festival ends, summer will end with it.

In the middle of the crowd,
I donned a fox mask that was probably a local tradition here,
and gazed at the others passing by as they danced.
At last, the girl released my hand, straightened her mask, and entered the circle of dancers.
A school of red goldfish swam through the sea of swaying dancers.
I stood there for what felt like an eternity, watching everyone dance.

The next day.
The festival had ended, and the people of the village had returned to their regular lives.
The tower was quickly taken down, and the street stalls also disappeared.
Not a single paper lantern remained.
It was as if yesterday’s bustling festival was merely a dream.
The locals who had appeared in such great numbers were nowhere in sight, and I walked the deserted streets, stocking up on some needed items in a few shops.

I ended up staying in that village for two more days.
But I never saw the red-goldfish girl again.

Another use of the simple non-past tense in Japanese: admonishing children

One of the convenient things about Japanese is that there are less verb tenses than in English, where you have things like “will run” and “would have run” (though there is still a few in Japanese). However, the tradeoff is that there are a bunch of other ways to use the smaller set of tenses to express a variety of things. For example, “pre-masu form” plus “な” is a command to do something (ex: 食べな), which I think came from “~なさい”.

Accordingly, there are a bunch of ways to say the same general thing, each with subtle nuance differences. For example, let’s look at a few ways to say “don’t 〜”, using the verb “動く” (ugoku, to move) as “don’t move”:

  • 動くなよ
  • 動くな
  • 動かないでくれ
  • 動かないで
  • 動かないでください
  • 動かないでもらえませんか?

These are roughly ordered in increasing politeness, from harsh commands to polite requests. There is a bunch of even more polite expressions that I’ve omitted here.

The reason I’ve chosen this example is that I wanted to introduce one other way to say “Don’t ~” which I didn’t learn from any textbook. Rather, I learned it from using Japanese in my day-to-day life and raising our son in that language.

It is to simply use the non-past form of a verb. For example:

  • 動かない!

Depending on the tone and context, this can mean “I will not move” or “Don’t move!”. I’ve added to exclamation point so that when you say it, it sounds closer to the latter.

I’ve heard this word used, as well as used it many times myself, when admonishing a child. For example, if my son was trying to touch something dangerous, I would say:

  • 触らない! (don’t touch that!)

If you want to get a feeling for this, you can think of the English expression “You are not touching that!”, which is somewhat close in meaning.

As you probably know, relationships between people (ex: boss<->worker) are reflected in Japanese using various different linguistic structures, such as the desu-masu form. So I would try to avoid saying something like “触らない!” to someone above your (age, experience) level, or even to another adult. Depending on the person, I would say something like this:

  • あの。。。すみませんが、ちょっと触らないでもらいたいんですけど。。。

 

Japanese short novel translation “Memoirs of a Traveller” (ある旅人の手記): Ch.3 “The City of Cats”

This is the third chapter of the story “Memoirs of a Traveller” which I am translating from Japanese to English. As you might guess from the name, this is a fictional tale about someone’s travels throughout various cities and places. You can see my review of this story here, and the translation of the prologue here, chapter 1 here, and chapter 2 here. I highly recommend all of these before you read this chapter, but if you are short on time you could potentially just read the prologue.

Each of the chapters in this novel I liked for different reasons. I liked the sense of community and the characterization of a certain character in this chapter. Also, much like the prologue, this chapter makes good use of variable line spacing to adjust the pacing and add dramatic pauses in certain places.

I hope you enjoy it! You can see the original chapter 3 in Japanese here if you are interested.


Chapter 3: The City of Cats

I’ve heard that this city is known as “The City of Cats.”


On the way to my hotel I did indeed catch sight of many cats.
As a cat lover, I was eager to put down my luggage, take out my camera, and stroll around,
but I decided to refrain from doing that for now.


Today, in this small city, it seems a funeral service was behind held.



An old woman had passed away.
That’s what the owner’s daughter who stayed behind to watch the hotel told me.
Apparently this hotel also contained a restaurant and bar under the same management,
and she was left in charge of the restaurant.


They say that the old woman was very fond of cats, and pushed a handcart around with large plates of cat food, passing them out to the cats who lived throughout the city.
I asked,
“Now that she is gone, what’s going to happen to them?”
and was told that ever since she injured her leg a few months back, her granddaughter had been feeding the cats.



“Maybe you should have stopped by the funeral yourself.”

“On my way here I was asked the same thing many times, but I refused.”

“You really should have gone. She was always fond of a lively atmosphere.”

The daughter propped up her chin with her elbows on the counter and smiled.
Her eyes somehow reminded me of a cat’s eyes.







Later that night.

Those who had finished paying their respects at the funeral now gathered at the hotel bar.
Each person shared their memories about the old woman with the group, which included myself.


There was the time when the old woman gently caressed the head of a crying child who had been scolded by their parents.

And the time they held a surprise birthday party for her and really caught her off guard.

There was another time when someone had a baby, and the old woman rejoiced as if it was her very own child.

Someone also spoke about her husband, who had passed away some time ago.

And how the old woman’s daily routine of feeding cats had started that same day.


“Sharing these types of stories are the very heart of a wake,”
someone said, and poured more wine into my cup.

“By the way, didn’t the old woman have cats at her own house?”

This question popped into my head around the time the alcohol had started to take effect.
But, on second thought, since the old woman so dearly loved the cats around the city, I guess you could think of them as her own pets.

However.



“She did have a cat, a female snow-white Persian with brown-tipped ears.”

Before I knew it, the hotel owner’s daughter was sitting right next to me.

“She really had her own cat? Then why did she feed all the cats in the city?”

“Yeah, I guess it was because she just liked taking care of them, or because she was so friendly.”


“Just like a cat,” she added, and poured more wine into my cup.
I considered saying, “But everyone around here is just as friendly,” but decided to keep quiet.

There was no end in sight to the stories about the old woman, but I couldn’t take much more wine.

“Sorry, but I have to get up early tomorrow.”

I excused myself and returned to my room.





The next day.
Having woken up a little early, I decided to take a stroll through the city.
They were all over–on the side of the road, atop a wall, in the shade of a tree, below a cart.
After spying cats throughout the city in various places, I came across a young girl pushing a handcart loaded with many large plates.
This must be the old woman’s granddaughter.
She called to the cats one by one as she gave them food.
In passing I nodded my head slightly as a greeting, but when she saw my face and determined I was not a cat, she simply ignored me and hurried by to the next feeding spot.


After I had my fair share of seeing the cats around the city, I decided to depart my hotel and leave here before the sun had completely risen.
As I was checking out, the girl at the hotel approached me.

“Leaving already?”

“Yes. I really enjoyed your hotel though.”

“Ok. Take care.”

With those few words, she went up to the second floor.

Indeed, the people of this city were
at times friendly and at times indifferent,
but always fickle.

Just like cats.





I got in my car and decided to make a little detour.

A graveyard.

There the old woman’s gravestone stands.
Yesterday I’d overheard someone talking about where it was, so it didn’t take long to find.





However, someone was already there.










A large



Persian cat



with snow-white coat



and brown-tipped ears.







She was sitting before the grave of the old woman, her owner.
In the silence of the graveyard, she gazed up at the gravestone, frozen as if time had stopped.
It was as almost if she was waiting for her master to call out to her, as she always had.







I’ll never know

how long she’d been there

or when she ended up leaving.






Being an outsider, I had no right to intrude on their time.
I quietly stepped away, slowly reaching for my bag.
I aimed my camera towards the newly made grave and the only cat the old woman had raised at her home.









The image of them through the viewfinder

blurred just the tiniest bit.

 

(next chapter)

Thanks to the person who is adding my stories to NovelUpdates.com!

Today when I checked my blog statistics I saw there were many people being to referred from the website novelupdates.com. This site apparently tracks ongoing translation projects for stories in various languages, so the users can read the next installment when it comes out.

This was not just my two most recent stories, but looks like it was all of the translated stories I’ve posted on my blog, even going back to last year. You can see my page with all my stories here. (Update: actually it doesn’t contain all of my translations, at least the Candy Candy ones are missing)

I had no idea sites like this exist, and when I did a google search I found there were some others. Maybe I’ll add my stories to some other sites some day.

But more importantly, I don’t know how exactly my stories got added to this site. It seems someone had submitted them at some point, and apparently there is some RSS-based system where it may add new stories that come out automatically, though I haven’t figured out the details yet. I’m hoping that all the new stories I post going forward will be updated automatically on the site, but I’m not sure. I just posted another translation a few minutes ago, but I don’t see it updated on the site yet. Maybe I need to make a twitter post?

Anyway, I’d like to give a great big thank you to the person who registered my stories on novelupdates.com. If you don’t mind, please let me know who you are! (:

 

Japanese short novel translation “Memoirs of a Traveller” (ある旅人の手記): Ch.2 “Car Conversation”

This is the second chapter of the story “Memoirs of a Traveller” which I am translating from Japanese to English. As you might guess from the name, this is a fictional story about someone’s travels throughout various cities and places. You can see my review of this story here, and the translation of the prologue here and chapter 1 here. I highly recommend reading both of these before you read this chapter, but if you are short on time you could potentially skip chapter 1.

Each of the chapters of this novel I liked for different reasons. In this chapter, I really enjoyed the intelligent dialogue and the way it ends.

I hope you enjoy it! You can see the original chapter 2 in Japanese here if you are interested.

Chapter 2: Car Conversation

My car was a two-seater.

It wasn’t a very big car.
Or maybe I should say it was pretty small.

And cramped.

That’s why this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often.
Right now, at my side…
In the passenger seat…

Sits a man.

So how does this sort of thing happen?
Perhaps I should explain how I ended up like this.
However, it might suffice to simply say that
sometimes things just happen, and there’s no use talking about it.

Anyway…

I’m giving this man a ride to somewhere in the mountains, about a one hour’s drive from here.


“But seriously,”


The man shifted his body in the tight space.

“I probably shouldn’t say this since you’re giving me a ride and all, but your car sure is small.”

I’m sure the passenger seat was way too small for this bulky guy.
To make things worse, he was holding a big bag in his lap.
As soon as he’d got in the car, he used his left hand to rummage around in his pocket for a cigarette lighter,
but the bag got in the way and made it difficult.
When he finally managed to retrieve it, I expected him to light his cigarette with one fluid motion,
but he just dropped it right on the floor.
But, as a non-smoker, I couldn’t be happier.
By the way, my car happened to be a convertible, but opening the roof was just extra work for me.
Why should I go out of my way to tell him about the roof just so he could get a little more headroom?


“So, why is it?”

Either from a lack of tobacco, or because of his inborn personality,
the man kept persistently talking to me.

“Why is what?”

“I’m asking you why the heck would you ever go on a trip by yourself.”

“Do I need a reason?”

“You’re going on a trip yourself with no destination, right? Doing something crazy like that surely requires a reason or two.”

“I will admit it’s crazy, but there’s no particular reason.”

“I not sure you’re telling the truth.”

“I’m telling the truth.”



Silence.



The conversation went dead.
Now this was a little awkward.
But at least it was quiet.

The road had just begun to slope upwards.
Perhaps we had entered the mountains.
Worried about wild animals jumping out in front of the car, I instinctively switched to a more defensive driving style.
No offense to this guy, but he was going to let me focus on driving.


“Alright, I’ll ask a different question then.”

Or not.

“Why are you still travelling?”

“I thought you were going to change the question.”

“I did. Before I asked about why you decided to start travelling. Now I’m asking why you are continuing to travel.”

“I see.”

“So?”

“Let’s see…
I could say that I’m driven from place to place by the beautiful scenery, meaningful encounters with people, and wonderful memories I make.”

Silence again.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Ok, you got me.”

“Those things are just the results of your travelling, not the reason you travel.”

“That’s one point that I do agree with you on.”

“Which means?”

“Which means I can’t think of a particular reason why I am still traveling.”

“Just a gut feeling, huh.”

“Yes, just a gut feeling.”


And so I continued.

“I don’t think there is a reason required to do anything. However, nor do I think it is required that there is no reason. I think people will do things whether there is a reason or not.
It’s an overused example, but I think this is similar to the question ‘Why do we exist?’ Some people say that a reason is necessary and others say it isn’t. Others say if there isn’t a reason they will make up their own.
There are no wrong answers.
So this is my answer to your question.
Without a reason, one can’t go on a trip, or continue a trip. Without a reason, we can’t go on living. I feel that this type of logic is a little suffocating.
I also think some people are just too well behaved for their own good. Maybe it would be better if we all did more things that we truly wanted to do.
That’s the kind of stuff I’m thinking about.
And yet, I feel that as I debate this with you, my argument is starting to become increasingly more far-fetched. But this is what I’m going with.”

“Interesting.”

“Did I convince you?”

The man laughed scornfully.

“Not one bit.”

“Oh really.”


“But you know, you’re one of those annoying argumentative types.”

“That’s what everyone tells me.”

“Even though there is no reason you are going on a trip, there is a reason that there isn’t a reason.”

“While I don’t dislike such fancy wordplay, I must admit that makes you one of those annoying argumentative types too.”

“Yeah, that’s what everyone tells me.”


But then,

“Here is fine. Stop the car.”

“This seems far from the place I thought we were going to.”

“This is close enough. Park the car on the side of the road there.”

There was a place where the road widened a little, so I parked the car there.
The man opened the door and placed one leg outside, stretching his body.

“Yeah, it was pretty tight in there. Of all places, I never thought I’d end up in a car like this.”

After he said this with a yawn, he withdrew his right hand that had been holding a knife to my throat.


“Listen closely. When I leave, I want you to make a U turn right away and go back down the mountain. After that, you can go wherever you like.”
Go ahead and continue your reason-less trip.”

“To be honest, I didn’t think you would release me unharmed like this.”

“Then I’m surprised you conversed so fluently with me.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. Honestly I have no memory of what I blabbered on about. My shirt is completely drenched with sweat.”

“Sorry about that. By the way, further up this road my friends are waiting. To tell the truth, I was originally planning to let them do what they want with you.”

“Why did you change your mind?”

“Who knows?”

The man got out of my car, carrying with him the heavy-looking bag that contained the money he stole from the bank. He took out a lighter from his pocket. I guess he’d retrieved his lighter from my car’s floor without me realizing it. He slowly lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and exhaled even slower.
And then…



“Do I need a reason?”



He said this and began to walk up the mountain road without waiting for my answer.

 

(next chapter)

Japanese short novel translation “Memoirs of a Traveller” (ある旅人の手記): Ch.1 “Coffee and Camera”

This is the first chapter of the story “Memoirs of a Traveller” which I am translating from Japanese to English. As you might guess from the name, this is a fictional story about someone’s travels throughout various cities and places. You can see my review of this story here, and the translation of the prologue (which should be read before this chapter) here.

I really enjoyed both reading and translating this chapter. It has a certain unique mood to it, and ends in a very touching way. I think it’s amazing how the author created this atmosphere in such a relatively short chapter, and I tried my best to convey that in English.

I hope you enjoy it! You can see the original chapter in Japanese here if you are interested.

Chapter 1: Coffee and Camera

This city was full of hills.

While the roads were clean and well maintained, they also seemed quite narrow and intricately connected.
Visibility wasn’t too great either, probably due to the changes in elevation.

Having just arrived here, I felt a little uneasy.
Above all, I wanted to avoid focusing too much on the act of driving and too little on my surroundings.
At least that’s what I told myself, deciding to park my car in a random parking lot and walk.

There is something I really like about walking.

No, that’s not quite what I mean.
This city was like a labyrinth you’d expect to see on some late night TV show,
and I guess you could say I felt a faint yearning for wandering around it on foot.
Roads appeared as I turned corner after corner, climbing steps and descending hills,
U-turning and changing streets when I hit a dead end.
In the process, I got completely lost.
But since wandering itself was my objective, I guess this was satisfying in its own way.

I had memorized the name of the street where I parked, so I won’t end up collapsing on the road somewhere.
But I was starting to get tired.
Come to think of it, since arriving in this city I’ve spent a long time walking without ever stopping to rest.

As I looked around for somewhere to take a break, I spotted a cafe nearby.
It was an attractive little building, not too big, with a triangular-shaped roof.

I think I’ll try this place.
A tiny bell rang when the door opened, and then once more as it closed.
The inside of the cafe had a more antiquated, relaxed atmosphere than I had expected from seeing it from outside.
I could say the same thing for the shop owner behind the counter,
although the old man was more scary than attractive.
And so I went to sit at the counter, being very careful not to let my fear show at all.

“You a tourist?”

The owner’s voice was (if it’s not rude of me to say) surprisingly soothing.

“Yes, I just arrived in the area a little while ago.”

I found myself calmed by his voice, and ordered a coffee as I complimented him on what a nice place he had.
Feeling a little more comfortable now, I turned my attention to my surroundings.
Besides me, there was only other customer.
On the far right end of the counter sat a young woman.
She seemed engrossed in reading,
so completely focused on her book that she hadn’t even glanced at me when I entered.

There was classical music playing, sounding like something from a record,
either by coincidence, or the owner’s preference.
The song was a concerto dominated by low-pitched string instruments.
On the walls, several framed photographs hung.
These were photographs of things like scenery and people.
Oh, and behind the owner was a shelf lined with glasses, cups, and a single camera.

Just perfect.
I’ll talk about that camera.

I felt somehow relieved to have found a suitable conversation topic.
Let’s see… maybe I should address him as “barista”?
But that name doesn’t really seem right for such a down-to-earth place.
I guess I’ll just play it safe.

“Sir, are you into photography?”

The man glanced over his shoulder at me.

“I was, long ago,” he answered briefly.

“I like photography too, and carry a camera around with me.”

I removed my camera from my backpack, and held it where he could see it.
After asking politely for permission, he carefully took possession of the camera with a practiced hand, and then returned it to me gently.

“It’s pretty old.”

“Yes, it does seem to be.”

“Was it a gift?”

“Yes.”

“That’s quite some camera.”

“Yes, it is.”

During our short conversation he brought out my coffee.
Now he seemed to be sitting on a low chair inside the counter, because the only thing I could see was the tip of his head.
I decided to simply enjoy my coffee in silence for a little while.
While I wouldn’t consider myself a coffee connoisseur, I do enjoy a good cup of coffee.
I try to have a cup each day, even when I’m out camping.

“A long time ago, I used to travel quite often.”

His voice came from the other side of my coffee’s fragrant steam.
I was startled by its suddenness, but decided to be polite and listen to his story.

“Together with that camera you see on the shelf,
I went to many places
and took many pictures.
When I was done, I sent all the pictures home.
I had wanted to preserve the memories
of the things I saw, the times I enjoyed.
But, one day,
I came home and looked at the photos I took.
The thing is, I couldn’t remember all of them.
Of course, there were many I felt deeply about.
But there were also many that I didn’t.
So then, in each place I stayed,
I decided to take a single picture
only when I found something I really wanted to remember.”

The owner went on to tell a story about each of the photographs on the walls.
Happy stories, sad stories.
Enjoyable stories, unpleasant stories.
But I thought it was nice how he could talk about every one of these memories.

“Sir, it looks like you’ve went on many wonderful trips.”

The owner smiled slightly.

“Actually, I’d much appreciate if you’d call me ‘barista’.”

Upon hearing this, I realized there was something surprisingly refined about this gentleman.

Just then, the young women sitting at the counter finally looked up from her book and called out to the owner.

“Grandpa, another milk tea please.”

This place seemed to have such an at-home atmosphere.

“She’s my granddaughter and is helping out here.”

So this cafe was family-managed.
The granddaughter really was so involved in her book that she didn’t realize my presence.
Apparently she was attending a college in this city, and was studying to become a school teacher.

With everything that happened, I ended up staying there for quite a while.
I said my goodbyes to the owner and his granddaughter, and left the cafe.

Sometimes I think about how the flow of time within a nice cafe seems to be different.
Time seems to really fly faster than you’d expect.
As I was considering what to do next, I heard a voice from behind.
It was the granddaughter from the cafe.

“My grandfather said to give this to you.”

It was small bag filled with several rolls of film.
How kind of the old man.
I decided to accept the gift,
and politely thanked her.

“It’s really too bad though.”

There was a hint of mischief in her smile.

“This is just a regular city with nothing special in it.
I’m not sure if you’ll find anything memorable here.”

As she spoke, the young woman was framed by a beautiful cityscape painted in the hues of a dazzling sunset.

“Sometimes it takes an outsider to realize a city’s true beauty.”

I said this and took out my camera.
Just like the old man had said: one photo for each place visited.
This was a bit of a challenge for me, being as greedy as I am.
Holding the camera, I framed the cafe with its triangular-shaped roof.
I carefully focused the scene.
I clicked the shutter a single time.
Only once for each memory to remember.
Regardless of whether the photo got out of focus or blurry.
Because that was my own memory of that time.
One was all that I needed.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget about the day I took this picture.

 

(next chapter)

Japanese short story translation: ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想): Prologue

Recently I reviewed the short story ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion”  (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想) which I discovered on the site syosetsu.com (review). (Note, I had originally translated the title as “Unreliable Symbol, Hollow Illusion”, but changed it after further consideration)

After reading through several stories on that site, this is one of the few that I really liked, and I felt it would be a perfect candidate for an English translation. I wrote a message to the story’s author (Yuki Fujimira, 藤村由紀) and she gave me permission to translate and put the result on my blog. You can see her home page here, which contains main of her other stories.

This story takes place in a very unique society–where each citizen is obligated to write one book in their lifetime.

You can find the original Japanese text of this chapter (the prologue) in full here. This is the only chapter I have translated so far, so if you are interested in reading more of this story in English, please consider liking or commenting on this post.

I hope you enjoy it!

 

”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion”: Prologue  by Fuki Fujimura
— Every one of us has the capability to produce a single work worthy of being called a “masterpiece” in our lifetime.

I’m sure all of you have heard this quote from a once-renowned educator and politician.
Of course, I’m familiar with it myself.
The first time I heard it was from my 4th grade elementary school teacher.

“Long ago, every book in the bookstore was written by someone from the profession of ‘author’. Their writings, penned for various reasons, were considered by others to be valuable, and so they went on to write books.”

The teacher flipped through the social studies textbook as she spoke.
The book on the table next to the teacher was “the teacher’s book”. From where I sat, I could see her name written on its spine.
A girl in the front row raised her hand and asked a question.

“But how does making writing a profession make it any different from what all of us do?”

This concern was undoubtedly in the minds of the majority of the class. Several of the students raised their voices in agreement.
The teacher smiled and waited for the class to settle down.

“Those from the profession called ‘author’ each wrote several stories during their lifetimes. Some of the more popular authors produced many tens of books.”
“Many tens?”
“Wow…”
“But the readers were greedy to read more and more new books, so more and more new authors appeared. Many people who wanted to become authors started publishing their ‘personal story’ on the Internet, and the desire to make these stories into books became commonplace… finally one day, a well-respected teacher said, as I quote:

—  Every one of us has the capability to produce a single work worthy of the title ‘masterpiece’ in our lifetime.”

The teacher said this and with an unabashed grin, placed her book on the pedestal.

“And then, in this country it became mandatory for everyone to write and publish a single book in their lifetime. That includes me, all of your dads and moms, and of course all of you.”

The winter afternoon sun shined diagonally in through the windows.
The teacher then declared in her well-projected voice,

“In other words, every single book you see in a bookstore now–is someone’s first and last masterpiece.”

I no longer remember the title of the book that the teacher showed us that day.
But I do remember her expression very clearly–part pride and part embarrassment.

Thus begins our tale, set in a time where career authors have long disappeared.

Japanese short story translation “Memoirs of a Traveller” (ある旅人の手記): Prologue

A little while ago I reviewed the short story “Memoirs of a Traveller” (ある旅人の手記) which I discovered on the site syosetsu.com (review).

After reading through many stories on that site, this is one of the few that I really enjoyed, and also I felt it would be a good candidate for an English translation. I wrote a a message to the author (Romo Mamiya) and he said he was interested in having an English translation done, and would also help with any questions I had.

This was the first time when translating fiction where I had an opportunity to ask the author about the meaning or nuance of certain phrases, and I ended up asking many questions, all which were answered in detail. As a result, I think the translation I produced is pretty close to the author’s intention.

“Memoirs of a Traveller” was written with an interesting style that combines elements of prose and poetry. In particular, the spacing between lines is irregular, and according to the author this was done to control the sense of rhythm. In addition, most of the sentences are quite short, and some of them are incomplete (ex: “だが。”). I tried to retain these aspects, as well as others, in my English translation.

I’ve mostly completed the translations up to the fifth chapter of this story, which is the last one released on syosetsu.com as of this posting. You can see the prologue’s translation below, and I’ll follow with subsequent posts on the other four after the final editing is done.

You can find the original Japanese text of this chapter in full here.

As with all of my transactions, if you want to see the rest of this story’s chapters translated please consider liking or commenting on this post.

“Memoirs of a Traveller” by Romo Mamiya: Prologue

 

“I think I’ll go on a trip,”

I said to myself.




There wasn’t any particular reason.


It wasn’t like
I had an argument with my boss,
got my heart broken,
or was neck-deep in debt.

Nothing at all like that.



Finding a car I really liked.

Receiving an old camera from someone.

Stumbling upon a small tent in my closet.

The destruction of my beloved bicycle, which I had used for many years.

The release of the last book in my favorite series.




None of these things are the reason I’ve decided to go on a trip.

But maybe they did give me a little push on the back.




It wasn’t like there was anywhere I wanted to go.

In other words, I had no destination.

I wasn’t going in search of anything either.

Of course, that includes myself.



I’ll just simply go from here, to somewhere else.
And then from there, to a different place.






From somewhere that is not here, to somewhere that is not there.







This all went through my head when I woke up in the early morning and stared at the blurry ceiling.





“I think I’ll go on a trip,”

I said to myself.

 

(next chapter)