Tokyo Damage Report

Furyu Mutan!!!

 
I got an email a month ago from Francois, a reader who blew my mind with the story of Furyu Mutan!!!
 
“Furyu Mutan” (風流夢譚 = “The Tale of the Elegant Dream”)  is a story written by Shichiro Fukazawa (深沢七郎) , published in Japan in 1960. It’s famous because it was so scandalous that mobsters sent an assassin to kill the publisher! The assassin managed to kill the maid and stab the publisher’s wife several times, which was fucked up!  This being Japan, the publisher’s response was to publicly apologize to the mobsters and then open a noodle shop. Wait, the AUTHOR retired from writing and supposedly opened a noodle shop. They say. My point is, this story (and the ensuing scandal) laid down the rules for what can and can’t be said about the Emperor system in fiction: namely, that you CAN’T talk about him.  And these rules are still in effect even today.
 
That’s why you can find 1,000 child-porn manga but you can’t find one manga about the Emperor picking his nose, because THAT would be offensive.
 
 
I guess Furyu Mutan has  been translated into English before, but the “official translation” is only available to scholars and academics, which proves my point: the people who are really good at translating, keep all the good shit for themselves. So I had a go at translating it just for fun.
 
Turns out that it’s a pretty good story: It starts out pretty normal, but as the story gets more and more weird, the language also gets more weird: It jerks back and forth between classical poetry, street slang, literary pretention, and Monty Python-ish gag humor.
 
I asked a friend-of-a-friend who is studying post-war radical thought at Waseda, and he said that even top scholars can’t agree on the meaning of this story. Some interpret it as an ANTI-communist satire (that is to say, a story making fun of what a communist revolution would look like). However, right-wingers are not known for their sense of humor.
 
Also keep in mind: 49 years after the assassination, it’s STILL forbidden (by the yakuza and their right-wing militia friends) to publish Furyu Mutan in Japan. And yet, you can read it here!


 
 
THE TALE OF THE ELEGANT DREAM
 
 
If I had to analyze 'the dream,' I'd say it was based on my odd relationship to my wrist-watch. You see, my watch is strange- on my arm, it tells time very accurately, but when I take it off, it stops moving. Every night I unwrap it from my wrist and lay it on my bedside table, and the hands of the watch go still. And every morning I put it back on, and the hands resume their motion. Therefore, I like to tell people, "The watch goes to sleep when I do!"
Saying this makes me feel like I have a very close relationship with my wrist-watch.
 
I suppose that's why I never considered it to be 'broken,' despite its eccentric behavior. It never crossed my mind that it couldn't do the job of a regular watch. My nephew Mitsuhito, who lives with me, loves all kinds of machines, so he bought a very high-quality Westminster grandfather-clock, which runs all the time. So really, it's no problem to tell the time in any case!
 
Now, this story happened several months ago, when my younger brother said, "You ought to get that useless watch of yours repaired!" As it happens, my younger brother knew of a very good watchmaker, and he took me there.
 
"We'd like you to open it, and see if you can locate the problem."
 
The watchmaker opened the watch, and replied, "Ah! What a magnificent thing this is!"
 
I leaned over to peer at it: "Really? It's not a bad watch, you say?"
 
My younger brother also wedged his way in to peep at it: "Ah!" he cried. For, inside the watch, there were a vast number of sparkling, detailed, finely-tuned gears. "Is that. . . gold?" my younger brother asked hopefully.
 
"Pure gold! I've never seen anything this high-quality," replied the watch-maker.
 
At that, I said to myself, "I told you so!" I closed my hands in a prayer of thanks for the good fortune: this watch had obviously been commissioned by someone of taste, and made with great care, yet it had fallen into my hands almost by accident.
 
The watch-maker spent five minutes examining the interior, before pronouncing, "I can't see anything wrong with it." Then, "Such a good watch – it 's a shame to wear it with a very ordinary band – you're making it weep!” (I told you so!)
 
“Why don't you try something like this?" He held up a band made from golden thread, which cost 50 dollars.
 
 
I bought the watch-band, and, turning to leave, I asked him, "Um, it seems to stop running at night, but…"
 
"Well, you have to wind it, don't you?!?" he replied.
 
Of course, I had been winding it the whole time, but I realized that if I explained that it stopped anyway, he would think I was strange. So, we headed home without ever addressing the original problem. But, after our return, my younger brother soon brought me a department-store catalog of watches.
 
"That right there? That is a genuine Inchiki watch. It's the finest watch made in Switzerland. And yet, even its gears are galvanized iron, right? A gold band like what you bought today? That would be wasted on this Swiss watch!"
 
(I told you so!)
 
At any rate, this exchange caused me to recollect the day I initially aquired the wrist-watch. I bought it from my friend for merely thirty dollars. He said that his American co-worker had had a death in the family, which required her to return to America immediately. Consequently, she had to sell her possessions at fire-sale prices.
 
'She practically gave this away – I only paid $50 for it! But since we're friends, I can let you have it for only $30,' he'd said.
 
I bought the watch, but still had doubts if it was really 'given' to my friend by an 'American woman.' Furthermore, the compliments from the watch-repairman and the expensive band I'd bought made me feel as if taking care of it was a bit of a burden. Still and all, somehow I felt fond of it. Explaining that it 'went to sleep' when I did, made me realize that I didn't want to take it off my arm anymore.
 
That night, I had gotten home quite late – around 1:30. My last conscious memory was checking the Westminster wall clock, which read 1:50, and then my wrist-watch, which also read 1:50. Soon after, I fell fully asleep and had 'the dream.'
 
The dream began with me riding the Inokashira subway line to Shibuya. It seemed to be rush hour – the train was packed with commuters. The people around me were talking noisily: "Just now, there's been an outbreak of violence in the center of Tokyo!"
 
Someone was playing a radio – the reports confirmed the incident.
 
The train pulled into the station and I started to look for  the bus for Yaesuguchi. What errand was I on, that required me to go to a place like Yaesuguchi, I couldn't recall. It is one of those things that simply happens in dreams; there's no point in asking why. I went to the bus stop, in front of Oomori Shopping Center, and saw that people were lined up clear to the top of Dogenzaka hill, and who-knows-how far beyond that! Without thinking, I cut into the very head of the entire line. This was quite unlike me, to disrupt the public order like that, but no one complained. And why was that, I wondered? They were busy talking excitedly, like the people on the train. But they weren't saying, ' Violence hs broken out in the center of Tokyo,' instead they were saying, 'The revolution has begun!'
 
"The revolution?" I asked the man next to me, "Is it the communists?"
 
"Ain't no damn revolution! They got to topple the government, in order to build a better Japan for everyone, that's all," he replied.
 
I really hate the sound of the word 'Japan,' so in an instant, I grew quite vexed:
"No way! Japan? This country blows!"
 
"Don't get mad, bro! Anyway, you said it, not me!", and he gave me a punch on the shoulder.
 
At that moment, I realized that the bus line was composed of all kinds of blue-collar workers. And while we had been talking, the bus had finally arrived at the head of the line and pulled to a stop. The men in line charged the bus with a roar, stampeding on board, and throwing the bus driver out. One of the lined-up men took the driver's seat, and sped off. I watched passively, standing at the bus stop and waiting, as if this was an everyday occurrence.
"Now, I wonder where they went to?" I asked the person next to me.
 
"To the police station – to help the guys that are having a fight," he told me.
 
"Eh? Those guys are going to get in trouble!" I tried to warn him, but he replied:
"Naw, the patrolmen and regular cops are on our side! It's the damn detectives, and the brass, they're the ones fucking up the program, so that's who we're shooting it out with!"
 
"Shooting? Someone has pistols?!? The detectives? Or your side too?"
 
"Well, pistols and machine guns. You know, everyone's got something."
 
"Those damn detectives,” I said. “I bet they're safe. Whenever the shit hits the fan, they barricade themselves inside and shoot from the shadows. It's a little boring of them, frankly."
 
"Every nation is helping us, yo! They all want to help us destroy this demon we call Japan – Korean demonstrators sent us boats, America shipped us 50,000 machineguns – another 20,000 Russian machineguns arrived just now!"
 
"The world's countries have sent a message, haven't they!"
 
As I spoke, I turned to the side, and noticed that the famous nude dancer Natsukaze Soyoko was standing in line next to me. Stranger still was that she had chosen this moment to give herself a manicure. What struck me as especially strange, though, was the way she was doing it: she was holding her hand still and moving the file, instead of vice versa. That technique was really improper, I thought, but I was paralyzed by the sight of her and stood speechless.
 
Realizing that she'd think me rather odd if I continued to stare, I turned back to the first gentleman: "Machine guns, eh? If you guys have machine-guns, it'll turn out all right, won't it?"
 
At that moment, another bus arrived at the head of the line and pulled to a stop. Again, the men in line charged the bus with a roar, stampeding on board, and throwing the bus driver out. One of the lined-up men took the driver's seat, and sped off. Again, I watched passively, standing at the bus stop and waiting, as if this was an everyday occurrence.
 
"Now, I wonder where they went to?" I asked the person next to me.
 
"They went to pay a visit to the SDF (Self Defence Forces, Japan's army)."
 
I was shocked! "Oh, those guys are going to get in trouble! Going to the army like that."
 
"Naw, all the enlisted men are on our side! It's the damn officers, they're fucking up the program, but they're a tiny minority. The foot-soldiers, they're all farmers' sons, like us. Those guys are 100% dedicated to the cause."
 
"When did everyone decide to take sides?" I asked, but I was cut off by a new voice: "No one decided, dumbass! It just happened."
 
I turned around to see a middle-aged working-class woman, doing her knitting, and, as you might suspect, waiting for the bus.
 
“Are you going to the brawl as well?”
 
She replied: “It’s not a brawl, man. It’s a war! This morning, we were all commuting to work as usual, and now it’s a revolution, so I’ve decided to go fight too!”
 
That’s what she said, while standing there knitting, as if she was simply waiting to go shopping.
 
“I’m going too, I suppose,” I ventured.
 
“Really? You?!? Hah. OK, why don’t we go together?”
 
“Is it ok?” I asked – feeling suddenly afraid, hoping she’d say no.
 
“No problem! That last bus went to join the SDF, fighting the reactionaries in Ginza. The next bus is going to the Imperial Palace.”
 
I could scarcely believe my own good luck!
 
“The Emperor’s Palace, you say? In that case, please allow me to go with you!”
 
I begged her respectfully, but inside I felt she was strange – her knitting technique was very unorthodox. She let her balls of yarn roll out into the street; the yarn stretching up to her hands from a distance of several yards. I felt the resulting garment would be very filthy, but I was once again paralyzed and unable to speak:  the words, “Throw that thing away!”  seemed frozen on the tip of my tongue.
 
Just then, I heard some of the others in line begin to speak: “I hear the Imperial Palace has been fully captured!”
 
Then a louder voice came – someone was yelling. I shyly turned to look, and saw a car approaching, packed full of people, with a flag on top, which read “Women’s Lib!!!” The car was undoubtedly headed for the bus stop.
 
“We’re going to the Palace,” shrieked a female reporter, from the car, “(crown Princess) Michiko has been killed, and we want to take pictures of it!” Then the car sped off.
 
As usual, I stood there doing nothing.
 
 “That’s kind of an odd thing to say,” I thought, as I waited at the bus stop in my ordinary way.
 
Just then, I heard another voice in the crowd: “In Ginza, the enemy is stubbornly resisting with flame-throwers.”
 
“Flame-throwers, eh? Those guys are going to get in big trouble!” I replied, suddenly afraid.
 
“Naw, we can handle a flame-thrower or two,” replied the knitting lady.
 
I stood, dumb-struck, as she continued: “After all, the weak point of flame-throwers is, they can’t withstand a direct bazooka attack. And our army guys, they’re getting the bazookas ready right now.”
 
Hearing that, I felt a sense of calm wash over me. 
 
Then I heard the distant sounds of a brass band, approaching quickly.
 
"It looks like the band is swearing allegiance to the cause, also!"
 
No sooner had the people around me burst into a racous round of applause, than the band started playing "Quizas Quizas” and marching to where we stood. I found this strange, because they were playing it in the style of a rhumba (or was it a mambo? I can never tell the difference)! At any rate, I kept my doubts to myself.
 
 

 
 
Some guy kept yelling "Play 'Kumbai Kumbai Chello'!" over and over. What was up with him? I wondered. But before I could find out, another bus pulled up right in front of me, and once again the crowd surged forward with a roar.
 
Once again, they ejected the driver, and prepared to drive off. This time, though, I joined in with a roar of my own, and pushed my way into the very center of the bus. Soon the bus was full to capacity and headed off in the direction of the Imperial Palace. We went past Akasaka and then Miyakezaka. The Palace's 'cherry gate' (Sakuradamon) was open, and soon we entered the field directly in front of the Palace itself. 
 
The field was full of throngs of people, but the bus plowed through them, not seeming to care if they got hit or not. I noticed that some Oden (deep-fried fast food) stalls had been set up for the crowd, as had stalls selling cotton, sweets, ramen, pinwheels, bamboo flutes, and even balloons! Next to them, His Highness the Imperial Prince and Her Highness the Imperial Princess were lying face-up. It looked as if we had arrived just in time for their execution.
 
What I found most odd about this was – the axe that the executioner was raising (as if to sever their heads) was the same axe I had used to cut wood with in the past. If I recall correctly, it wasn't a proper axe – the handle was quite distinctive because it was so narrow. So my axe and this axe really must be one and the same! “Ah,” I thought, “if it's really my axe they're chopping people up with, then it'll get dirty!” However, I couldn't bring myself to ask the man to stop on my account.  
 
And then, with one fell blow, the executioner brought the axe down on the His Highness the Imperial Prince, and with a SU-TAN! the head popped off. And with a KORO,KORO, KORO sound, the head rolled and rolled through the crowd, for a very long time before finally coming to a stop. 
 
At that point, I decided the axe was definitely too dirty for me to use again. But throwing it away would be wasteful – perhaps I would just give it to someone or other. I continued thinking about it while staring raptly at the spectacle.
 
What I found strangest about it was, the SU-TAN! KORO KORO KORO sound. After all, a neck is just bone, skin, muscle, and hair, so why would it make such a metallic sound when it's popping off the body? What could explain such a sound? And why are they getting my axe so dirty? It's troublesome! And so on.
 
Meanwhile, the executioner had raised his arm again, this time bringing the axe down on the Crown Princess. And this time, her head made a sound like SU-TEN! KORO KORO KARA KARA KARA.
 
Again, this metallic rolling sound. The Princess' head rolled so far, I lost sight of it in the crowd. The headless bodies (which were clad in fine kimono decorated with gold brocade, which depicted mystical scenes of great splendour) laid down in very polite, peaceful poses.
 
 I continued to stare fixedly at the gold brocade’s patterns, while addressing the gentleman in a Western suit next to me: "The illustration on the side of the kimono – is that Kinkaku temple? Or is it Ginkaku temple?"
 
From the way he was glaring angrily, I had a hunch the gentleman was connected with the Imperial Palace in some way.
 
He replied, "No, that's a picture of the Hojuu Daijinja shrine – Shinto, not Buddhist! But of course, look on the east side, you can see the Sanjo Daibashi bridge next to it!"
 
The way he answered in such pedantic detail confirmed my hunch. Next, I asked him, "Sir, are you working at the Imperial Palace?"
 
"I've had the privilege of being employed on these premises for thirty or fifty years," he replied.
 
What I found strange about the gentleman was not that he was in the middle of a crowd of enemies, yet unharmed. Nor was it that he was so cool and composed while staring at the dead bodies of the Royal Family. What I found strange was that he wore a heavy chain necklace, dense with amulets, wrapped around his neck so many times it looked like he might choke.  It must not be that heavy. But surely it has to have at least a bit of heft to it, mustn't it? On the other hand. . . .
 
The gentleman pointed: "They just killed His Highness the Emperor and Her Highness the Empress over there."
 
I pushed myself free of the crowds and began walking in the direction that the gentleman had pointed. There were people standing there, directing the foot-traffic. They herded people into lines so that we could all see the headless royal bodies in an orderly fashion. The resulting line moved slowly forward.
 
 The body of the Crown Prince was wearing a tuxedo, but the headless Emperor was wearing a three-piece suit. The Empress was wearing a blouse and skirt, and on the side of the skirt, a Western designer's name was written, but I didn't find any of this strange at all.  I instead wondered how odd it would be if the Emperor's suit was also a Western designer label.
 
I suddenly noticed something else: There were bits of colored paper near the Emperor's headless body. I moved to pick one up and read it, but on closer inspection, the writing was bizarre diagrams, written with a traditional brush, in strokes that resembled writhing earthworms. It was incomprehensible.
 
"What the hell, man? What is this nonsense? I can't read a thing – who on Earth would write such things?" I said to myself.
 
"That's His Imperial Majesty the Emperor's farewell poem," came a reply from right next to me.
 
Turning, I saw the same well-dressed gentleman from before.
 
"Can you read these kind of strange symbols?" I asked him.
 
"If I couldn't read them, what use would I be? I've had the privilege of being employed on these premises for thirty or fifty years!" he replied, while picking a paper up and scrutinizing it.
 
"In the fields of flower-stems / the weeping willow's boughs and the supple grasses / bend and sway in the mountain winds /  before my eyes…”
 
The gentleman had been kind enough to translate the poem for me, but now – without any prompting – he began to sing it as well:
 
"In the fields of flower-stems / beneath the swaying boughs of the weeping willow/ the plover toots his mournful call  / into the mountain wind"
 
I supposed that the repetition of "swaying" was meant as a metaphor for the riots engulfing the nation, but the general meaning of the song was more along the lines of, "Why the hell has everyone turned against me?" . . .  or so it seemed.
 
"Well, it certainly SOUNDS like something His Highness would write," I ventured.
 
"An Imperial death-poem, to be precise. Not something from the middle of His life-span, but written as He is about to lose His head. Truly a one-of-a-kind song," he said, lowering his eyes.
 
I had a realization then: if the Emperor has a song, the Empress must also have one, make no mistake! I carefully checked around the headless body of Her Highness The Imperial Empress. As I suspected, I found more bits of colored paper. I picked them up, finding that they also had been written in incomprehensible script.
 
"Here now, can you read this as well?"
 
"It's also a farewell song-poem."
 
Just as he was about to start reciting it, suddenly the crowd parted to make way for a very loud, agitated old lady.
 
"Her Highness the Dowager Empress is coming! The Queen Mother – she who gave birth to the Emperor, is coming!"
 
With a great noise, the crowd turned to look, and we beheld a woman, around 65, wearing wonderful, elegant clothing. She had a wide forehead, a handsome face, and a tall, proud nose which gave her face a very determined look. A beautiful perm sat upon her elegant head, and a radiant string of pearls glittered around her  neck . . . her long, snakelike, bloated and black neck! She wore a gorgeous two-piece skirt, with, as one would expect, a Western brand-name written on the lapel.
 
What I found strange was not the issue of whether she was Emperor Meiji’s wife or Emperor Taisho’s wife ; In any case, they're both dead, so what did it matter? No, in fact I didn’t think there was anything strange at all about her being Royal; I didn’t question how exactly she fit into the bloodlines – she was simply the Dowager Empress and that was that.
 
She had appeared in person, before my very eyes. I flew at her in a sudden rage:
"You dangling-shit granny!" I screamed.
 
Forthwith, the Dowager Emperess replied with a savage glare, "Who the fuck do you think you're talking to, you shitface brat?"
 
What I found odd about this was, by ‘dangling-shit’, I meant to imply, "Noble though you are, you poop just like the common people do." Or maybe more like, "You're the granny whose turds are especially runny and filthy, so therefore, when you take a shit, you really take a nasty fucking old granny shit!"
 
So, bearing that in mind, my "Dangling-shit granny!" comment really meant, "This particular granny’s entire body is as polluted as feces, from her head to toes."
 
I often call people "Old-shit granny," but I've never used the "dangling-shit" version before; it seemed too vulgar. And yet, I used it this time – why had I done such a shameful thing?
 
Also – the Dowager Empress' reply ("Who the fuck?", "Shitface brat?") was slang from the Koushuu region. Did she speak that dialect fluently, I wondered, or did the Imperial Household only use Koushuu dialect for abuse? Her accent and grammar were somewhat different from regular Koushuu people. But, since it was my dream, I couldn't very well ask someone else who knew more about such things. I resolved to set aside the question for later.
 
Meanwhile, since I had been called a "shitface brat," I jumped at her in a fury. I seized her arm and twisted it behind her back. I screamed at her, "Who the fuck do YOU think YOU'RE talking to, you DANGLING-SHIT GRANNY?!?!? All your 'honor' and 'splendor' – it’s based upon nothing more than the money you stole from the people who work for a living!"
 
The Dowager Empress considered my words briefly, and then replied, "Who the fuck do you think you're talking to, you shitface brat?" And with a shriek, she clawed at my face.
 
This made me even angrier, and with an "Ei!!!!!", I swept her feet out from under her, and flung her down.
 
"Whattaya doin'?" she said, lying square on her back. (I really sent her flying – I must be stronger than I'd imagined!) Then, effortlessly, I flipped Her Highness the Dowager Empress over and put her in a Full Nelson. Her Highness flailed her arms wildly and tried to escape, but what I thought was odd was, I wasn’t even holding her that hard, yet she still could not break free despite her theatrical thrashing. (If she had broken free, I would have looked foolish!). At any rate, that’s what I was thinking about as she struggled.
 
Then the gentleman next to me spoke again:“As I was saying, Her Majesty’s death song goes like this:
 
The plover / struggling through the raging seas/
The boatman  / who is struggling with dampness”
 
Then he once more commenced singing, even though no one had asked him to:
 
“The boatman proceeds / through the rocky beach and the heaving wet waves,” and so on.
 
Every stanza ended with the phrase “dampness,” or “soaking wet,” which was a metaphor for, what exactly? What exactly was getting so wet? Probably it merely meant dampness in general. But I couldn’t think too deeply about such things or else Her Highness the Dowager Empress would escape, which would be troublesome. So I continued to hold her fast while raising my eyes to inquire of the gentleman.
 
He replied, “What is getting wet, you ask? Well, clearly the author’s ambiguity is intentional. It’s her secret knowledge. If I had to explain simply, I’d say it’s her tears. A sort of feeling of, ‘Why are these terrible things happening to Us?’ I’d say.”
 
 “So you’re saying, that keeping it enigmatic is important for classic poetry?”
 
“Not really,” he replied, “Enigmatic-for-the-sake-of-enigmatic doesn’t capture the nuance.”
 
As he explained, Her Highness the Dowager Empress continued to thrash about: “You motherfuckers! Why were you even born?!? We gave you life!! You owe us for everything!!”
 
“What the fuck are you talking about, you dangling-shit granny?!? Where’s your proof? You guys are nothing but vampires, sucking our money! We should be grateful to YOU?”
 
Her Highness the Dowager Empress cried out in a piercing wail, “The fuck are you talking about, you poopy-pants brat? You’re forgetting about August fifteenth! The Unconditional Surrender to America. If Hirohito hadn’t sacrificed himself, you all would have been killed! You owe us!”
 
“You preposterous asshat!” I thundered, raising my fist over my head.
 
But before punching her, I felt that I needed a good exit line:  “When the fucking war ended, your good-for-nothing son didn’t care about saving anyone but himself! And the thing that saved his life? He ratted out his friends! He said the war wasn’t his fault because he was deceived by them. This fucking piece-of-shit kid of yours! So whose fault WAS the war, then? Prime Minister Yomeiuchi? Okada? Suzuki Kantarou???”
 
HAVING finished my speech, I aimed a punch squarely at Her Highness’ head, but –
 
“Wahh!”
 
Before I could connect, I saw that Her Highness had a bald spot the size of a baseball square on top of her head! The reason I yelled “Wahh!” was, bald spots are my Achilles’ heel.
 
Since I am going bald myself, seeing another balding person fills me with dread. When I see people who share my affliction, it seems that I am forced to sympathize with their pathetic condition. This thought, too, I put aside for further consideration when I woke up. 
 
But at the moment, the Dowager Empress was talking to me: “Wait! You wouldn’t hit an old lady, would you?”
 
Suddenly a feeling of weakness overcame me. I said, “Hey! If you behave yourself, we can try to talk this out, right? Let’s all settle down.”
 
 So saying, I sat down cross-legged upon the ground. Her Highness sluggishly lifted herself to a sitting position as well. She seemed exhausted from her violent outburst, panting and attempting to fix her blouse, which was soaked with sweat. Next she tried to pat her hairdo into place with her wrinkled hands, while I just watched blankly. Then she began to talk to herself:
 
“Huh! Calm down! These fucking poopy-pants brats are all up in Our royal grill, but the people love Us. No matter what happens, the people are grateful to Us, they’ll come along and save Us in the end. And the fuckers who dared strangle Us and call Us vampires, they’ll pay! So just calm down. Huh!”
 
This made me jump up once again in a new frenzy: “YOU DANGLING-SHIT GRANNY!!!!!!!!!!!!” I leapt forward, ready to send her flying once more, when she took me by surprise with the comment: “Only the Gods can judge which one of us is the worst, huh!”
 
What?!? That was supposed to be MY line, and yet she of all people said it first. (her leeching off the working people, versus my role in today’s incident, only God can judge which is worse). But she’d already said it, so there was nothing to do but grit my teeth in frustration. I resolved to counter with an equally philosophical rejoinder, such as “The Gods know all our sins!” But instead, what came out was, “God is really really smart!”
 
Suddenly, my ears were assaulted by the return of the brass band, playing at deafening volume. “Amour, Amour, Amour, Miyo!” (“To love so much one would die for the sake of it”) was the tune. I felt that “Kumbai Kumbai Chello” would have been a better choice, but since I was in a good mood, I said, “Well, what the heck. This song is fine also.”

 
The old gentleman next to me was struggling to his feet on unsteady legs. He was still wearing his giant necklace, so I inquired of him:
 
“That is one pretty necklace. Really cute. Do you have some matching pumps for that?”
 
“It’s not a necklace,” he responded. It’s a Cultural Participation Medal.” This caused me to feel slightly ill. The gentleman raised a knowing eyebrow at me: I was in for another lecture.
 
“I was invited to attend the Imperial Wedding Ceremony some time ago. Everyone so honoured received a Cultural Participation Medal. But now they’re all throwing them away. It seemed wasteful, so I’ve been picking them up.” Then he turned and pointed at a spot across the Palace compound. “The Sacred Imperial Regalia have also been thrown away, and no one is even trying to save them. Wasteful!”
 
I turned with a start, and saw the spot he’d pointed to: scattered like branches of a fallen tree were the Imperial Regalia themselves! Lying jumbled in the dirt, they looked like nothing more than the cheap toys of a souveneir shop – cheesy little mirrors, balls, and rings.
 
“That IS a shame – because someone should sell ‘em!”
 
“No good, yo. I already tried taking ‘em to a junk-yard, but even the junk-yard wouldn’t give me a damn cent!”
 
It was the old abnormal-knitting woman from the bus stop. As always, her yarn-balls were trailing yards behind her in the dirt.
 
The old gentleman said, “This is the Crown Prince’s farewell song,” and began reading from another scrap of colored paper:
 
“I pine for the dancing / of the mustard blossoms in the spring fields
The care-free white butterfly / knows nothing of age and death
 
“Her Highness the Crown Princess’ farewell song follows thusly,” he proclaimed:

”Gazing at the stars / drinking in the reddish dusk of a spring evening/
Nature has dyed the night sky / the colours of the autumn maple leaves”
 
And with that, he began interpreting the poems:
 
“The spring fields represent the Crown Prince, whereas the fall evening represents Her Highness the Princess. The greens of spring and the silver gleam of the fall night stars- if you combine these colors, you obtain yellow, the color of mustard blossoms, which are the ‘flower of Death.’ Her highness has given us this image, only to contrast it with the fall leaves, which symbolize aging and withering, and the white butterfly, whose hues symbolize an unawareness of aging or death.”
 
I was very proud that I had understood much of what he said, and as soon as he finished speaking, I chimed in: “OK, I got it! In other words, the poems put it in different ways, but basically, like, if two people are married, they often fight passionately . . . but later when they’re on their death-beds, they’ll see that the quarrels were done out of the passion of romance! That’s the meaning of the farewell-songs, right?”
 
"Uh,” replied the old gentleman. “That's a, um, a novel interpretation. But in this case perhaps one shouldn't read quite so much into it. It's just a song, after all, so one doesn't need to attach such a heavy meaning to it.
 
“If I must summarize it, the white butterfly which flits amid the summer mustard blossoms – it can face death with a happy heart because it knows nothing of withering and decay. And the Prince wishes to face death with the same grace and ease. That seems to be the meaning. As for the Crown Princess' farewell song, her verse about "drinking in the reddish dusk of a spring evening,” refers to her sixteen-year-old daughter. Ah- I forget myself. The daughter is no longer sixteen. How quickly the years pass! The second verse, “Nature has dyed the night sky / the colours of the autumn maple leaves,” could be taken to mean something like, "We, the Royal Family, in the course of a single evening, have aged immeasurably." In the end, the Crown Prince wishes to communicate that he can die with no regrets, since his heart was in harmony with that of the Crown Princess. The flavor of these farewell songs is very deep and rich, as one might expect from such refined, graceful folk."
 
As the gentleman explained this to us, the crowd had erected more stalls and booths (as one sees at traditional festivals), as well as a stage for performers. Singers and comedians walked past us, and before long the entertainment began: it seemed that the enemy had finally been defeated in Ginza.
 
Suddenly, tyco drums began to pound, sounding like a rain of shells descending on us. As the drums' echo receded, I stood dumbstruck. By the time I recovered my senses, I was surrounded by a throng of marching drummers.
 
"It's the military parade!"
 
I was still reeling from this when another throng of musicians began to march, wrapped in their tubas as if they were being constricted by giant snakes. Behind them, a brass band – trumpets held aloft like a forest of golden cannons, lined up and prepared to march. Overhead, a blaze of color streaked the sky.
 
"Ah, it's the 'angel-fish' fireworks!" I realized. The sounds came from far away like the echo of a violent wind.
 
"Oh, the 'Belle's Ballad' fireworks!" I realized. 
 
The distant setting sun was dark yellow of the distant setting sun remained in the sky, while here the faint darkness of early evening was setting in. (is it evening already? I ought to be heading home) Just then, a giant bonfire was lit directly next to us, sending a pillar of flame into the sky. The sparks fell all around us like a rain of countless leaves of fall trees.
 
The gentleman beside me said, "There goes the fireworks, the famous ones. What were they called? ‘The Wind from the Fields to the Town?’ And now this one! How glorious! You can't see it well from here, but the fire-trails resemble the boughs of the weeping willow.”
 
Soon the bonfire dwindled to embers. At that moment, the earth trembled as if in an earthquake! Thunder echoed, and the entire sky was bathed in deep crimson, as the flaming sparkles drifted down to us.
 
"Just now, that was the one they call ‘four-direction cherry-blossom,’" the old gentleman told me. No sooner had the firework faded in the sky, than a new one exploded, sending brilliant strings of light which fell all around us. 
 
"This one is, what's it again? Oh yes – the ‘Crazed Lion’. And this next one is 'The Thirty-three Pagodas.' It's a quick one!"
 
The old man began speaking faster and faster, until it all began to seem like a blur: 'the 3,333 Buddhas,' 'the three-days-and-three-nights-of-arrows,' and so on. By then I was no longer paying attention.
 
The fireworks were beautiful, but I was thinking of other things. I felt a deep ache, as if I might collapse at any moment: "Ah! I have no regrets. I could die now a happy man."
 
So I composed my own farewell-song:
 
I climb the Hill of the Gods / to venerate them with the Ritual Scroll,
All life is a celebration / of the Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father.
 
The meaning was, "I pray to the Gods for continuing good luck in war. This is not for me, but for my mother and father. My parents are no longer alive, so I don't mind dying."
 
The old gentleman turned to me and said, "That song is from the famous ‘Ten Thousand Leaves’ poem, wasn't it? "
 
"Ah, he's right!" I thought to myself, "How embarrassing! My most profound thoughts were stolen from Japan’s oldest epic poem!"
 
Out loud, I said, "How thoughtless of me. Let me try again!" I took a deep breath, preparing to recite my new masterpiece at top volume, when BANG! I got shot in the head.
 
What I found strange about this was, well actually, at the time, I didn't find anything at all strange about it!
 
But in retrospect, what I found strange was this: In the dream, I was staring for a long time at the hole that the bullet punched in my own skull. The white brain fragments danced in front of my eyes – some moving, some quite still – just like the little long squiggles that one sees when one closes one's eyes on a sunny day.
 
Upon seeing the dancing white fragments, I thought, "Maggots! My head must be really unclean!" I peered sideways at them, not wanting to look too closely. At that moment I was struck (as if by lightning) with a powerful insight: I’d always subconsciously associated the brain matter with maggots! That’s why I was, in my dream, picturing maggots just now.  Like the other insights, I also decided to set this one aside, for further consideration.
 
And that's all I can recall of the dream, for it was at that moment that my nephew, Mitsuhito, woke me up.
 
"Uncle! You were screaming in your sleep!" he said, with his eyes still round in panic.
 
"Ah, Mitsuhito! I died in my dream, I think." I grabbed him by the shoulders and said, "Tell me what I was screaming in my dream! Tell me the exact words!"
 
"Something about the summer grass and the dreams of soldiers. It was clearly a haiku of some sort."
 
"Ah! So I was able to compose a farewell song after all!" That's when I realized that I was still dreaming.
 
"A haiku, eh? Why did it have to be a damn haiku?"
 
And with that, my eyes finally opened for real -just in time to hear the elaborate chimes of the Westminster grandfather clock begin the prelude to the clanging of the hour. As the prelude finished, the temples around our house began ringing their own bells:
 
BENG,BENG!
 
So it was two o'clock.
 
 I turned to the bedside table on which my wrist-watch lay, and, attempting to take it by surprise, quickly strapped it to my wrist. The hands stood at exactly two o'clock. (Ah! So, since I was awake in my dream, the watch must have been awake as well, I thought). Realizing this, I was overjoyed to the brink of tears, and lovingly embraced the wrist-watch..
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
20 comments Tags: , ,

20 Comments so far

  1. Daniel March 27th, 2010 6:40 am

    Cool stuff. Where did you get your copy for translation? It's not for regular sale, correct?
    And do you have any idea how exactly the official translation is circulated? Do you get a copy with your Phd in modern Japanese lit?

  2. Baka_toroi March 27th, 2010 7:55 am

    Daniel, there's a link to the Japanese version in the very first sentence of this post.

  3. Rune March 27th, 2010 8:34 am

    The first rule of The Emperor, you do not talk about The Emperor.

  4. szaszha March 27th, 2010 4:41 pm

    today when i opened my ramen for dinner i was pleasantly surprised to find that some instant noodle assembly machine had accidentally given me a bonus packet of dehydrated vegetables.
     
    then i come to this site and find some crazy post war contraband story! today is awesome! your translations are so great because of their casual tone. imagining the dowager empress calling everyone poopy pants kids is pretty amusing.

  5. Sarah March 27th, 2010 8:20 pm

    With this and your visual kei exposé, I think soon YOU might have to 'open a noodle shop.' Keep sticking it to the man until then.

  6. Monty March 28th, 2010 7:50 am

    I like that you're challenging the taboo and doing it with the full knowledge that your site gets read by a lot of people, and potentially even more when stories like the V-kei thing get cross posted across the world. Also, if you end up opening a noodle shop that's not so bad either. Everyone needs noodles. Not so much the stabbing thing, though.

  7. Daniel March 28th, 2010 3:38 pm

    Yarg, shame on me for not checking the links. Bad habit.

  8. rk March 30th, 2010 2:33 pm

    Thanks for translating this. I appreciate the taboo nature of this, and it's most gracious of you to risk putting it on your site.
    This is the type of stuff that makes TDR the best blog about Japan I know of. After reading dozens of fawning-over-Japanese-culture weeaboo blogs & another dozen "Those kooky Japanese!" blogs, TDR is such a breath of fresh air. TDR hits the voice that no one else does: INFORMED Contempt of Japanese Culture.
    (Maybe contempt is a little strong… informed challenging of Japanese culture?)
    Keep on rockin, boy. Good shit, here.

  9. admin March 30th, 2010 11:54 pm

    @rk, monty, : thanks! I am glad you enjoyed it, although the translation is not 100% perfect.
    @szashza: thanks. but the juxtaposition of formal japanese and vulgar japanese is in the original – it’s not me messing around. In fact probably a perfect English translation would be even MORE so – see-sawing back and forth.

  10. T.S.B. Voidmare March 31st, 2010 6:41 am

    Hey man, I have a gag manga I want to show called Umezonian by Demerin Kaneko which features the entire Imperial family in several scenes. Although they aren't flicking boogers or shitting themselves, just drawing them was pretty ballsy on her part.
    Hit us up!

  11. AnokPanda March 31st, 2010 7:28 pm

    I find it hard to place a meaning that isn't perverted by my own perspectives on, and prejudices of, Japanese culture and history. Although I feel knowledgeable about plenty of aspects of Japanese culture, I believe the extremely Japanese nature of the sentiments make any conclusion I draw, come out unbelievably skewed to the point of offensively retarded. But I will say, I think the authors intentions and allegiance lies somewhere in the middle (which sounds indecisive and douchey on my part), or maybe he's saying the masses of Japan are "in the middle" and easily swayed. I think somewhere in there he's saying that one is Japanese no matter what one does, or weather or not they want to be.

    Other half thoughts:
    There's something about appreciating some things true value along with the virtues of utilizing opportunity… A weird emphasis on appearance and cleanliness…The uncontrollable or unforecastable nature of history…True social/political power and unwarranted authority…The world moves even if your not watching it…Did you take notice of were you've been, and will you know where you are when you get where you're going?…Politeness is cheap and leisure time is for the rich…

    IDK, I'll get off the soap box know; either way, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the translation. Thank you.

    Ever seen Rampo jigoku or have read anything by Ranpos Edogawa? That movie was wacky (and good) as fuck.

  12. admin March 31st, 2010 10:29 pm

    @anok: about the “meaning”, there’s an interesting scholarly article here:
    http://www.jpri.org/publications/occasionalpapers/op17.html
    where Herbert Bix (author of a rad biography of Hirohito) says that Furyu Mutan’s meaning is, Japanese people forgive the emperor for his part in the war because it makes it easier for them (the average people) to forgive themselves for their own part in the war. He points to the stopped watch and – improbably – the bald spots – as metaphors for this. But he seems to miss the humor of the story, so I take his interpretation with a grain of salt.

  13. T.S.B. Voidmare April 1st, 2010 6:49 am

    I am an idiot, the comic's name is Umezology (ウメゾロジ)! Oops

  14. adam April 1st, 2010 6:10 pm

    crossing my fingers no english-fluent yakuza keep regular tabs on your site! although, let's face it, they are pussies compared to the russian…or mexican mafias…
    TDR rocks

  15. Kakanian April 8th, 2010 12:35 am

    >TDR hits the voice that no one else does: INFORMED Contempt of Japanese Culture.

    Huh? The blog belongs squarely to the "Those kooky Japanese!"-group, only that the author does not bother us with stories about porn and HA-HA-stuff.
    If he was in Europe, he'd be wirting about youth extremism through its connection to music, if he was in the states he'd probably rant about how he did not find too many Thoreauan hermits and how the ones he found threatened to shoot him. IMO.

  16. admin April 8th, 2010 2:55 am

    @kakanian-with-the-german-email-address: and if I was in Der Vaterland, what would I write about? Football players hitting turks with pretzels??? Plus, “thoreauan hermits?” is that the best you could do for america? After all the crappy subcultures we’ve dropped on the world? And you come to my page and write about me like I’m not here? “He does this he does that.” I’m IN THE ROOM, HANS. I mean, damn. I’m not going to take any attitude from a damn German. You guys are so wack, you host the World Breakdancing Championship every year AND HAVE NEVER WON IT.

  17. Kakanian April 8th, 2010 12:00 pm

    Is that better or worse than the World Series?
    >After all the crappy subcultures we’ve dropped on the world?
    Not like I care about that stuff. What happened in Japan happened everywhere else too – it mutated into strange new forms. I just sorta found it funny how many kooks name Thoreau as their spiritual guide and how everyone thinks that's awesome…from Beats to violent Anarchists who would not mind killing 2/3 of humanity to rather flat "special" youth novel characters.

  18. AnokPanda April 9th, 2010 6:55 am

    Thoreau was a bitch and a chronic

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    masturbator

  19. AnokPanda April 9th, 2010 6:56 am

    opps I broke something. sorry

  20. […] pleasure.   Let me back up a second:   Last year, I posted my translation of Furyuu Mutan (The Dream Of An Elegant Family), a Japanese short-story from 1960 that it set off a huge shit-storm […]

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