Back in late 2016 I translated part of the story “Matasaburo of the Wind” by the acclaimed author Kenji Miyazawa. While it was a fun experience, due to the difficulty level, plus the fact there didn’t seem to be much community interest in this story, I never ended up translating any more of it.
But last week, almost 5 years after I posted my translation, I suddenly noticed a huge amount of traffic to this story. It turns out that a popular rock band, Yorushika, had made a video for a song titled “Matasaburo” which was a reference to this same short story. I also got several comments on my article.
Now that there is clearly some interest for this story, plus the fact that nearly five years of translation projects (over ten books worth) meant my translation ability had improved, there was less of a reason to leave this project in limbo.
So I have decided to translate a few more pages of this story. Whether I do the rest of the story will be partially based on continued interest, mostly in the form of hits and comments to this article. So if you like the story, please spread the word. (For those studying Japanese you can find the original text here.)
Also, if you enjoyed this translation please consider taking a look at my books (mostly translations of classic Japanese literature).
風の又三郎 (Matasaburo of the Wind) by 宮沢賢治 (Kenji Miyazawa), translated by J.D. Wisgo
The next day Ichiro was eager to see if that strange boy was really at school reading a book, so he went to get Kasuke earlier than usual. However, apparently having thought of this before Ichiro did, Kasuke had already eaten breakfast and was waiting for Ichiro outside his house, carrying a wrapping cloth full of books. On the way to school, they kept talking about that boy. When they arrived at the schoolyard, seventy-eight young children were already there playing games with a stick, but the strange boy was nowhere to be found. Thinking that like yesterday he might be somewhere in the classroom, they looked around there, but the room was quiet without a single soul, only a bunch of faintly white vertical lines left on the blackboard, dried marks from their cleanup yesterday.
“That kid from yesterday isn’t here yet,” Ichiro said.
“Yeah,” Kasuke agreed, looking around.
At that point Ichiro went underneath the monkey bars and grabbed hold of them, pulling himself partway up and sliding his hands together so he could climb up and sit on the rightmost pole, and from there he carefully watched the direction Saburo had gone yesterday. Over there glistened a winding stream, and the occasional rippling of white torreya trees told of strong winds near the mountains in the distance.
Kasuke too sat there waiting at the base of the same pole, staring towards where the boy had gone. But the two boys didn’t have to wait very long because Saburo suddenly appeared on the road there, running with a gray bag in his right hand.
“He’s here!” Ichiro began to call out to Kasuke sitting below, when Saburo began to rush up the bank and towards the school gate.
”Good morning!” Saburo said boldly. Everyone turned to look at him, but nobody responded to Saburo’s greeting.
Everyone had been taught not to keep quiet, but rather to always say “Good morning!” back to the teachers. But the students had never greeted each other that way, so Ichiro and Kasuke were surprised to hear Saburo say that, not to mention put off by his lively manner, and rather than speaking the words “Good morning” out loud they just quietly mumbled something incomprehensible to themselves.
But Saburo, showing no sign of being particularly bothered by this, took a few steps forward then stopped, looking intently around the schoolyard with those pitch black eyes of his. It seemed he was searching for someone to play with. Yet even though everyone shot curious glances towards the boy, they continued playing as before and nobody went to go talk to Saburo. He just stood there for a while looking a little uncomfortable, but then began looking around the schoolyard once more.
After that, he started to walk from the gate towards the front door with long strides, counting each step as if he was trying to measure the distance. Ichiro hurriedly jumped down from the monkey bars and stood beside Kasuke as they held their breaths, watching Saburo.
Saburo eventually halted in front of the doors, then turned around and stood for a while with his head cocked to the side, as if doing some calculation.
As before, the others looked nervously at Saburo. Folding his hands behind his neck as if troubled by something, Saburo began walking toward the embankment behind him, passing in front of the teacher’s room.
Right then the wind gusted and rippled through the grass with a rustle, kicking up dust in the middle of the schoolyard, and once the wind reached the front doors it became a quickly spinning whirlwind, leaving yellow dust to scatter, as if a bottle had been overturned, as the wind raised up and beyond the roof.
All of a sudden, Kasuke spoke loudly.
“Yes, I knew that kid was Matasaburo! Whenever he does something, the wind is bound to blow.”
“Yeah.” Wondering what was going on, Ichiro watched quietly. Paying no mind to the others, Saburo continued walking briskly towards the embankment.
At that moment, a teacher came out of the doors as usual, carrying a whistle.
“Good morning,” the young children asid as they gathered before the teacher.
“Good morning.” After taking a look around the schoolyard, the teacher blew the whistle and said, “Alright everyone, get in line.”
Just like the previous day, the children all formed an orderly line. Saburo too was in line in the place he had been told yesterday.
As the teacher was facing directly into the sun, she squinted slightly as she gave the orders one by one, and in the end everyone passed through the entrance and into the classroom.
“Today we begin our studies. All of you have brought your supplies with you, right? Alright, first and second graders please get out your papers, inkstones, and calligraphy books; third and fourth graders get your arithmetic books, notebooks, and pencils; and fifth and sixth graders get your Japanese textbooks.”
The next instant, a great uproar began in the crowd. Sataro, the fourth grader whose desk was next to Saburo, suddenly reached out and swiftly snatched up a pencil from Kayo, a second grader. Kayo was Sataro’s little sister.
“Hey brother, you can’t take my pencil!” Kayo said as she tried to recover it.
“Oh, no this is mine”, Sataro said as he put the pencil into his chest pocket, then put both hands into his sleeves like the Chinese do when they bow and pressed his chest against the desk.
“It’s because you lost your own pencil in the shed yesterday. Give it back,” Kayo said as she struggled to take back the pencil, but Sataro was stuck firmly to the desk like a fossilized crab, so Kayo just stood there grimacing, on the verge of crying.
Saburo opened his Japanese textbook on the desk and stared at it thoughtfully for a little while until he saw Kayo finally break out into tears, when he took the pencil he had been holding in his right hand, already worn halfway down, and silently placed it on the desk in front of Sataro.
Seeing this, Sataro immediately stood up, his mood suddenly improved. “Will you give me that?” he asked Saburo. The boy seemed confused for a moment but then said, “Yes,” as if making up his mind. Sataro suddenly broke out laughing and placed the pencil back into Kayo’s pinkish hand.
During this time the teacher was helping the first graders put ink in their inkstones on the other side of the classroom, and Kasuke sat in front of Saburo so he was unaware of what happened, but Ichiro saw everything from the backmost seat. It gave him a strange, indescribable feeling that made him grind his teeth.
“Now I’d like the second graders to practice the subtraction they learned before the break. Try to solve this problem,” the teacher said and wrote “25 – 12”. Each of the second graders diligently copied the problem into their notebooks. Like the others, Kayo had her head stooped close to her notebook, nearly touching it. “Fourth graders, you work on this,” the teacher said and wrote “17 x 4”.
All of the fourth graders copied that to their notebooks––Sataro, Kazou, Kosuke, and the others.
“Fifth graders, please open your textbook to the latest section and try quietly reading as much as you can,” said the teacher. “Write down any characters you don’t know in your notebook.” All the fifth graders began to do as they were asked.
“Ichiro, please open to the page you have been working and write down any unfamiliar characters, like the others.”
After that, the teacher got off the podium again and began to walk around, checking the first grader’s calligraphy one by one.
Saburo placed his textbook neatly upon his desk and read the assigned section intently without pausing. But he didn’t write down even a single character in his notebook. It wasn’t clear whether there were actually no unfamiliar characters, or if he simply had given his only pencil to Sataro.
Eventually the teacher returned to the podium, showed the second and fourth graders the calculations for the arithmetic problem, and assigned them a new problem. Next she wrote all the unfamiliar characters from the fifth graders’ notebooks on the blackboard along with their pronunciations and meanings.
Finally she said, ”Kasuke, read starting here.”
Kasuke read as he was told, getting help from the teacher in a few places when he got stuck.
Saburo listened to this quietly.
The teacher also picked up her book and listened quietly as Kasuke continued to read. After ten lines, the teacher said, “That’s enough,” and started reading herself.
Once the teacher finished reading that passage, she had the students pack up their supplies as they finished up.
The teacher stood on the podium and said, “Recess time,” and from the back of the classroom Ichiro called out, “Attention!” Once everyone had finished their bows, the students went outside a group at a time, except this time instead of forming a line they scattered and began playing.
For the second hour, all the students sang, from the first graders to the sixth graders. Then the teacher brought out a mandolin and the students practiced all five songs that they had learned as the teacher played the mandolin.
Saburo and everyone else knew the songs, and they all sang energetically. This hour seemed to go by very quickly.
For the third hour, the second and fourth graders studied Japanese, and the fifth and sixth graders studied mathematics. The teacher wrote a problem on the board again and had the fifth and sixth graders solve it. After a little while Ichiro wrote down his answer and looked over at Saburo.
Having taken out a charcoal eraser from somewhere, Saburo was scratching wildly on his notebook as he worked on the problem.
(English Translation Copyright © 2021 by J.D. Wisgo)