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

By | August 16, 2016

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.


“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)

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