“Matasaburo of the Wind” is a story by the well-known author Kenji Miyazawa that I originally began translating in 2016. Then, when I noticed increased interest a few months ago due to a video by the band Yorushika being made about it, I decided to translate a little more of the story. (Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2)
Due to a good level of interest on Part 2 in terms of views and comments, I’ve decided to do Part 3. It seems likely that I will eventually finish the story (which will probably take 2-3 more articles), but if you want to help motivate me please comment and spread the word. (For those studying Japanese you can find the original text here, though due to a regional dialect the dialogue is a bit difficult to follow.)
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), Part 3, translated by J.D. Wisgo
The next morning, the sky was clear and the stream babbled as it wound through the mountains. Ichiro headed for Saburo’s house, on the way inviting Kasuke, Sataro, and Etsuji to come along.
Crossing the stream a little downhill of the school, the children each broke off a branch of a willow tree, peeled off the blue bark and made a whip, which they flailed through the air while gradually ascending the road towards the upper field. As they climbed, each child soon began breathing heavily.
“I wonder if Matasaburo is really waiting by the spring over there.”
“He must be. Matasaburo never lies.”
“Oh, it’s so hot. I wish the wind would blow.”
“It is blowing in from somewhere.”
“Maybe Matasaburo is making it blow?”
“The sun seems to have dimmed a little.”
The sun already rose high into the sky, where a few white clouds floated. The childrens’ houses could be seen far below in the valley, and the wooden roof of Ichiro’s house glimmered white in the sun.
The road passed through the woods, and for a while the ground was damp with little visible beyond the trees. A moment later they saw the spring where they promised to meet.
“Hey, is everyone here?” yelled Saburo from beside the spring.
Everyone hurried quickly up the hill. Standing on a bend in the road upon a hill with his tiny lips puckered, Saburo watched them climb up.
The three boys finally reached Saburo on the hill. But they were all out of breath and unable to speak right away. Kasuke was quite exhausted, so he turned towards the sky and said “Whew!” as he quickly exhaled into the sky. Hearing this, Saburo chuckled loudly.
“I waited a long time, boys. By the way, it seems like it might rain today.”
“Alright, let’s go. But I’ll get a drink of water first.” The three children wiped the sweat from their bodies, crouched down, and drank many handfuls of the cold water that gurgled out of the pure white stone.
“My house is nearby. It’s right on the top of that valley. Let’s all stop by there on the way back.”
“Sure. But first let’s go to the field.”
As soon as the boys started walking again the spring made a big gurgling sound, as if trying to tell them something, and the trees around them seemed to rustle louder than normal.
Passing many times through thickets at the edge of the woods and by places where rock fragments littered the ground, the five boys neared the entrance to the upper field.
After reaching the field they looked towards the west.
Beyond a row of cascading hills––some in darkness, others in light––an honest-to-goodness field of green extended hazily into the distance alongside a river.
”Look, it’s the river!”
“It’s like the belt of Kasuga Myojin,” said Saburo. (Note: “Kasuga Myojin” is the Shinto deity of the Kasuga shrine.)
“Like what?” asked Ichiro.
“Like the belt of Kasuga Myojin.”
”Have you ever seen a god’s belt?”
“I did in Hokkaido.”
Unfamiliar with what he was talking about, the others remained quiet.
They had indeed come to the entrance to the upper field; in the middle of cleanly trimmed grass was a single large chestnut tree whose roots were charred black, gutted wide open like a cave, and on the tree’s branches hung old ropes and damaged straw sandals.
“If you go a little further up, everyone is cutting grass. And there’s a place with horses too,” Ichiro said as he took the lead, hopping down the single path that led through the grassy field.
Saburo came second. “There are no bears here so it’s safe to let out the horses,” he said as he walked.
When they went a little farther, the children came to a large oak tree below which lay an abandoned bag woven of rope and various bundles of grass strewn about.
Two horses with grass bundles tied to their backs looked at Ichiro and whinnied.
“Brother, are you around? We’re here,” Ichiro yelled out as he wiped the sweat from his face.
“Hey! Stay there. I’m coming,” came the voice of Ichiro’s brother from a hollow a little ways away.
The sun suddenly brightened, and his brother came out of the grass, a smile on his face.
“I’m glad you made it. Looks like you brought the others. I’m really glad you made it. On the way home, take the horses with you. It’s definitely going to get cloudy in the afternoon. I’m going to stay here and gather a little more grass. If you and your friends are going to play, do it on that embankment over there because there are still twenty horses on the ranch.”
His brother started walking away, but then turned around and spoke again. “Just don’t leave the embankment. It will be dangerous if you get lost. Around noon I’ll come back.”
“Okay. We’ll stay on the embankment.”
Then Ichiro’s brother went away.
Wispy clouds covered the sky, and the sun, like a white mirror, moved in the opposite direction. The wind blew once again, rippling waves through the untrimmed grass. Taking the lead, Ichiro went straight down the narrow road and soon reached the embankment. Two wooden poles lay diagonally across a damaged area of fence. Just as Etsuji tried to pass under them, Kasuke said, “I can move these.” He lifted up one end of each of the poles and placed them on the ground, so the others stepped over them and went inside.
On a low hill were gathered seven horses, their brown coats glimmering in the sunlight as they lazily swung their tails.
“I heard these horses are worth over 1,000 yen. Next year they’ll all start running in races,” Ichiro said as he walked by the animals.
The horses approached Ichiro and the others, as if they had all been very lonely until now. They stuck out their noses in supplication.
“Oh, they are begging for salt,” the boys said as they stuck out their hands for the horses to lick. But Saburo, apparently unaccustomed to horses, shoved his hands deep into his pockets.
“Hey, Matasaburo is afraid of horses!” Etsuji said.
“I’m not scared at all!” Saburo said as he hurriedly extended his arm toward a horse’s nose, but as soon as the horse stretched out its neck and stuck out its tongue, an uncomfortable expression suddenly appeared on the boy’s face and he quickly withdrew his hand.
“Hey, Matasaburo is afraid of horses!” Etsuji said again. Saburo’s face turned bright red and he fidgeted uncomfortably for a few moments until he finally said, “Alright, let’s race the horses.”
Everyone wondered what horse racing involved.
Then Saburo said, “I’ve seen them race many times. But none of these horses have saddles so we can’t ride them…So how about we each chase a horse, and the first one that reaches that large tree over there is the winner.”
“That sounds fun,” said Kasuke.
“But if we get caught by the herders, they’ll scold us.”
“It’ll be fine. In order to compete in races, the horses have to practice,” said Saburo.
“Ok, I’ll take this horse.”
“I’ll take this one.”
“Then I’m fine with this horse.” The boys tried whipping the horses lightly with willow branches or blades of pampas grass.
However, the horses didn’t move, even an inch. They continued to hang their heads and sniff at the grass, or stretch their necks as if to examine some scenery in the distance.
Right then Ichiro slapped his hands loudly and said, “Go!”
Suddenly, all seven horses started galloping, their manes in a row.
“Nice job!” Kasuke said as he broke into a run. But this would never be a proper horse race.
To begin with, the horses just kept running around without stopping, nor were they moving fast enough to be considered a real race. But even so, the boys enjoyed themselves, screaming as they chased the horses with all their might.
After the horses ran for a little while they slowed down, as if about to stop. The children were starting to get out of breath again, but they didn’t give up and kept following the horses. The horses eventually circled back to the low hill from before and came to the broken fence where the five boys had entered.
“Oh no, the horses are escaping, the horses are escaping! Get them, get them!” screamed Ichiro, face pale. It seemed like the horses had actually escaped the embankment. They kept running and were about to leap over the wooden poles from before.
Ichiro panicked, saying, “there, there…” as he ran as fast as he could. When he finally reached the fence and held out his hands, practically stumbling over, two horses had already escaped.
“Hurry and go get them! Hurry!” Ichiro screamed, out of breath as he put the poles of the fence back into place.
The other four children rushed to the fence, quickly passing under the logs. The two horses were no longer running, but instead simply standing outside of the fence and trying to pull out grass with their mouths.
“Slowly grab that horse. Very slowly,” Ichiro said as he firmly grabbed the nameplate attached to one of the horse’s bits. But the moment Kasuke and Saburo approached to catch the other horse, it seemed to get scared and began running at full speed towards the south along the side of the embankment.
“Brother, a horse is escaping! A horse is escaping!” Ichiro screamed at the top of his lungs. Saburo and Kasuke ran after the horse as fast as they could.
But it seemed that this time the horse really wanted to escape. Pushing its way through several-meter-high grasses, the animal ran on and on across the bumpy ground.
Legs numb from running, Kasuke no longer had any idea where he was going.
Everything went blue as he spun around and collapsed into the deep grass. Right before he hit the ground Kasuke caught a glimpse of a horse’s red mane and the white hat of Saburo in pursuit.
Kasuke stared up at the sky as he lay on the ground. The sky spun around as it glittered pure white, and light grey clouds rushed by as they made a rumbling sound.
The boy finally got up and began walking towards where the horse had gone, his breathing heavy. Within the grass was a faint path, apparently left by Saburo and a horse passing through. Kasuke laughed. “Hmm, I bet that horse got scared and is standing all alone out there somewhere,” he thought.
Kasuke did his best to follow the path through the grass.
However, before even going a hundred steps the path split up into several directions amongst thistle and wonderfully tall white patrinia plants, utterly confusing him as to which way to proceed.
“Hey!” Kasuke yelled out.
He thought he heard Saburo yelling in response somewhere. Kasuke gathered his courage and charged toward the sound.
But the path faded in places, and he passed by slopes too steep for a horse to walk.
The sky became dark and gloomy, and the surroundings grew dim. A chilly wind began to gust across the grass, with fragments of clouds and mist moving quickly across his path.
“Oh no, this is bad. And I think it’s only going to get worse,” thought Kasuke. He was right: a moment later there was suddenly no longer any trace of a horse having passed through the grass.
“Oh no, this is bad. This is bad.” Kasuke’s heart began beating out of control.
The grass crackled and rustled as it bent in the wind. The mist grew terribly damp, and Kasuke pulled his coat tightly around himself.
Kasuke screamed at the top of his lungs.
“Ichiro, Ichiro, come here!” But there was no response. Dark, chilly drops of mist like chalk dust from a blackboard danced about in the wind, and suddenly everything around him went quiet and hopelessly dismal. He could even hear the sound of drops of water dripping from the blades of grass.
Kasuke hurriedly turned around, hoping to quickly return to where Ichiro was. But it seemed that Kasuke was in a completely different place now. First of all, thistle grew very thickly here, and there were many unfamiliar fragments of stone in the grass. A little while later, a massive valley suddenly opened before Kasuke that he had never even heard of. Pampas grass rustled, and the far side of the valley disappeared into the mist, like a bottomless pit.
When the wind came, the pampas grass extended many slender hands that they waved back and forth furiously, as if saying, “Oh, to the west, oh, to the east, oh, to the south, oh, to the west…”
Kasuke felt terribly ashamed of himself, so he closed his eyes and turned to the side. Then he suddenly turned around. A tiny, dark road appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the grass. It was formed from many footprints left behind by horse hooves. Overjoyed, Kasuke let out a quiet giggle and then began advancing quickly down the road.
However, the boy was made uncomfortable by how the width of the path shrunk to only the size of his hand, and then expanded to around a meter, not to mention how he seemed to be going around in circles. By the time he finally came before a large, charred chestnut tree, the path branched off faintly into many directions.
This place must be a gathering place for wild horses. It looked like a circular plaza within the mist.
Disappointed, Kasuke began to return the way he had come on the black path. Blades of a strange type of grass waved silently in the wind, and when a strong gust came all the blades of grass seemed to bend to avoid the wind, as if given an advance warning.
The sky glowed and buzzed with a high-pitch sound.
Then, in the midst before him appeared a large, dark object in the shape of a house. Doubting his own eyes, Kasuke stood frozen for a while, but because it really did look like a house he tried approaching timidly, only to discover it was just a large, cold rock.
The sky flashed white, and in an instant all the water droplets fell from the blades of grass.
“If either Matasaburo or I accidentally go down to the field on the other side, we’ll be goners,” Kasuke half mumbled and half thought to himself. Then he yelled out.
“Ichiro, Ichiro, where are you? Ichiro!”
It got bright once again. The blades of grass all breathed a sigh of joy.
“I heard that the child of an electrician from Isado City had his hands and arms bound.” Kasuke seemed to now clearly hear these words that someone had once said.
Then the dark road suddenly disappeared. The surroundings became a little quieter. Next, a terribly strong wind blew.
The sky brightly fluttered like a flag, and sparks crackled. At last, Kasuke collapsed into the grass and fell unconscious.
(English Translation Copyright © 2021 by J.D. Wisgo)
If you enjoyed this translation please consider taking a look at my books (mostly translations of classic Japanese literature).