Japanese literature translation: 風の又三郎 (Matasaburo of the Wind) by 宮沢賢治 (Kenji Miyazawa) [Part 5]

By | July 20, 2022

“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 last year due to a video by the band Yorushika being made about it, I decided to translate more of the story. This article captures part 5.

It seems likely that I will eventually finish the translation (which will probably take one more post), but if you want to help motivate me to finish sooner 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.

I’d like to thank Kaimai Mizuhiro (his website is here, and books are here) for helping confirm the meaning of a few places.

If you haven’t read parts 1-4, I would highly recommend going through them before reading this part. You can start with part 1 here.

If you enjoy this translation please consider taking a look at my books (mostly translations of classic Japanese literature). I also have an audiobook out about classic Japanese fairy tales.

I am debating whether I should make a full e-book version of this story, and maybe publish it on Amazon. If you would be interested in an e-book version, let me know.


=== “Matasaburo of the Wind” by Kenji Miyazawa, translated by J.D. Wisgo (part 5) ===

The next morning a damp mist hung in the air, leaving only a faint outline of the mountain behind the school. However, around the second hour the mist began to gradually disappear and a little later the sky turned pure blue as the burning sun beat down; by the time the first and second graders went home the scorching heat made it feel like summertime.

In the afternoon, the teachers at their podiums frequently wiped the sweat from their faces, and during the fourth-grade calligraphy class and the fifth- and sixth-grade drawing classes the sticky heat made the children grow sleepy as they worked.

When classes were over, all the students immediately headed out to the river. “Matasaburo, do you want to go swimming? All the little kids are going there now,” said Kasuke, so Matasaburo followed after him.

Further downstream and to the right, below the upper field, there was another mountain stream with a slightly wider riverbed, and right downstream of that was a cliff where honey locust trees grew.

A few naked children who had gone ahead raised their arms and screamed, “Hey!” Ichiro and the others ran between the silk trees as if competing in a foot race, then suddenly stripped off their clothes and jumped in the water with a splash, kicking their legs alternately and pounding the water as they began to swim diagonally towards the opposite bank. The children who had arrived earlier also started to swim, following after Ichiro and the others. Saburo too took off his clothes and began to swim after the others, but on the way broke out into laughter. Standing on the far side of the river with purple lips and hair reminiscent of a seal, Ichiro shivered as he said, “Hey Matasaburo, why are you laughing?”

Shivering himself as he got out of the water, Saburo said, “This river is freezing!”

“Matasaburo, why are you laughing?” asked Ichiro once again.

“The way you guys swim is really weird. Why do you make your legs flap like that?” said Saburo with a smile.

“Hey!” said Ichiro, but then asked awkwardly, “Do you all want to play rock hunt?” and began picking up a few white, round rocks.

“Yes! Yes!” screamed the children.

“Then I’ll drop the rocks from up in that tree,” said Ichiro as he climbed nimbly up a honey locust tree that was growing out of the middle of the cliff.

“Ok, here we go! One, two, three!” he said and dropped the white rocks into a deep pool with a splash.

Each of the children jumped down headfirst into the water, diving to the bottom like pale sea otters and trying to pick up the rocks.

But each of them ran out of breath before they reached the bottom and rose to the surface one at a time, splashing water this way and that.

Saburo watched the others quietly, but once they all rose to the surface he too jumped in with a splash. However, like the others he ran out of breath and eventually came back up, and the others burst out laughing. But that moment the four adults standing by a silk tree on the other side of the riverbed began to walk towards the children, the skin of their arms bare as they held nets and other items. 

Seeing that, Ichiro lowered his voice and called out to the others from the tree.

“Hey, they’re going to do a blast! Pretend you can’t see them! Stop rock hunting and quickly go downstream.” Trying to avoid looking at the adults, they acted as if they didn’t care in the least about the blasting, pretending to pick up rocks or chase wagtail birds.

Then Shosuke, who had been mining downstream on the other far bank of the pool, glanced around for a few moments before suddenly sitting down on the pebbles, legs crossed. After that, he slowly withdrew a pipe case from his pocket, put the pipe into his mouth and started taking puffs of smoke. Just as the children were getting an odd feeling about this, Shosuke pulled something else out of his pocket.

“It’s a blast! A blast!” they all screamed.

Ichiro raised his hand and silenced the children. Shosuke transferred the pipe’s flame to the object he had just withdrawn. Someone standing behind him jumped into the water and readied a net. Acting completely calm, Shosuke put one leg into the water and then tossed the object somewhere below the honey locust tree. An instant later there was a terrible rumbling sound and the water suddenly swelled up, soon followed by a ringing sound.

All of the adults standing over there went into the water.

“Alright, they’re all starting to flow down here. Everyone catch them!” said Ichiro. Right after that Kosuke caught a brown frog the size of his pinky that was floating sideways, and behind him Kasuke made a noise like he was sucking a melon. Face bright red with delight, he had just caught a seven-inch carp. The others all caught things and yelled out joyfully.

“Be quiet! Be quiet!” said Ichiro.

Right then, five or six adults on the far side of the riverbed came running, topless or wearing only T-shirts. Behind that group a person wearing a mesh shirt came charging in riding a horse bareback, just like a scene from a movie. Everyone had been drawn in by the sound of the blast.

Arms crossed, for a while Shosuke watched everyone catch things, and then said “There’s no more left.” Before he knew it, Saburo had come up next to Shosuke.

Then Saburo took two medium-sized carp and said, “You’re going back!” as he threw them down onto the riverbed. “What’s with this brat? He’s a strange one!” said Shosuke as he stared at Saburo.

Saburo quietly came back to where Shosuke was sitting.

Shosuke looked at Saburo with a funny face. The others all broke out laughing. 

Without saying a word, Shosuke started walking upstream again. The other adults followed him, and the person on horseback with the mesh shirt trotted off. Kosuke went swimming and brought back the fish that Saburo had put down earlier. All the children broke out into laughter again.

“Let’s gather the fish there before they do another blast!” Kosuke yelled out on the sand of the riverbed, jumping around crazily. 

The children surrounded the fish they caught with rocks and built a tiny pond so that any fish that were still alive wouldn’t escape, and then started climbing the honey locust trees upstream again.

It was extremely hot and even the willow trees drooped, as if it was already summertime, with the sky looking like a bottomless pool of water. 

Right then someone yelled, “Hey, you’re messing up the pond!” The children looked down and saw a person with a strange pointy nose wearing straw sandals and western clothes, using something like a cane to poke at everyone’s fish. 

The man walked with his muddy shoes across the bank towards the children.

“Oh, that guy is from the bureau. The bureau!” said Sataro.

“Matasaburo, they found the tobacco leaf that you picked off the tree, so he is here to take you away,” said Shosuke.

“So what? I’m not scared,” he said, biting his lip.

“Everyone surround Matasaburo! Surround him!” said Ichiro.

Then they had Saburo sit on the branch right in the middle of the honey locust tree, and all the children sat on the branches around him.

“He’s here, he’s here! Oh no!” the children said and fell silent.

However, the man didn’t show any signs of trying to catch Saburo and simply passed in front of everyone, trying to head over towards a shoal that was slightly upstream of the pool. But he didn’t seem to cross immediately over the river, instead going back and forth many times, as if trying to clean his dirty sandals and leggings. So the children’s fear gradually dissipated, only to be replaced by an uncomfortable feeling.

Finally, Ichiro spoke.

“Alright, I’ll say it first, then I want you to all repeat it after ‘1,2,3.’ Ok?” 

It’s like the teacher always says:

Don’t muddy the river! 1,2,3…”

“It’s like the teacher always says:

Don’t muddy the river!

The person looked in surprise at the children, but he didn’t seem to understand what they were saying. So the children said it again.

“It’s like the teacher always says:

Don’t muddy the river!

Then the man with the pointy nose spoke, his mouth moving as if he was puffing at a cigar.

“Do you actually drink the water around here?”

“It’s like the teacher always says:

Don’t muddy the river!

Looking a little uncomfortable, the man with the pointy nose spoke again.

“What’s wrong with walking through the river?”

“It’s like the teacher always says:

Don’t muddy the river!

As if trying to hide his confusion the man purposely walked slowly across the river and then, his posture like an explorer of the Alps, he climbed diagonally up a cliff of pale-colored clay and red gravel, heading back up to the tobacco fields.

Then Saburo said, “Well then. I guess he didn’t come for me after all,” as he dived right into the deep pool with a splash.

All the other children were left with sort of a strange empty feeling, as if there was something sad about the man and Saburo, swimming through the river as they caught fish in their hands or wrapped them in towels before going back home.


(English Translation Copyright © 2022 by J.D. Wisgo)

If you enjoyed this translation please consider taking a look at my books, which include translations of Japanese literature and books for Japanese learners.

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