Japanese short novel translation: ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想): Chapter 4: “City”

By | September 6, 2016

”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 translate it into English.

This story takes place in a unique society, where all citizens are 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 4: City

In the modern age, where book publishing has become obligatory, novel writing “how to” magazines have become increasingly popular.
While I have the feeling that this sort of thing can be learned naturally just from reading enough books, perhaps there is a certain percentage of people who want to make sure they understand such techniques.
From the magazine rack at a convenience store, I chose the one that had the least amount of unnecessary content.
There were some titled “Write a book that sells!” or “Popular book designs!”, but I would worry about those things later.
Now I had a more fundamental problem. Fortunately, Saki had a brain smart enough to comprehend even the most difficult of techniques.
Magazine in hand, I glanced at the store’s bookshelves on my way to the register.
There was mostly manga and how-to books, with the other genres containing only books from famous authors.

For the first printing, authors don’t receive royalties since the government covers the publishing costs.
Authors make money beginning with the second printing. However, with the exception of those written by well-known authors, most books never get a second printing.
This is probably related to the fact that the average person doesn’t engage in large-scale advertising for their book.
Collectors will search for books on their own, and word-of-mouth helps promote the good ones, but the majority of the consumer market just won’t put much effort into discovering interesting books.
As a result, the books that sell well all are written by famous authors, and advertised on TV commercials and posters all over.
I’ve heard there are companies that will advertise one’s book, but with the current state of things where authors can’t make money from an initial publishing even if their book sells, nobody will go through the trouble of using such a company.
And, even if your book sells, there will never be a sequel.

Thats why those who truly love books will put as much effort as possible into their one, and only book, such that they are completely satisfied with it.
And they hope that their book will be remembered by someone.

“One lifetime, one book…”

To be unfettered by the shackles of time…
To preserve one’s ideas…
To avoid being crushed by the world…
In world where every person is allowed to write, are there truly that many masterpieces within the stories of humanity?


“I don’t think so, Sakizaki. If you’re going to get lost in thought, I wish you’d do it at a more critical part of the story.”
“Critical part?”
Indeed, the manuscript I’d been given was still just the introduction. Even if she cut down the description of plant life beneath the main character’s feet, intro was intro.
Ideally I wanted to decide what should be cut after reading through the entire book. But if I did that, we wouldn’t likely finish by the time we were were 18 years old. So I’ve just been freely cutting parts day by day.
Saki spoked defiantly as she looked through the report paper which I’d marked up in red ink.
“Even you yourself think there is a mix of good stuff and crap. The masterpieces are there. But many are worthless.”
“But the opportunity is given to so many people. Surely, there are some great books that wouldn’t otherwise have been published, right?”
“If you are just talking about being published, then yeah. But if too many people are given the opportunity, then nobody will ever see all the books made. There are just too many.”

Saki took a sip of the coffee I’d made for her.
Her black eyes glanced upwards at me.

“Sakizaki, did you know that ‘all’ is the actually the same as ‘nothing’?”

––––Here she goes getting extreme again.
I didn’t voice this sarcastic thought, though.
Certainly, “all” and “nothing” are the same in the sense that neither of them involve any type of differentiation.
That’s why giving everyone a chance is equivalent to giving nobody a chance.
Trying to make an appeal that “I am special” has no meaning either, because everyone the same.

Complete and utter emptiness.
Even given such a opportunity, is there really any point in putting a story into book form?
Feeling a little pessimistic, I sipped at the coffee I had made for myself.
Once again, today it was just us two in the dim restaurant. I wonder how often Saki pays the fee to rent this space.
There was a bunch of of things I was still curious about, but I’ll figure those out later.
I voiced my summary of the day’s proofreading.
“First of all, while the amount of description has decreased significantly, there is still a large number of characters.”
“I’m not so sure about that…”
“There’s a huge number of them. After the main character finally leaves the plains and enters the city, names are given for every single person he meets there. Even I couldn’t remember more than about 22 names.”
“Too bad. Only nine more and you would have learned them all.”
“There is just too many! How many of those characters are going to reappear later in the story?”
“Some do, some don’t.”

What is this sense of futility I feel even before getting deep into a debate with her?
What’s wrong with me? It’s like I’ve given up from the moment I agreed to proofread her book.
It’ll be fine. I’m sure she’ll understand. Alright, here goes nothing.

“Saki, let’s try to get rid of a few characters.”
“Already? Even though you don’t know what part they will play in the story yet?”
“Later on, the city may burn and all of them may die a terrible death, or you might be planning to use a barrage of description for overwhelming effect at a critical turning point in the story. But let’s cut some characters anyway.”
“Looks like I just got a barrage of criticism from you, Sakizaki. It takes some real guts to completely ignore the intentions of an author.”
“Were you really planning on doing something like that?”

I knew it.
When I didn’t say a word, Saki gave me a completely stupfied look.

“But Sakizaki, don’t you think it’s strange that a city that is supposed to have a population of around 300 doesn’t have any inhabitants?”
“Appearing realistic and reality itself are two different things.”

This is just like her over description problem.
Even if you describe things exactly how they are in reality, it’s not going to be particularly interesting, nor will it seem realistic.
It’s necessary to strike the right balance, but it’s hard to disagree that having 31 characters in the intro is too many. Even assuming that later all of these characters will develop some special power and play important roles in the main story, I’d like them to appear little by little. I can just hear Saki saying, “but in the real world people don’t appear little by little,” but this kind of thing really helps improve readability.

I decided to address her complaint before she actually said it.

“Even on stage, crowds are represented by a small handful of people, right? If you try to make everything too realistic you’ll make things disorganized and blur the focus of the story. In this scene, I think three people is enough. And names are unnecessary.”
“Even though there’s no person alive who doesn’t have a name?”
“That’s right, even though there’s no person alive who doesn’t have a name.”

I motioned towards the desk lamp on the table.

Let’s assume that everything on this table is the world you have created. Then the novel you write is the lamp that illuminates things in that world. It shines a light on the things you want to show the reader. Everything else naturally becomes dim and obscured––––That’s what I’m talking about.”

The author’s job is to highlight to the important parts the reader should focus on.
Otherwise the story won’t flow. It’ll be nothing but a jumbled mess.
It doesn’t matter how beautiful or how elaborate the world is.
In order to create a story, choices must be made.
Surely there is some meaning in the terrible cruelty of these choices.

When I realized it, Saki was staring at me again.
It was as if she was trying to drill a hole through me. But I had no reason to fear her.
Suddenly, Saki laughed.

“You’re always telling me to cut things out.”
“That’s because you are writing a 3,500 page book. If I’d told you to add things you’d end up with 4,000 pages.”
“If this world was a novel, then I’m sure we would be undescribed, nameless characters.”
“I don’t think you would be.”

If I had to guess, I’d say Saki is the type of person to be a main character.
But Saki, upon hearing my comment, simply smiled and went back to reviewing the manuscript.

“Once we finish this chapter, let’s go on a trip–just us two.”

It was so like Saki to say something crazy like that.

=== End Chapter 4 ===

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2 thoughts on “Japanese short novel translation: ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想): Chapter 4: “City”

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for reading and for competing! Glad you are enjoying it (:


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