Tokyo Damage Report

Oe Kenzaburo’s SEVENTEEN, part one

 What is SEVENTEEN??

CHAPTER ONE, part one.
 Today is my birthday. I turned juu-nana-sai. In English, they call it sebentiin! My family – Father, Mother, and Older Brother – didn't even notice (or perhaps they pretended not to notice), so I didn't say anything either. At nightfall, my elder sister, who works as a nurse at the nearby Military Hospital, came home. She poked her head in the bathroom, where I was lathering myself with soap, and said, "Hey, Mr. Seventeen! Don't you want to pinch your new muscles?"
Elder Sister is extremely near-sighted, and her thick glasses make her even more embarrassed. She's already given up all hope of finding a husband, and that's why she works at the hospital. She can't deal with reality so, in despair, retreats into a world of books, even though that makes her eyesight even worse. Even the odd words she spoke to me just now, she probably got them from some book or other. But even though she's pathetic, she was the only one who remembered my birthday.
Just knowing that one person remembered made me feel better, less like a "lonely showering guy." With her words echoing in my head – pinch the muscle, pinch the muscle – I discovered that my sex organs were hardening amidst the soap suds: bo-ki! I discreetly went to the bathroom door and locked it. It seems I get bo-ki all the time nowadays. It gives me a good feeling throughout my entire body – like energy is welling up and growing to the tips of my fingers. So that's why I like the bo-ki. And looking at the bo-ki too, of course. I resumed washing all the nooks and crannies of my body with one hand while "self-satisfying" with the other. This is the first "self-satisfaction" of my seventeenth year. The first time I ever self-satisfied, I worried that it might be bad for me, so I snuck a peek at a medical sex textbook in the bookstore. The book said that – apart from guilt – self-satisfaction caused no harm whatsoever. I was so relieved.
And let me just say this: I can't stand the reddish-black, "totally nude" head of the adult penis, throbbing sickly when the foreskin is rolled completely back. For that matter, I can't stand the bluish head of a boy's penis – it looks like the bud of some sick, stinky plant. However, my own penis is another matter. The foreskin gently folds back like a loose sweater to reveal a magnificent turtle head the color of an elegant rose. And if the foreskin is worked correctly, the friction will melt some of the smegma, which acts as a marvellous lubricant. Only a penis in peak condition can achieve such excellent self-satisfaction, so I'm very proud of it. 
When the school doctor came to teach my class about hygiene, everyone laughed when he explained how to clean off the smegma. Here is the reason: everyone in class finds their smegma an indispensable aid to self-satisfaction. As for me, I am an expert in self-satisfaction. So when I am about to ejaculate, I grab hold of the foreskin, the way one draws shut the mouth of a draw-string purse, and ejaculate into the resulting container. This is a technique I invented, myself.   Also I have cut a hole in the pocket of my trousers so that I can self-satisfy during the boring moments of class. Furthermore, I possess a most excellent magazine, a magazine intended for marriageable women. This magazine has a special color supplement.

The supplement concerns a newlywed woman who describes in detail the damage to her hymen and inflammation of her vaginal walls which was inflicted on her wedding night.I often recall her confessions when I self-satisfy.

My bo-ki, gently wrapped in its foreskin (wreathed in faint blue shadows and whitish tinges) resembles nothing so much as the tip of a rocket – both in its shape and power. As I caressed it, I realized for the first time that the muscles in my shoulders were beginning to grow. For a brief moment, I stared dumbstruck at the tendons moving beneath my skin, like the latest model of rubber bands. I resolved to put my wondrous new muscles – yes, they’re all mine! – to use, and resumed scrubbing my body with relish. What a shame I had no one else to share them with, I chuckled ruefully. Everyone! Behold my triceps, my biceps, and even my quads. They’re woefully tiny; just beginning to sprout, but if I take care of them, they will become as big and hard as you could possibly imagine. Perhaps I should ask Father to buy me an ‘expander’ or barbells as a birthday present. But Father is quite stingy. He’ll doubtless make a sour face if I request athletic equipment. But – perhaps it’s the warmness of the water and the smoothness of the soap bubbles, the wonderful, fascinating feeling on my skin? – in this good mood, I feel I can persuade him.
By this time next summer, my muscles will be busting out all over. When I go to the beach, the young ladies’ eyes will follow me around. And when the boys see me, respect will grow in their hearts like a hot seed as they watch me. The warm sand, the hot and salty summer breeze, the itch of the summer sun’s rays on my skin – I can feel it now! The smell of our young bodies, me and my friends, as we frolic naked in the surf! The splendid noise of our youthful untamed laughter as we gather, more and more of us, at the giant beach party. Suddenly, the feeling grows too much. Everything goes quiet and slow-motion. I am overwhelmed by such happiness, I have an attack of vertigo. Aah! Aah! Aaaaaahhhh!!!!!!!!!!
I shut my eyes tightly, and grab my hot, firm sexual organs. In that instant, the force erupts from within, sending a gush of semen – my very own semen! I can feel a huge pile of it undulating in the palm of my hand. In that instant, I realized that my giant summer naked beach party had melted into the sea. The noonday sun and blue sky were replaced with the cool wind of fall. My body was shivering as I opened my eyes. My semen was dripping onto the bathroom floor, where it quickly grew cold and grey, matching my mood exactly. 
I splashed water all over the bathroom, trying to clean every speck of semen. If the remaining spongy clumps were to enter the tile cracks, they could never be cleaned up. If my sister were to sit down while showering, she could become pregnant, I think! She’s abnormal enough as it is; if she were to be polluted by incest, what kind of woman would she become? By the time I’d cleaned the bathroom, I was trembling and chilled to the bone. I stood up, making sure to splash loudly so that Mother would know I was done with my bath – if I take too much time, she grows suspicious. Then she’ll start saying mean things like, “That child! Just last year he was taking little bird-baths. I wonder what he found in there that’s so interesting?”
I continued to noisily pick up my clothes, while quietly unlocking the door. In the instant of my orgasm, the boundary between my inside and outside disappeared, and I was filled with a sense of courage and good-will toward everyone. But now, the small remaining bits of amity and confidence were headed down the drain, along with the last of the semen-smelling hot water. There was a large mirror hung in the small clothes-changing room. I looked at my naked body in the yellow afternoon light, dejected by the lonely form I saw standing there. Who is this crestfallen seventeen-year-old, with his pathetic wisps of pubic hair? With his sex organs tucked inside his underpants? With the foreskin shrunken up, until it is nothing but blue-black wrinkles, looking like a pupa?
Smeared with water or semen or Lord-knows-what, my testicles hang nearly to my knees. What’s more, since my body is backlit, one can’t see my muscles at all – my silhouette is nothing but skin and bone. I suppose the light in the bathroom was more flattering. I am despondent! Unable to bear the sight any longer, I put on my shirt. As my head emerged from the neck-hole, I bent to scrutinize my face closely in the mirror. A suspicious, hateful face it was – homely and pale. A truly repulsive visage! First of all, the skin was so thick and puffy, like a pig’s. I wanted to look like those professional sprinters, with their chiselled features and sun-tans. Their skin clings so tightly to their face-bones, while my skin looks like someone stuffed a bunch of meat and fat under it, willy-nilly. Then there’s the matter of my forehead, which is low and sloping, like a cave-man. I’d try to cover it with bangs, but my hair is so coarse and ugly, such an effort would doubtless backfire.
And then one can add to this my puffy cheeks and my womanly lips, small and reddish. My eyebrows are thick and low, growing in uneven clumps. The eyes themselves are ‘urameshi’ (full of jealousy, bitterness, and suffering), and the pupils are so beady that one can see the whites on all four sides. My ears are also quite meaty and protrude from my head like the feelers of an insect. In sum, I have the face of a girl – specifically, the kind of girl who is weak, spineless, and shrieks like a small bird at the slightest thing.
I’m devastated every time someone tries to take my picture. I particularly dread the class photos at school. My face in those pictures always looks like I want to die. What’s more, when we take a family portrait at the photo studios, it is I alone whom they have to retouch! I gave myself one last hateful glare, and found that my face had taken on a pale, unhealthy color: the color of a chronic masturbator. Whether at school or on the street, my sickly face announces to everyone, “Here comes the chronic masturbator!” When they see my big, self-hating nose coming towards them, surely they must nudge their friends and say, “Hey! Here comes that guy! You know what he does all day, right?” Surely they’re out there, right now, spreading vile rumors about me. Oh! I’ve returned to those days when I thought self-satisfaction was harmful to one’s health. If one thinks about it, really I haven’t made any progress whatsoever – I am still so embarrassed that I could die.
The normal people’s eyes follow me as they mutter, “There goes the compulsive masturbator we’ve heard so much about! With his unhealthy pale skin and beady rueful eyes.” Surely they get angry with me and spit on my footsteps the second my back is turned. How I want to murder all of them! Take one big machine-gun and just mow them down!
I try to force the words out of my mouth: “I want to murder you all! If I had that machine-gun, I’d kill him! And her! And you too! I wish I had a machine-gun right now!” But I couldn’t make the words rise above a whisper – it accomplished nothing, apart from fogging the glass.
Instantly, my face, which was burning with anger, fell into a mask of despondency as I turned from the cloudy mirror.  How could I hide my shameful condition from the normals who constantly snicker at me? And what a feeling of freedom it would be, to simply walk down the street with my head held up. But that would take a miracle. Barring divine intervention, everyone who looks at me will say, “You see that guy?” “Who? The compulsive masturbator?” “Yes, he does it all the time!” “He must be that ‘Seventeen’ guy we’ve heard about.” With that mental image in my head, I realized that this was the most pathetic birthday I’ve had so far. Would the remaining birthdays all be this bad? Or would they be worse?   I wish I had never self-satisfied – all this regretting has given me quite a headache. Desperately, I began to hum “Oh, Carol!” while quickly putting on my remaining clothes. “You can hurt me, you can make me cry, but if you forget about me, I’ll definitely die, oh, ohh, ohhhh! I’m drunk on youuuuuu…”



Part two coming next week.

8 comments Tags: ,

8 Comments so far

  1. Mark June 17th, 2010 10:45 am

    Well, I took a quick look at the first couple pages….your translation is already plenty more alive than the one I've got, which is by (if I'm reading this right) Luk van Haute, who Google tells me is Belgian, and frankly his English sounds pretty Belgian. 

  2. catoneinutica June 18th, 2010 3:26 am


  3. Sarah June 19th, 2010 2:54 am

    A very lively translation!
    I'm guessing that the 'Oh! Carol' lyrics are your translation of the Japanese translation? The original lyrics are 'You hurt me, and you make me cry, but if you leave me, I will surely die. Darling, there will never be another…' Is the paraphrase in your version another case of Seventeen getting things wrong? Or am I just being oddly pedantic about Neil Sedaka lyrics? I can see this being a tricky issue for a translator.
    I hope the sister with glasses is getting some mad rutty cute doctor action at the hospital.

  4. admin June 19th, 2010 8:24 am

    @sarah: your comments are always right-on. I had no idea that ‘oh carol’ was neil sedaka. 二ール・セダカ??? I have never heard his music. Anyway, it’s a translation of a translation. If playing ‘telephone’ with translations (do they even play ‘telephone’ in NZ?) is your thing, check out 匂いをかがれるかぐや姫, which is a whole book translated from japanese into english (using Yahoo Babelfish, if i’m not mistaken) and then translated BACK to japanese, for no reason except to be rediculous. Amazon it!

    Anyway I’m off to listen to some sedaka.

  5. Crimson June 21st, 2010 6:28 am

    Thanks for translating this. I really enjoy Oe's quirky writing, so I'm looking forward to the rest :)

  6. casey June 23rd, 2010 11:47 pm

    I'm curious as to why you've translated 亀頭 kitô as "turtle head" when it's the regular term for the glans penis.  I mean, the meaning is clear enough, I suppose, but I wouldn't interpret the two kanji individually for a set term

  7. admin June 24th, 2010 12:31 am

    Good question! Let’s have a serious academic debate about how to say boner! Well for what it’s worth, I translated it literally because saying ‘glans penis’ would of sounded like a dictionary rather than a novel. And ‘turtle head’ adds some local flavor to it. It’s like if a cowboy says “Yep, it’s hotter than the Devil’s flapjack in here’ and you translate that as 暑いですね! you lose the country-ness of it.

  8. Sarah June 24th, 2010 1:56 am

    Hey, if you really want to appreciate the glory of Neil Sedaka, check out his 'special singing guest' contribution to the 1965 jellyfish horror movie, <i>Sting of Death</i>.

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