Japanese short novel translation: ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想): Chapter 5: “A Digression”

By | September 8, 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 world 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 5: A Digression

We are all given the right to publish, but the materials and research expenses come from our own pockets.
I guess this is obvious, but as a result, job-related books always focus on their author’s profession.
Unless there is a compelling reason, no one wants to spend their own money to research an unfamiliar topic for their book.
However, this might have been part of the government’s plan when they put these laws in place.
A book is a mirror that reflects the life of the person who wrote it.
Each citizen is busy with their own life, and in the modern age there is perhaps no longer a need for anything apart from that.

Shaken back and forth inside an old three-car train, I gazed out the window at the countryside.
The scenery in this tiny fishing village was like something from a postcard. Put simply, it was like everything was frozen in time.
I glanced at Saki, who sat in the seat across from me.
“By now I hope it’s OK to ask where we are headed on this research trip.”
“To a station.”
“That’s blatantly obvious, and I’d be strongly opposed to going somewhere that didn’t go through a station, since that would entail jumping off the train. What I’m asking is where we’ll be going after we leave the station.”
“Maybe we should get lunch somewhere.”
“Makes sense. Let’s do that first.”

I’ll stop asking questions. Just let her do what she wants.
I had no objection to getting off the train and finding lunch. I was fine with seafood, western food, or anything else.
She can go crazy with a sushi boat or even a grilled mutton dish.
Before I knew it, the our train was passing through the mountains.
After our conversation quickly dried up, we couldn’t help but overhear other people talking somewhere in the same train car.
Probably a group of middle school boys. Strangely enough, it seemed that a few of them were talking about the books they’d published.
One of them spoke in an exceptionally loud voice.

“I read your book, but I had no idea what was going on.”
“I don’t care whether you had any idea or not.”

The voice that responded had a sight edge on it.
In the seat across me, I saw Saki close her eyes. Maybe she was going to taking a nap. What happened to the research?

“The scenes flashed by so quickly, and characters who were there one moment disappeared the next, freaky stuff!”
“That’s because it was all based on dreams I had when I was a little kid. They somehow stuck in my head, I guess.”
“Wow, that’s pretty cool. Is there anybody else who is writing about that kind of thing?”
“Not sure. Try searching the database for ‘dream diary’.”

The database contains information on all books written in the country. The general populace has permission to access all published titles, author names, and summaries. Because bookstores can’t carry all published books in existence, some collectors use this system to research and order certain books.

“So when are you going to write your book? I hear that if you wait until you are older, you’ll never find enough time.”
“I’m already thinking about it. It’s going to be awesome, since I’ve been thinking about it since elementary school. You going to love it!”
“I’m surprised you actually want a friend to read your book. I’m going to make sure they don’t stock my book in any of the local bookstores.”
“No big deal, everyone has to write one anyway. Never bothered me one bit.”

“––––Sensitive topic, huh?”
“I didn’t know you were awake, Saki.”
“It’s not like I was sleeping.”
Her dark eyes looked up towards the roof. Saki spoke in a soft voice that only I could hear.
“It’s amazing how a book means something different to each person. To some people, it’s like a keychain they clip on their bag, and to others it’s something they store away in a drawer and don’t want to show anyone.”
“Nobody would write a book about things they don’t want to show anyone.”
“I’m sure there are some things you’d only want to show someone who doesn’t know you, right?”

I didn’t answer, but I agreed with that statement for the most part.
I think there are some things I would be comfortable showing–or maybe even want to show–a stranger.
But there is a delicate sensibility involved here, and I can’t speak for others.

Saki took her time to pull a book from her bag.
It was a book I’d never seen before. The title was “Water Hyacinth and Stake”. I couldn’t begin to guess what it was about.

“This is a book published seven years ago by a certain woman. It’s supposedly fiction, but it’s actually an indictment.”
“An indictment…”
“Yes, an indictment of the injustices performed by the company she was working for. False names are used, but the truth is clear to anyone who reads it. She distributed it in a concentrated area around her hometown. You can guess what eventually happened.”
“Interesting. So there are books like that too.”

Truly, each person’s book means something different to them.
If so, what does my book mean to me?
The moment I tried to think about that, Saki smiled at me.

“For example, let’s say I didn’t have very long to live.”
“What an unpleasant assumption.”
“This means that everything I wrote and said would be interpreted to have special meaning, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“You might call this a bit of an overgeneralization, but I feel that in this day and age, authors are too close to their books. You can think of authors and their works as being for the most part equivalent. I bet that those who are opposed to this will consider selling their book far away from their lives.”

Asking someone to evaluate a work without taking into consideration its author is no easy feat.
Of course, the author’s name can be hidden. But no matter what you do, you can’t remove the part of the author that is intimately connected to that work.
This can come from the author’s depth or breadth of knowledge, education, ideas, upbringing, or many other things.
Why it may be possible, authors nowadays haven’t been given the sort of training to hide their personal characteristics.
A book about a beautiful girl who doesn’t have much longer to live–that would undoubtedly sell well.
But Saki would never support that sort of thing. That should be obvious to anyone who knows her.
She would probably prefer to––––erase pieces of herself from her book as much as possible.

Her dark eyes fixed on me.

“Before book writing became obligatory, when people died they didn’t leave behind much to remember them by. It was not uncommon for someone to only leave behind their name as the sole record of their existence.”
“That’s true.”
“But now things are different. Books remain.––––This means the thoughts of every single person remain.”

An image of a tombstone suddenly came to mind.
A stone, placed when someone dies. This can be likened to a thick book.
Tombstones that once had only names carved into them will now include the deceased’s thoughts as well.
These will go on increase in number forever. Us who remain must walk through these tombstones.

So I asked this beautiful girl,

“You don’t want your thoughts to remain after you die?”
“Exposing my bare thoughts to others would be quite indecent.”

She smiled, as if challenging me.

“Saki, it is our duty to create a story, correct?”

It was as if she was making a small act of defiance––––I thought as I nodded.
After that, Saki had us switch trains several times.
We had lunch at a tiny soba shop in the station near the train tracks. We didn’t even leave the ticket gate.
I had croquettes on soba noodle soup. I saw Saki eyeing my food so I gave her half.
“Your taste in food is quite ordinary. But I like it.”
The sight of Saki happily eating soba reminded me of a chipmunk.
After spending half of the day riding on trains, we had returned to the original station we’d started from.
I said to Saki,

“Why did we come back here…”
“What were were searching for was right under our noses.”
“But we weren’t actually searching for anything, right? And you made us change trains so many times! You purposefully went in circles, didn’t you?!”
“But it was fun listening to everyone speaking on the train.”

It wasn’t actually particularly fun.
Although it was kind of interesting.

Middle school kids, high school kids, graduates, even older folks.
We heard about many different books from many different people.

To some people, their books were not nearly as important as getting married.
To others, they were as important as life itself.
Some even thought of their books as minor annoyances.
These kinds of thoughts had filled the train car.

And she was, undoubtedly, different than all of them.

Saki, sensing my frustration, smiled at me.

“All right, shall we get going?”
“Where? Are we going home now?”
“No. We’re going on a research trip.”

She whispered in a disturbingly clear voice.

“We are going to the house of Mitsunori Sugikata––––the author of ‘Memories Traced by a Corpse’.”

=== End Chapter 5 ===

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3 thoughts on “Japanese short novel translation: ”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” (緩慢な表象と虚ろな幻想): Chapter 5: “A Digression”

  1. Amarin

    Hi Jeff,

    I would like to ask you about the following conversation which being said between closed friends that I found on a manga.

    A: おまえにはせわになったな…結果はみじめな失敗におわったが おのときはうれしかったぜ

    B: またまた水くさいことを….

    The question is that if the phrase 「またまた水くさい」is an idiom rather than literal meaning.
    I tried to translate it as following:

    またまた is ‘again and again’
    水くさい is ‘distant’

    So, I translated it as ‘you said something look likes we’re not closed friend’.


    1. locksleyu Post author

      Hi, thanks for the question. I think your understanding of those two phrases is generally correct, but your resultant translation is a bit unnatural and not grammatically correct.

      Without the entire context I cannot give my best recommendation translation, but here is a rough translation of that line:

      “There you go again, acting like we are strangers…”


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