This is the 7th chapter of the fantasy novel “The Rainlands” (雨の国) by Haruka Asahi (朝陽遥) which I am translating from Japanese with the author’s permission. It is about a man’s journey to a mysterious land where he has a moral conflict with their indigenous customs.
While I had taken a break from this series for a little while, there was something about its atmosphere and moral questions that got me to come back to it. Whatever weaknesses it has in terms of a slow-paced plot I feel it makes up via a unique backstory and tone. While it still takes me some effort to make a natural translation, after doing a few chapters I’ve significantly increased my efficiency, and its helpful that the original Japanese text doesn’t go to crazy with rarely used words or over-complex grammar. (Although there are sometimes longish sentences that can take some time to refactor into English).
If you enjoy this story and want to read more, please consider liking this post or leaving a comment. That will help me decide whether I should translate more of this, or move onto another story. You can also vote for it on this poll.
You can see a synopsis and table of contents with other chapters (as they are posted) referenced here. You can find the original Japanese text for this chapter here. Because the original story is made from four long chapters, I have broken it up into shorter ones, and this chapter comes from first half of the original chapter 3,
“The Rainlands” by Haruka Asahi: Chapter 7
I returned to my room and sat on the floor, hugging my knees. All throughout the night I thought about my homeland.
When the flood came to our village, I was younger than Ian and Yakt.
The crops from all the families were washed away. To make matters worse, around that time the field’s yield was poor, so it would be no exaggeration to say we had almost no reserves.
There was a child who was swallowed up by the fierce current of a swelling river, never to return home. While calling out his son’s name and embracing his young wife still grieving over their loss, the father whispered something in a hoarse voice.
With the fields in such a bad state, even if he had survived we probably wouldn’t have enough food to keep him fed.
Everyone in the village knew of another parent who had softly pushed his own child into the same river. But nobody ever talked about it.
Life was hard in the following two months before the next wheat crop was ready. There wasn’t a single person who wasn’t starving. Many wandered the forest, digging up holes everywhere and ended up chewing on things like tree bark. Some people even ate berries not fit for consumption and died an excruciating death as their bowels emptied. My younger brother was one of them.
When I stopped reflecting on the past and listened carefully in the darkness, the sound of the rain intensified to the roar of a waterfall. At this rate, the men would not likely be able to venture outside tomorrow.
My heart was pierced with an expected sadness that welled up from somewhere deep within me, and I let out a low groan.
In the beginning, hatred dominated me. You could say it was a hatred of the two boys. A hatred of Ian’s stubbornness, who had gotten himself into such a terrible state by obstinately refusing food. A hatred of the custom that had driven him to do such a horrible thing.
However, as I continued listening to the sound of the rain in the darkness, I thought about the boys’ destitution, how there was no guarantee of eating enough food regardless of what they did. Their gaunt arms and legs. Their skinny shoulders.
While the men were especially emaciated, since coming here I hadn’t come across any women who had sufficient meat on their bones. Not even a single one.
It was the men’s duty to go outside on days where the rain was light, gathering food and various other items, but it was always the women who had to bear scratches on their hands and feet while hunting creatures such as fish, bats, and rats that lived deep in the cave. The rest of the time they did needlework or dried the medicinal herbs and fragrant wood carried back by the men in order to sell them to the caravan peddlers.
The women’s needleworking hands continued even as they listened intently to my tales of far-off exotic places, their eyes sparkling. The senior citizens were no exception. They kept their hands busy, making containers by carving pieces of wood, spinning yard and soaking berries, straining oil.
But in this land, in spite of all their efforts, there was still insufficient food.
And yet, had they been able to abolish their terrible custom, would they actually be able to survive here, in a place with incessant rain to the point that fields could not be properly maintained?
Would it be considered cruel to ask these people why they preferred they place, why they didn’t consider relocating to a more fertile region? Was it in human nature to love where one was born and raised, even if it meant sacrificing one’s own children?
One day, it was dark inside the cave even though day should have broken long ago. When I poked my head outside, I realized the reason immediately: the sky was covered in thick, black clouds.
The distant sky flashed brightly. A moment later, a terrible roar pierced the sky. That is when it all began.
A torrential rain began in the valley of the likes I’d had never seen before. The rain made a terrible sound as it pelted the slopes, making a sound that echoed throughout the valley until it became almost deafening. The group of men observing this shrugged, exchanged glances, and then went back into the cave.
It seemed like the rain was continually strengthening, moment by moment. Lightning struck incessantly, alternately near and far, as the women cowered in fear each time and the small children cried and ran to their mothers.
When I took a look outside a little while later, it was still dark as night. The visibility was practically zero, but when I strained my eyes I could tell that the rushing torrent before me was much worse than usual.
The cave where the men now stood was halfway up the cliff, quite a distance upwards. At first I thought there was no chance of water rising up that far, but once nightfall came I began to see signs of anxiety on their faces.
Fortunately, the cliffs around that area of the cafe were known to be made from especially hard bedrock, and as a result resilient to landslides. The men got soaked as they repeatedly went outside to see how things were going, observing the deluge below them and the thick clouds that covered the sky.
“Ecudoraara”, someone mumbled in the crowd of people who stared at each other apprehensively.
They all recited this word over and over again, at times chanting it in unison. It was a word I had heard many times since coming to live here.
Initially I had thought this unfamiliar word was a prayer to their God. But after hearing it repeatedly, I finally realized its real meaning.
They were actually saying “Yekudo” (Perservere!), and “Raarya” (Endure!). I had been unable to understand due to their thick accent, but once I figured this out, comprehension became easy for these words that were commonly used around here.
I tried to the best of my ability to recall all the places I had heard those words being chanted. An old man had spoken them to a group of children who held their empty stomachs on a day where fortune had not favored them, leaving them with very little to eat. On another day, a shaman had spoken them when caressing the hand of a man whose wounds had festered and refused to heal. Hadn’t someone with a melancholy expression in the discussion circle also whispered those same words to the girl with amber eyes?
They are repeating these same words now. To a young child who has started to cry after sensing his mother’s uneasiness. While patting a skinny-shouldered girl who fears for her brother living in another cave.
The people here repeated this over and over again, continuing to encourage others and themselves. As long as you endure, someday the calamity will pass.
But would even those who had lost something or someone irreplaceable continue to chant these words?
The next day, the torrential downpour continued.
As the days continued, everyone huddled together anxiously. The foodstuffs that could be acquired inside of the cave didn’t amount to much. Once those were consumed there was nothing left. These people possessed the knowledge to make meager resources last by using techniques such as drying or pickling fish and meat, but even so they were uneasy about the remaining provisions. This much was clear just by observing what they were eating.
Fortunately the rain suddenly abated on the night of the next day. It was no surprise to see everyone relieved when the roar of the rain that had echoed through the cave tunnels went silent, as if wave had receded.
By the next morning, the rain had almost completely let up.
Although a clear sky was yet to be seen, the light provided by the sun that penetrated the thin clouds was sufficiently bright. After waiting for the river’s water level to drop, the men rushed outside, climbing down the cliff one at a time.
The excess water that had receded from the riverbank left behind a great many fish jumping around with their silver scales glittering. The men hurried back to their respective caves shouldering baskets filled with beached fishes, their rushed steps making one wonder how they avoided slipping on the wet terrain.
The women in wait busied themselves transferring half of the fish into pots. Everyone else who was available worked removing the organs from the remaining half then dried them or pickled them in pots.
The spectacle unfolding before me was like a small festival.
Within the cave, the sound of rain finally gone, everyone beamed with joy as they worked busily with their hands.
Once the food preparations were complete in the various communal rooms, those who had gathered smiled brightly while enjoying their first proper meal in quite some time. I heard what sounded like a brief prayer whispered over and over, perhaps in gratitude to their God.
As I was served a portion of baked fish in a far corner of one of the lively rooms, I couldn’t get myself to laugh along with the others.
In the midst of jubilation after having been liberated from the fear of starvation, I wondered if anyone, even for a moment, had thought about their two fellow countrymen who were completely cut off from that jubilation. Those innocent boys were thrown into a dark jail to starve and still lie there helplessly on the cold ground. They may be breathing their last breaths this very moment.
What was the actual reason those boys had continue starving at a time like this? Had nobody–not even a single person–really thought of taking a scrap of food to their dark cells and feeding them?
The fish I was given, which had probably been brought downstream by the flooding river, had a good proportion of fat and was delicious. But I found it terribly disturbing that my body was able to enjoy the fish at a time like this.
When I kept quiet, lost in my thoughts, people came one after another to sit next to me and talk, concerned about what was wrong. Some asked whether I was feeling unwell and if they should call a shaman to come help. Others, as if they could see right through me, asked me to tell them stories of far-off places like I always did, their voices making it clear they were trying to comfort me.
These people were indeed a good-natured, kind-hearted bunch.
By no means were they indifferent, heartless, and ignorant of other people’s anguish. But what I completely failed to understand was how the same people who frequently expressed concern for my well-being could treat two completely innocent children so cruelly.