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

By | August 14, 2016

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?”
“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.

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

  1. Rem

    Your first link goes to the review of Memoirs of a Traveler, instead of the review for Sluggish Symbol.

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks very much for pointing that out!

      I just fixed it.


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