Kenji Miyazawa’s Poem of Strength, Now a Bilingual Picture Book

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Enduring poetry lends itself to being read and reread over time, as it becomes colored by the issues of the day. The poem Ame ni mo makezu by Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) heartened many people after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, which struck Miyazawa’s home region of Tohoku six years ago this month.

Miyazawa’s poem has since come out in a bilingual picture book edition: Rain Won’t. Translated by poet Arthur Binard and illustrated by Oscar-nominated animator Koji Yamamura, Rain Won’t first presents the text in its original vein and then reframes it in contemporary context, in an afterword.

Translated in first-person verse, this rendering immediately compels the reader to identify with the poet’s aspirations, at times adding sentiments implied in the original, at others preferring subtlety over wordy literalism. If Binard’s text stays true to the determined tone of the original, then Yamamura’s illustrations flesh out images of farmland and nature in Tohoku’s Iwate prefecture, which Miyazawa would have known so well.

On the cover is Mt. Iwate in the distance, and readers will just about make out a person walking past some stalks of rice in the rain toward paddies in the distance. Hidden in plain sight are other living creatures—a frog, a bee, a grasshopper. Together they frame the poem in its intended setting. The person remains at a distance in the book, acting as a guide or a projection of the poet’s aspirations, only coming at the end to stand close to the reader.


Translator Arthur Binard (photo by Kelia Li), animator-illustrator Koji Yamamura (profile photo). 


 

This textual and visual presentation is followed by Binard’s afterword, an interpretation of the poem post-March 11. It reframes and explains how the poem should serve not only as a source of strength, but also as a reminder and a rallying cry.

The book acknowledges other English translations of Ame ni mo makezu. Among them is “Strong in the Rain,” which accompanied actor Ken Watanabe’s reading of the piece on YouTube just four days after the earthquake (video from kizuna311.com), and “Unbeaten by Rain” which was read on April 11, 2011, in the interfaith service “A Prayer for Japan” at Washington National Cathedral (begins at 29:22 in video from cathedral.org).

Published in 2013 on the day the original poem is dated—November 3—Rain Won’t is available from Japan in the Japanese/English bilingual edition, and in Chinese and Korean editions.

Tomo Anthology Update, Six Years After

By Holly Thompson, Kamakura

March 11 marked the sixth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake  (東日本大震災 Higashi Nihon Daishinsai), and the subsequent tsunami that ravaged the Tohoku region’s Pacific coastline followed by the triple meltdown of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Throughout Japan, a moment of silence was held at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, the time the quake struck.

This month also marks five years since the publication of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. Proceeds from sales of Tomo have for five years been donated to the Japan-based NPO Hope for Tomorrow. Hope for Tomorrow has provided much-needed support to high school students in the form of financial assistance to enable students in the hardest hit areas of Tohoku to take costly university entrance exams. Having succeeded at what they set out to do, Hope for Tomorrow will cease operations at the end of this Japanese academic year (at the end of this month). Thank you to Hope for Tomorrow for providing a unique form of support to high school students in Tohoku during the most difficult years after 3/11.

The Tomo anthology has recently gone out of print, but the book is still available as an ebook in Kindle format. Future proceeds will be donated to other organizations that support youth in the areas of Tohoku still struggling six years after. Please continue to read, give and recommend the Tomo anthologya collection of 36 stories including 10 in translation—so that we may continue to offer our friendship and support to teens in Tohoku.

May we remember that many thousands in Tohoku are still displaced, that reconstruction and the delicate work of rebuilding lives continues, and that many thousands still reside in prefab “temporary” housing in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate—the three hardest hit prefectures.

Here are a few articles to read on this six-year anniversary:

SIX YEARS AFTER: 34,000 People in Tohoku Region Still in Makeshift Housing UnitsAsahi Shimbun, 11 March 2017

Six Years After the 3/11 Disasters, Japan Times editorial, 11 March 2017

A New Shopping Center for a Tsunami-Struck Town, Nippon.com, 11 March 2017

Destroyed by the Tsunami, JR Onagawa Station is RebuiltSpoon & Tamago, 10 March 2017

Six Years On, Fukushima Child Evacuees Face Menace of School Bullies, Reuters, 9 March 2017

This blog post also appears at tomoanthology.blogspot.com.

For a running list of news items about 3/11 and young people, please see Children of Tohoku.

Thirty Japan Kidlit Picks

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Looking for good reads? At the last Japan Writers Conference, I recommended thirty Japan titles for young readers (picture books, middle grade, and YA) including about two dozen translations. Here is the full slideshow, downloadable or viewable online. Happy reading!

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Translator Cathy Hirano, the YA novels Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, and Andersen Award-winning author Nahoko Uehashi. Click image for full slideshow.

Are You an Echo? Showcased at Tokyo Event

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi Japan

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From left: Toshikado Hajiri, Michiko Tsuboi, and David Jacobson

On February 4, the illustrator, one of the translators, and the author of Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko spoke at an SCBWI Japan event in Tokyo.

Author David Jacobson (above right) began by telling how he was introduced to the works of Misuzu Kaneko (1903–1930), by friends who were Kaneko fans. He began to do research and work out a plan and funding for a book of her poetry.

The first order of business was finding a translator. The “translator” turned out to be an aunt-niece team: Michiko Tsuboi, based in Japan, and Sally Ito, an ethnic Japanese born and raised in Canada. Both of the women had already translated Kaneko poems for “fun,” according to Tsuboi. Jacobson found in these two women the enthusiasm for Kaneko’s work he felt was needed to translate her poetry. He also wanted a feminine interpretation of the “motherly” and “girlish” language Kaneko used in her poems.

Jacobson, Tsuboi and Ito first met in person when they, with illustrator Toshikado Hajiri, took a trip to Senzaki (now Nagato City) where Kaneko spent her life. Thus motivated to get on with the project, their real work began.

Tsuboi told us about the endless emails and Skype sessions she, Jacobson and Ito shared. From my point of view as a translator, one of the most interesting points was how Tsuboi and Ito were so involved in Jacobson’s narrative of Kaneko’s life. Tsuboi mentioned how shocked she was when her Canadian niece criticized Jacobson’s work at times, but seeing that the author was paying attention, she joined in with her own unvarnished opinions. In the end, all three of the group were credited for narrative and translation. In the process, the story of Kaneko’s life became the prominent feature of the book. But Jacobson was determined to include many of her poems.

are-you-an-echo-cover-1024x855Tsuboi said her role in translating the poetry was to convey the nuances of Japanese culture to her niece, and Ito’s job was to make the poetic interpretation. The two thought the simple poems would be easy to translate, but they ended up in endless arguments about wording and interpretation.

As a reader thoroughly enchanted by Are You an Echo? I enjoyed the back story about the trip to Senzaki, the arguments and critiques and endless rewriting. As a translator and writer, I was in awe of the dedication to the work and the ability of all involved to set their egos aside, to create a book that so eloquently honors the tragedy and unique sensitivity of a little known poet.

The event on February 4 continued with a showcase of works by SCBWI Japan members, including Ginny Tapley Takemori, translator of The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui.

The Creative Collaboration Behind “Are You An Echo?” and SCBWI Japan Showcase on Feb. 4

are-you-an-echo-cover-1024x855The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators presents

The Creative Collaboration Behind Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko

with author David Jacobson, co-translator Michiko Tsuboi and illustrator Toshikado Hajiri

followed by

SCBWI Japan Showcase of New Works

with authors Michael Currinder, Suzanne Kamata, Trevor Kew, Leza Lowitz and Holly Thompson, author-illustrators Keiko Kasza and Izumi Tanaka, and translator Ginny Tapley Takemori

Date: Saturday, February 4, 2016

Time: Presentation 1-2:30 p.m. | Showcase 2:45-4:30 p.m.

Place: Tokyo Women’s Plaza, Audiovisual Rooms A & B, 5-53-67 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (by the United Nations University; map)

RSVP: Reserve by sending an email to japan (at) scbwi.org

Full Details: See the SCBWI Japan event page

* * * * * * * * * * *

misuzu-kanekoThe Creative Collaboration Behind Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko (1-2:30 p.m.)

Join three of the creators of the stunning picture book published by Chin Music Press about the life and poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. David Jacobson will share about his role in crafting the biographical text and the forming of the book’s creative team. Michiko Tsuboi will address challenges faced in translating the seemingly simple poems of Misuzu Kaneko and her collaborative process with co-translator Sally Ito. Toshikado Hajiri will discuss his research, process, approach and technique in creating the many detailed illustrations for the book. There will be plenty of time for Q&A. Please feel free to bring your pre-purchased books for signing; please note that books will not be available for purchase at this event.

david-jacobson-732x1024David Jacobson is a longtime journalist and writer with a specialty in Japan. He has a BA in East Asian Studies from Yale University and was awarded a Mombusho scholarship to study at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University. While a journalist in print and broadcast media, his news articles and TV scripts appeared in the Associated PressThe Washington PostThe Seattle TimesThe Japan Times, and on NHK and CNN. Since joining Chin Music Press in 2008, David has edited or copyedited titles including Yokohama YankeeThe Sun Gods and Why Ghosts AppearAre You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko is his first book. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

toshikado-hajiri-868x1024Toshikado Hajiri is a graphic artist and illustrator in Tokushima, Japan. After graduating from Ritsumeikan University in international relations and working at a trading company, in 2009 he decided to pursue his love for painting full-time. His work has appeared in school textbooks, advertisements, calendars, and in 12 children’s picture books. He was awarded 2nd prize in the 2006 International Illustration Competition sponsored by the Japan Illustrators’ Association, and his work was selected for inclusion in the illustrator’s gallery of the 2016 Asia Festival of Children’s Content. Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko is his first book for michiko-tsuboi-680x1024international publication. For a gallery of his work, visit hajiritoshikado.com.

Michiko Tsuboi lives in Shiga, Japan. She majored in English literature in Doshisha Women’s College and has studied Canadian literature in Edmonton, Canada. She taught English at a high school and still teaches it at her home. Are You an Echo: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko is her first published book of translation.

 

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

SCBWI Japan Showcase of New Works (2:45-4:30 p.m.)

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Join us for the SCBWI Japan Showcase 2017! SCBWI Japan member authors, illustrators and translators will present their recent or forthcoming children’s and YA books to the public in brief, lively presentations. Authors and illustrators will share excerpts, ideas that inspired the work, creative process, techniques, curriculum tie-ins, related activities, and more. Speed Q&A will follow the presentations.

Michael Currinder grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and ran cross-country and track at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Running Full Tilt is his first novel and is a fusion of his collective experiences as a talented high school runner and his close, yet complicated, relationship with his older autistic sibling. Mike has been an international educator for close to two decades, having lived in China, Taiwan, and the Philippines. He and his wife are now on year nine in Tokyo with their rescue dog, Leo.

Suzanne Kamata is the author of four novels including the award-winning Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, Screaming Divas, which was named to the ALA Rainbow List, and The Mermaids of Lake Michigan, which was a finalist for the Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize. Her short fiction and poetry for young readers  have appeared in YARN, Ladybug, Cricket, Cicada, and the anthology  Tomo. She serves as Publicity Assistant for SCBWI Japan, and teaches EFL and Creative Writing at Tokushima University. www.suzannekamata.com

Keiko Kasza was born on an island in the Inland Sea of Japan. She moved to the U.S. in 1973 and graduated with a B.A. in graphic arts from California State University at Northridge. Her first picture book was published in 1981 in Japan, and she continued to publish in her native language. The Wolf’s Chicken Stew, a 1987 ALA notable book and the winner of the 1989 Kentucky Bluegrass Award, was her first work published in the U.S. She has now published 21 picture books. Keiko Kasza currently lives in Tokyo, but she is planning to return to her home in the U.S. in a few years. www.keikokasza.com

Trevor Kew hails from the small mountain town of Rossland, BC, in Canada. He is the author of six children’s novels including Trading GoalsPlaying Favourites, and Run for Your Life, which was published in January 2017. He also contributed a story to the young adult anthology Tomo in 2012. Trevor teaches MYP and IBDP English at Yokohama International School. He is fast closing in on his first decade of living in Japan and definitely will write about Japan one day. http://trevorkew.com

Leza Lowitz is a poet, fiction writer and memoirist. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Shambhala Sun and others. She has published over 20 books, including Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By, Jet Black and the Ninja Wind (Winner of the APALA Award), her memoir Here Comes the Sun, and Up From the Sea, her first verse novel for young adults. Other awards include the PEN Josephine Miles Award, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, NEA and NEH grants, and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the translation of Japanese Literature. She also runs Sun and Moon Yoga studio in Tokyo. www.lezalowitz.com

Ginny Tapley Takemori is a British translator based in rural Ibaraki, Japan, who has translated fiction by more than a dozen early modern and contemporary Japanese writers. She studied Japanese at the universities of SOAS (London) and Waseda (Tokyo) and earned her MA in Advanced Japanese Studies from The University of Sheffield. Two of her translations for young people are published by Pushkin Children’s Books: The Whale That Fell In Love With a Submarine, a short story collection by Akiyuki Nosaka, and The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui.

Izumi Tanaka was born in Kumamoto and grew up in Nagasaki. She loved to walk in the mountains during her childhood and still does now. After studying Japanese traditional gouache painting for several years, she began writing picture books. In 2005, she self-published her first picture book No no Hana no yōni (Like Wildflowers), a story set in Mongolia. In March 2017, her second book, Mame-chan no Bōken (Mame-chan’s Adventure) will be released as an e-book. http://izumi-picturebooks.jimdo.com

Holly Thompson is a longtime resident of Japan and author of the verse novels Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth, The Language Inside and Orchards; picture books The Wakame Gatherers and the forthcoming Twilight Chant; the novel Ash; and other works. A graduate of the NYU Creative Writing Program, she writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction for children, teens, and adults, and teaches creative writing in Japan, the U.S., and places in between. www.hatbooks.com

Manga With Miso Soup: A Mini-Joust

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How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016 featured a manga mini-joust with translators Zack Davisson and Alexander O. Smith, who discussed the work How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto. Yamamoto attended the event in Yokohama as a special guest.

How Are You? is the poignant story of a family’s break-up, told from the perspective of a girl in their neighborhood. The husband in the family is Japanese; the wife is from northern Europe. Their daughter is a teenager. The story unfolds in urban or suburban Japan.

For the mini-joust, Davisson and Smith each translated the same three pages from How Are You? and discussed their approaches, with Smith in Yokohama and Davisson appearing by Skype from Seattle.

The mini-joust by all accounts ended in a draw. Smith, translator of Akira Toriyama’s Dr. Slump and Davisson, translator of Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro, presented their work in different formats: Smith with his English text handwritten into the graphics, and Davisson in typewritten text with industry abbreviations: numbers to show which panel, FX for “effects.”

Smith (standing) and Davisson (via Skype) discuss their translations of How Are You? Yamamoto is seated at left in the white sweater.

Alexander O. Smith (standing) and Zack Davisson (via Skype) discuss their translations of How Are You? by manga artist Miki Yamamoto, seated at left in the white sweater.

Here are the three excerpts the translators discussed, each followed by Smith’s translation and then by Davisson’s. Following each excerpt are a few notes.

Excerpt 1

%e3%80%8e%e3%83%8f%e3%82%a6%e3%82%a2%e3%83%bc%e3%83%a6%e3%83%bc%ef%bc%9f%e3%80%8f-%e5%b1%b1%e6%9c%ac%e7%be%8e%e5%b8%8c-p-10 

[Source: p. 10, How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto (Shodensha, 2014). ISBN-10: 4396782055]

Translation by Alexander O. Smith

 how-are-you-trans-alexander-o-smith-p-10

Translation by Zack Davisson

P10

1.1 … she only wants to be like her daddy.

1.2 You’re imagining things.

1.3 I’m not! Dying her hair black …

1.4 Straightening it with an iron …

2.1 Sheesh!

2.2 She’s a pubescent high school girl. That’s all.

4.1 So what do you want for dinner?

4.2 Eh? I’m good with whatever Lisa wants.

4.3 His beautiful foreign wife and charming daughter are like vivid flowers blossoming in a garden from one of his drawings. A typical Sunday for the happy Masaoka family.

AU: The translations of this first excerpt show some confusion about who Lisa was (wife or daughter?). The translators at first did not have access to the full book, so had no way of knowing Lisa’s identity.

ZD: I think this shows how ambiguous translation can be, and how sometimes translators have to make a “best guess” . . .  one that is often revised later down the line when you go back and do revisions.

AOS: At the mini-joust, translator Hart Larrabee suggested that instead of saying “foreign wife” we could use the wife’s nationality (I think it was Danish?), as an alternative to removing “foreign” altogether, which is what I did.

Excerpt 2

 %e3%80%8e%e3%83%8f%e3%82%a6%e3%82%a2%e3%83%bc%e3%83%a6%e3%83%bc%ef%bc%9f%e3%80%8f-%e5%b1%b1%e6%9c%ac%e7%be%8e%e5%b8%8c-p-18

[Source: p. 18, How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto (Shodensha, 2014). ISBN-10: 4396782055]

Translation by Alexander O. Smith

 how-are-you-trans-alexander-o-smith-p-18

Translation by Zack Davisson

P18

1 FX: Chop chop chop chop

2 FX: Chop chop chop

3 FX: Chop chop chop

4.1 FX: Huh

4.2 Oh.

4.3 Crap.

4.4 I think I overdid it.

5.1 Did you get any sleep last night?

5.2 Not really … but

5.3 In case, you know … when he comes home.

5.4 I thought I should have breakfast ready.

7.1 Is this … miso soup?

7.2 Or a bowl of onions …?

8 …. I have to go to school. See you later!!

ZD: Something I just noticed: The text here only says gohan, and Alex made that dinner while I had it as breakfast! Ah, the choices translators have to make when they don’t have enough information…

AOS: It’s interesting how both Zack and I approached the miso soup part on the bottom right of p. 18 the same way, changing what was a statement in the Japanese (direct translation “but this miso soup . . . has nothing but leeks”) to a rhetorical question. My version hews a little closer to the Japanese, but I find myself preferring Zack’s more in-the-moment take on the line.

Zack Davisson, via Skype from Seattle, and Alexander O. Smith pose with manga artist Miki Yamamoto.

Zack Davisson and Alexander O. Smith pose with manga artist Miki Yamamoto.

Excerpt 3

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[Source: p. 32, How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto (Shodensha, 2014). ISBN-10: 4396782055]

Translation by Alexander O. Smith

how-are-you-trans-alexander-o-smith-p-32

Translation by Zack Davisson

P32

1 What if … what if he never comes back?

What if I never learn anything more than this?

I never know why he left. Where he went.

3

What if … this is it? He never comes back. He’s just … missing. And I …

What do I … what do I … w …what am I s..supposed to d..d..do …

Miki Yamamoto has also authored the works Ribbon Around a Bomb and Sunny Sunny Ann. All illustrations in this blog post are © Miki Yamamoto, and used with permission.

One Passage, Six Translations—Akiyuki Nosaka

hotaru-no-haka-amazon-co-jpBy Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok 

At SCBWI Japan Translation Day on October 22, 2016, Ginny Tapley Takemori presented a workshop on translating excerpts from literature for young adults. One passage was a paragraph from Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fireflies) by Akiyuki Nosaka (1930–2015), and portrays a war orphan living in Sannomiya Station, Kobe, after the end of World War II.

Prior to Translation Day, five translators submitted renderings of this paragraph. Their renderings were then blinded for critique by Takemori in a full session.

Two of the submitters and Takemori also tackled a paragraph that follows this one, which comprises a single long, highly challenging sentence in the original.

Below are the original passage and five translators’ versions, the final two of which have the further paragraph (not given in Japanese). Below that is Ginny Tapley Takemori’s rendering of both paragraphs.

This passage may disturb young children.

Original Passage

省線三宮駅構内浜側の、化粧タイル剝げ落ちコンクリートむき出しの柱に、背中まるめてもたれかかり、床に尻をつき、両脚まっすぐ投げ出して、さんざ陽に灼かれ、一月近く体を洗わぬのに、清太の瘦せこけた頰の色は、ただ青白く沈んでいて、夜になれば昂ぶる心のおごりか、山賊の如くかがり火焚き声高にののしる男のシルエットをながめ、朝には何事もなかったように学校へ向かうカーキ色に白い風呂敷包みは神戸一中ランドセル背負ったは市立中学、県一親和松蔭山手ともんぺ姿ながら上はセーラー服のその襟の形を見分け、そしてひっきりなしにかたわら通り過ぎる脚の群れの、気づかねばよしふと異臭に目をおとした者は、あわててとび跳ね清太を避ける、清太には眼と鼻の便所へ這いずる力も、すでになかった。

[Source: America hijiki, Hotaru no haka by Akiyuki Nosaka (Shinchosha, 1968). ISBN-10: 4101112037]

Translation A

Seita sat hunched over against a pillar outside the beachside exit of Sannomiya Station, buttocks pressed to the floor and legs stuck straight out before him. The glazed tiles of the pillar were chipped away in places, exposing the concrete underneath. Though his skin had been burned by the harsh sun, and he had not bathed in nearly a month, Seita’s hollow cheeks were pale and sunken. In the night he watched the silhouettes of men who brandished fire and cursed like raiders swelling with arrogance, and in the morning he watched the children walking to school as though nothing had happened. Those with khaki-coloured uniforms who carried their belongings wrapped in white cloths were from Kobe First. The ones with satchels were from public junior high schools. The girls from Kenichi, Shinwa, Shoin, and Yamate all wore loose-fitting pants and middy blouses, but you could tell them apart by their collars. They passed Seita by in an endless stream of legs. Most did not even register that he was there – those who noticed a strange smell and glanced down gave a start and hurried to avoid him. Though it was only a few steps away, Seita no longer had the strength to crawl to the bathroom.

Translation B

Along the government railway line on the ocean side of Sannomiya Station, slouched against the exposed concrete of a pillar whose tiled surface had crumbled away, Seita sat with his backside on the floor and his legs splayed out before him. Despite long exposure to the burning sun and not having bathed in nearly a month, his sunken cheeks were sallow and ashen. At night he stared at the silhouettes of the men who made bonfires and cursed loudly like bandits, animated by the arrogance in their hearts, and in the morning he watched other children heading off to school as if all were right with the world: Kobe Middle School Number One with their white and khaki bundles, Municipal Middle School shouldering school knapsacks, the girls from Prefectural Number One, Shinwa, Shoin, and Yamate all wearing loose workpants and sailor tops differentiated by the shape of each school’s collar. Among the endless stream of legs passing by there were those who, glancing down upon detecting a whiff of something foul, hurriedly leapt away to avoid Seita, who by now lacked even the strength to crawl to the nearby bathroom.

Translation C

Leaning slumped over on the beach side of the Sannomiya Station on the Sho Line against a pillar whose tiles had come off to reveal the bare concrete, butt to the floor, legs sticking straight out in front, completely sunburned, Seita’s emaciated cheeks only became paler, although he hadn’t bathed in almost a month; at night he watched the silhouettes of the men building a bonfires like bandits and shouting curses, perhaps out of pride in their agitation; and in the morning the khakis, whites, and folded cloth bags of Kobe 1 Junior High, the backpacks of the municipal junior high, and top of the prefecture Shinwa, Shoin, and Yamate students he could tell apart by the shape of the sailor collar over their monpe work pants; people in the never-ending crowd of legs passing by who looked down at the bad smell they wish they hadn’t noticed hopped, flustered, to avoid him; already, he didn’t have the strength to crawl even an inch to a better place.

Translation D

On the side of the railway ministry’s Sannomiya station facing the ocean, the tiles were peeling off a concrete pillar. A boy sat under it, hunched, ready to fall over anytime. Butt to floor, legs stretched out, at the mercy of the sun, unwashed for nearly a month. Seita lay, cheeks hollowed, sunken, pale white. In the night, he sat gazing out at silhouettes of men who, as if aroused by their memories, swore like bandits, shrilling at the top of their voices, cracking like bonfires. In the morning, students passed by on their way to school as if nothing had happened, Kobe middle schoolers in their khakis and white cloth bundles, municipal city schoolers with their backpacks, and the Prefectural First, Shinwa, Shoin, and Yamate girls differentiated by the collars of sailor-styled uniforms worn over their working clothes. Endless pairs of feet would move along normally, until a nose caught the odor that brought their eyes down to their feet, then they would jump frantically aside, away. No morsel of strength was left in Seita to crawl to a place away from those noses or eyes.

Children, homeless and orphaned, sit at every 3-foot wide pillar, leaning in what felt like the bosom of their mothers, in the train station. They gather here because it is the only place they are allowed to enter. Or maybe because they longed to be among people, like it used to be. Or perhaps because they could always have water. Or in hope of that someone who would give them something to eat. The black market under the railway tracks at Sannomiya station began in September, from a cup of caramelized sugar water dished straight out of an oil drum going for 50sen each. Soon there were steamed potatoes, steamed cakes made from potato flour, rice balls, glutinous rice cakes, fried rice, red bean soup, steamed buns, udon, tempura rice, curry with rice, cake, rice, barley, sugar, tempura, beef, milk, canned fish, shochu or sweet potato liquor, whiskey, Japanese pears, large summer oranges, rubber boots, bicycle tyre tubes, matches, cigarettes, workman’s two-toed shoes, diaper covers, military blankets, military boots, military uniforms, half boots. An alumite lunch box of barley, freshly-packed in the morning by the wife is a “good ten yen, just ten yen.” A weary hand reaches down to remove a shoe, dangle it on one finger, and offer it instead for “how about twenty, twenty yen.” Seita first wandered in, lured by the smell of food. In time, he would find a space the size of a single grass mat to peddle old clothes. Selling off his late mother’s kimono, the inner dress, sash, and outer collar, which had all faded away while soaking in the water in a bomb shelter, he managed to somehow buy food to survive for two weeks. He then sold his school uniform, which was made of good cloth, those cloth bindings from the calf to the ankle, his shoes, but certainly not his trousers? As he dithered, he gradually came to spend the nights in the station. Families with young boys would return from evacuation in full celebratory color, carrying school bags packed with a mess tin, kettle, and metal helmet. Cloth bags dangling, evacuation hoods still neatly folded within. They probably gave out emergency rations in the trains. Relieved to have come thus far, they would leave behind steamed bran cakes for him, strings undone, like some unwanted baggage. A sympathetic soldier back from the frontlines or an old lady who took pity, reminded of her grandchild around the same age, would place a bite of leftover bread or pan-fried soy beans wrapped in paper a polite distance away, like they would in an offering to Buddha. Seita took these gratefully. Now and then, the station master would try to drive him away, making him get up, but the reserve MP manning the ticket gate would stand up for him. We do have lots of water, he reassured. Once he got back, he just sat. Two weeks later, he could no longer get up.

Translation E

Seita sat on the floor of Sannomiya government railway station, the side toward the ocean. His back sagged against a pillar whose tiles had peeled off, exposing the concrete, and his legs splayed out before him. The sun had roasted him. He had not bathed in nearly a month, and his emaciated cheeks hung hollow and pale. At night, he watched the silhouettes of furious men who lit bonfires and cursed like bandits; in the mornings, he watched students commute to school as if everything were normal. Students in khaki who carried white cloth bundles headed to Kobe Middle School Number 1; students with leather backpacks went to Municipal Middle School. Girls bound for Prefectural College Number 1, or Shinwa or Shoin or Yamate, wore monpe pants and sailor tops whose collars told them apart. In the endless stream of legs were those that jumped away, owners’ eyes averted, upon smelling Seita’s stench. He had not the strength to crawl to the toilet nearby.

Children like him sat in all directions against the three-foot pillars, as if the pillars were their mothers. They had come because the station was the one place where they were allowed, or because they could be near people again here, or because they could drink water, or because they hoped for a handout when someone dropped his guard. As soon as September came, a black market had opened beneath the railroad tracks, beginning with a spot where people paid fifty sen for a cup of sugar water drawn from a steel barrel. Soon there were steamed sweet potatoes, sweet potato flour dumplings, rice balls, daifuku dumplings, fried rice, rice flour dumplings in red bean sauce, manju dumplings, udon, tempura rice, curry rice, cake, plain rice, barley, sugar, tempura, beef, milk, canned fish, shochu liquor, whiskey, pears, sour oranges, rubber boots, bicycles, tire tubes, matches, cigarettes, cloth work shoes, diaper covers, military blankets, military boots, military uniforms, military half boots. A man would hold up some barley meal in an Alumite lunch box his wife had packed that morning and say, “How ’bout it, ten yen?” Another would remove his worn shoes and hold them up by a finger, saying, “Hey, twenty yen, hey, twenty yen.” Seita, lost and drawn in by the food smells, had laid out his dead mother’s under-kimono, obi, false collar, and waist strips for under the obi, all with the colors run and faded due to getting wet in an air raid. These sold for enough to feed him for two weeks, and then he had sold his middle school uniform and gaiters. By the time he was starting to hesitate, wondering if he could really sell his pants, he had begun to spend nights at the station. Families with children sometimes returned by train from bombing evacuation sites, their air raid hoods still folded in canvas bags, their rucksacks holding ration kits, kettles, steel helmets; dressed in their best, they carried the steamed rice-bran dumplings seemingly distributed for emergencies in trains, which they would decide they no longer needed and give Seita to lighten their loads. Or a demobilized soldier or an old person with grandchildren his age might take pity on him. They would leave their items softly a distance away, as if offering them to the Buddha: leftover bread, roasted soybeans. He would receive the gifts gratefully. Sometimes a station employee would chase him off, but a military police reservist at the wickets might knock the employee down and protect Seita, saying they at least had plenty of water here. In that way Seita had put down roots. Two weeks later he could no longer stand.

Translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori

In the mainline Sannomiya Station, bayside exit, Seita sat slumped against a column, its tiles peeling off to expose the bare concrete, with his bottom on the floor and both legs stretched out straight before him. He was sunburned to a frazzle and hadn’t washed for almost a month, yet his emaciated cheeks were sunken and pale. Come nightfall, he gazed at the silhouettes of men conversing rowdily with excessive bravado as they warmed themselves around the watch fire like bandits. In the morning he saw children his age heading off to middle school as if nothing were amiss, khaki-clad boys with white bundles from the top prefectural school and those with satchels on their backs from the city school, and girls sporting sailor blouses over their baggy wartime pantaloons, the folds of their collars indicating whether they attended the prestigious prefectural school or one of the three expensive private academies. The legs of the unseeing crowds filing purposefully past jumped to avoid him only at a whiff of his stench. But Seita no longer had the strength to crawl to the nearby toilet.

War orphans clustered around the base of each of the solid meter-thick columns as if finding in them motherly protection, having gathered here perhaps because it was the only place they were allowed in, or because they yearned to be among the crowds of people, or because here there was water to drink or some hope of scraps of food being tossed their way. Already by the beginning of September someone had started selling burned sugar dissolved in a drum of water for fifty sen a cupful under the railway arches, and almost overnight a black market had sprung up offering steamed sweet potatoes, sweet potato dumplings, rice balls, rice cakes, fried rice, bean soup, bean jam buns, noodles, tempura and rice, curry and rice, and then cake, rice, barley, sugar, tempura, beef, milk, canned fish, rice liquor, whisky, pears, bitter oranges, gum boots, bicycle inner tubes, matches, cigarettes, rubber-soled work shoes, nappies, army blankets, army boots, army uniforms, army boots. Men stood holding out the aluminium lunchboxes of barley rice their wives had packed for them just that morning “Yours for ten yen, yours for ten yen!” or dangling their tired old shoes in one hand “Twenty yen, how about it? Twenty yen!” Drawn singlemindedly by the smell of food, Seita had stumbled aimlessly in and sold the underkimono, sash, collar, and waist tie that were the only mementos he had of his mother from the flooded air raid shelter, the colours faded and run, at a second-hand clothing stall consisting of a single straw mat spread out on the ground, and had thus somehow managed to keep the wolf from the door for a couple of weeks—then went his rayon middle school blazer, gaiters, and shoes, and while wondering whether he could go so far as to sell his trousers, before he knew it he had become a nightly fixture inside the station. Here a boy with his family apparently returning from evacuation to the countryside, fully decked out with his air raid hood neatly folded and placed over his canvas bag, his mess tin and kettle and steel helmet attached to his backpack, left Seita some mouldy ricebran dumplings, no doubt emergency food prepared for the train journey and now it was no longer needed, discarded to lighten the load. Others—a kindly soldier returning from the front, an elderly woman with a grandson his age who took pity on him—left crusts and roasted soybeans wrapped in paper placed quietly at a safe distance, as if making an offering to Buddha, which he gratefully accepted. From time to time he was shooed away by the stationmaster, but the adjunct from the feared military police guarding the ticket gate sent the man sprawling, protecting him, and there was always enough water, so having found some comfort he settled in and put down roots until one day a couple of weeks later he could no longer stand.