“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 two years ago due to a video by the band Yorushika being made about it, I decided to translate more of the story. This is the translation of the 6th and final part of the story.
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 am considering eventually making a full e-book version of this story with a bit more editing (some parts are still a bit rough) and an introduction, and publish it on Amazon. If this is something you would like to see sooner than later, please let me know in the comments.
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 and another audiobook of classic Japanese science fiction.
=== “Matasaburo of the Wind” by Kenji Miyazawa, translated by J.D. Wisgo (part 6/6) ===
The next morning, when the children were in the schoolyard hanging from monkey bars or playing with sticks, Satoro quietly arrived carrying a bamboo basket filled with something.
“What is it? What is it?” The children immediately ran over and peered inside the basket.
Sataro hurried off to a cave behind the school, covering the basket with his sleeve. The other children eventually followed him over there.
The moment Ichiro gazed inside the basket, his face turned deathly pale.
It was a type of pepper powder employed as a poison to catch fish, and if used would be confiscated by the police, just like explosives. However, Sataro concealed the powder in tall grasses next to the cave, and returned to the schoolyard with an expression as if nothing had happened.
And so all the children spoke about this in hushed voices until it was time for class to start.
Just like yesterday, the weather heated up from around 10 in the morning. The children waited patiently for class to finish.
When it turned 2 o’clock and classes ended, everyone burst out into the schoolyard. Sataro covered the basket with this sleeve again and headed to the riverbed, surrounded by Kasuke and the others. Saburo went with Kasuke. They hurried across the riverbed, where the silk trees stank like the gas at town festivals, and came to the pool from earlier where the honey locust trees stood. In the east towered massive cumulonimbus clouds, just like the kind you see in the summer, and the green honey locust trees shone brightly.
After the children undressed and were standing at the shore, Sataro looked at Ichiro and spoke.
“Make a proper line. Now listen up, when you see a fish rise to the surface, swim out and get it. I’ll let you keep whatever you catch. All right?”
The youngest children were delighted to hear this, crowding red-faced around the pool as they pushed and shoved one another.
Pekichi and a few other children had already swam up towards the base of the honey locust tree and were waiting there.
Sataro went up proudly to the upstream shoal and submerged the basket into the water with a splash.
Everyone fell quiet, gazing at the surface of the water.
Looking away from the water, Saburo watched a dark-colored bird pass behind the distant clouds. Ichiro sat on the riverbed, striking together a pair of rocks.
But even after much time passed no fish rose to the surface.
Sataro stood still gazing at the water, an expression of utter seriousness on his face. Everyone remembered that soon after igniting the explosive yesterday, around fourteen fish had already been caught. The children continued waiting in silence for a long time. Yet not even a single fish appeared.
“No fish are coming up at all!” screamed Kosuke. Sataro was startled by this, but he continued to stare earnestly into the water.
“No fish at all are coming up!” said Pekichi from under a tree. A moment later there was a terrible uproar as the children charged into the water.
Sataro squatted down awkwardly and gazed for a little while into the water, then eventually stood up. “Anyone for playing tag?”
“Yes, yes!” everyone screamed and thrust their hands out of the water to do rock-paper-scissors. Those who were still swimming quickly found a place to put their feet down and stuck out their hands.
Ichiro came over from the riverbed and put out his hand as well. They decided the safe area would be the pale, slippery clay below the cliff where that strange man with the pointy noise had climbed up yesterday. Anyone in that area could not be tagged by the person who was “it”. Then the children began to play rock-paper-scissors to decide who would be “it”. The only allowed “rock” and “paper”, and the side with the free number of one of the gestures would become “it”.
However, Etsuji made the sign of “scissors” and became “it” after everyone jeered at him. With purple lips he ran along the riverbed until he caught Kisaku, and now two people were “it”. After that the children played tag many times, running here and there across the sand and through the pool, catching and being caught.
In the last game, Saburo started as “it”. He soon tagged Kichiro. The other children watched from underneath the honey locust tree.
“Kichiro, you go and chase them from upstream towards me. Ok?” said Saburo as he stood motionless.
Kichro opened his mouth, stretched out his hand, and ran over the clay as he chased the others.
The children all prepared to dive into the pool. Ichiro went climbing up a willow tree. Just then, Kichiro slipped on the slimy upstream clay in front of everyone.
The children made a great ruckus jumping over Kichiro, diving into the water, or climbing up the roots above the pale clay.
“Hey Matasaburo, come here!” Kasuke teased Saburo as he opened his mouth wide and stretched out his hand. Then Saburo spoke, having apparently gotten upset.
“All right then! Just watch me!” he said in earnest and plunged into the water with a great splash. Saburo swam as fast as he could towards Kasuke.
As the boy sloshed around, his long red hair floated on the surface of the water and his lips were a tad purple, which scared the other children.
The clay area was too small for everyone to fit and formed an unbearably slippery slope, so a few people below tried to hold on tightly to those above and keep from slipping down into the river. Ichiro was at the top where he was the most stable, and started talking boastfully, saying things like, “All right now, everyone…” The children put their heads together and listened. Splashing around, Saburo managed to swim close to the others.
The children whispered among themselves in hushed voices. Then Saburo suddenly used both hands to splash water at them. While everyone was struggling to protect themselves the clay gradually began to slide and the children shifted slightly downwards.
When he saw this, Saburo smiled and splashed water on them at an even fiercer pace.
The next moment, all of the children slipped and fell down into the water with a great splash. Saburo tagged them one at a time. Even Ichiro got tagged. Kasuke alone tried to escape by swimming away, but Saburo immediately caught up with him, grabbing his arm and spinning him around several times. Having apparently swallowed some water, Kasuke choked and let out a spray of water.
“I’m done. No more of this stupid game of tag,” he said. The younger children had all climbed up onto the pebbles.
Saburo stood by himself under the honey locust tree.
However, just then the sky was filled with dark clouds while the willow trees had become an odd ashen color and the mountain grasses had fallen into shadow, forming a terribly frightful scene all around.
Eventually, lightning suddenly boomed on the upper meadow. The next instant there was a sound like a landslide and a downpour began all at once. Even the wind began to howl.
Large splashes appeared in the water of the pools; it was not clear whether from water or falling rocks.
Running from the riverbed with clothes in hand, the children escaped underneath the willow tree. Looking as if he finally got scared, even Saburo jumped off the tree he was on into the water and swam towards the others.
Right then, someone suddenly yelled out, “The rain goes pitter patter, rainy Saburo. The wind goes swish swish, Matasaburo.”
The others raised their voices in chorus and repeated the words.
“The rain goes pitter patter, rainy Saburo. The wind goes swish swish, Matasaburo.”
In an utter panic Saburo jumped out of the pool, as if something was pulling on his leg, and ran as fast as he could towards the other children.
“Hey, was it you all that just yelled?” he asked, shivering terribly.
“Not us! Not us!” they cried back at Saburo in unison.
Then even Pekichi jumped out of the crowd and said, “Not us!”
Saburo looked uncomfortably towards the river and said, “What?” as he bit down hard on his pale lip, the boy’s body still trembling.
Once there was a break in the rainstorm, the children each returned to their respective houses.
Doht doh doh doh do–doh doh do–doh doh do-oh
Blow away the green walnuts
And the sour quinces too
Doht doh doh doh do–doh doh do–doh doh do-oh
Doht doh doh doh do–doh doh do–doh doh do-oh
Once again, in a dream Ichiro heard the song that Saburo had sung.
When Ichiro jumped out of bed in surprise, outside the wind was blowing truly terribly as if the forest was howling, with the pale near-dawn light casting a gentle glow to the walls, the lanterns on the shelf, and all throughout the house. Ichiro quickly put on his belt, threw on his clogs and went down to the dirt floor. He passed by the stable and opened the tiny gate, when a gust of wind mixed with chilly raindrops blew in.
A door on the rear of the stable fell down with a thud, and the horse snorted.
Ichiro felt like the wind was blowing deep into his bones and let out a powerful sigh. After that he ran outside.
Outside it was already quite bright, and the soil was damp. The row of chestnut trees in front of his house took on an eerie pale tint, whipping around wildly in the rain and wind like clothes in a laundry machine.
Countless green leaves flew about, and many chestnut burs that had been torn off the trees littered the dark ground. In the sky, the clouds glowed a sinister gray color as they were blown with great force towards the north.
From the distant forest came thumps and rustling sounds like those from a raging sea. Icy raindrops smacked against Ichiro’s face and he feared his clothes were going to be blown away by the wind, yet he listened intently to the sounds around him and stared unmoving up at the sky.
He felt as if a wave was beginning to rise up within his chest. But then, as he continued patiently watching the growling, roaring wind around him, he began to sense a thumping in his chest.
When he thought about how early in the morning the wind, which had until yesterday rested quietly in the sky above the hills and plains, suddenly began to move with an immense roar as it headed towards the north edge of the Tuscarora Trench, his face flushed hot, his breathing became heavy, and he felt as if he himself was going to fly up into the sky with the wind. After hurrying back into his house, Ichiro took a deep breath and exhaled.
“Oh, what a horrible wind! Today the tobacco and chestnut trees are going to take a beating,” said Ichiro’s grandfather, standing by the gate as he peered at the sky. Ichiro quickly took water from the well using a bucket and poured it in the kitchen.
Then he took out a metal bowl and scrubbed his face, after which he grabbed some cold rice and miso from the cupboard and started eating in a frenzy.
“Ichiro, I’ll make some miso soup now so you should wait a bit. Why do you have to go to school so early this morning?” As his mother spoke, she put plants into a pot that was boiling with something to give the horse.
“Matasaburo might have flown away.”
“Who is Matasaburo? A bird?”
“No, Matasaburo is a boy.“ After quickly putting away the remaining food he scrubbed his bowl, put on his raincoat that hung on a nail in the kitchen, grabbed his clogs, and went to go get Kasuke in his bare feet.
Having just woken up, Kasuke said, “Let me eat before we go,” so Ichiro waited for a little while in front of the stable.
A few moments later Kasuke came out wearing his tiny straw raincoat.
Drenched by the severe rain and wind, the two boys finally reached the school. They went inside to find the classroom still silent, but rain had gotten in from the cracks in windows here and there and the wooden floor was soaked. Ichiro looked around the classroom and then spoke.
“Kasuke, let’s wipe down the floor.” He went to get a hemp broom and swept up the water into a hole below one of the windows.
Then a teacher appeared in the far end of the room, as if hearing someone had come, and to their surprise was wearing a typical summer kimono and holding a red fan.
“You are quite early. Are you two boys cleaning the classroom?” asked the teacher.
“Good morning teacher,” said Ichiro.
“Good morning teacher,” Kasuke said and then immediately asked, “Teacher, is Matasaburo coming today?”
The teacher thought for a moment.
“Do you mean Takada? Well, Takada left to go somewhere with his father yesterday. Because it was Sunday, there was no time to say goodbye.”
“Teacher, he did fly away?” asked Kasuke.
“No, his father was summoned by his company with a telegram. Apparently he might be able to come back again later, but Takada decided to go to school over there. His mother is also there, you see.”
“Why did his company summon Takada’s father?” asked Ichiro.
“It seems that they have decided to stay away from the Molybdenum deposits here for the time being.”
“Oh really. So that boy really was Matasaburo of the Wind!” Kasuke cried out.
A rattling sound came from the night duty room. Fan in hand, the teacher hurried towards the room.
The two boys kept quiet for a long time, staring at one another’s faces as if to figure out what the other was really thinking.
The wind continued as raindrops clouded the windows, and the rattling sound came once again.
(English Translation Copyright © 2023 by J.D. Wisgo)
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