Friday, 9 July 2010

2 More Murakami Stories

Old Man Mushikubo's Ambush*

As he cleared his throat, Old Man Mushikubo said, "I'm Old Man Mushikubo."

"Yes, I am aware of that," I replied. In this part of town, there were none who hadn't heard of him.

"I know I'm being abrupt, but I'd like to say to you one thing about my young daughter's virginity."

"Hold it. Hold it right there. I'm right in the middle of preparing my dinner. If you want to talk about that, some other day--" Disconcerted, I tried to maneuver him out, but Old Man Mushikubo must have sensed something because all of a sudden he quickly pushed half of his body in through the door.

"I won't keep you all that long. If you like, you're welcome to make your meal here, and while you're doing that we can talk."

Well, that's it, I thought, game over, as I cut the aubergine and garlic, chop-chop-chop. He must have planned this really carefully, calling at this time, coming to the kitchen door. Even though Old Man Mushikubo normally acts like a dope, it's at times like these he has a mind like a steel trap.

"May I ask what you are making?" he questioned me, appearing to show a deep interest.

"Um, aubergine and garlic spaghetti, with a haricot bean salad."

"Is that your dinner?"

"Yes," I answered. What a person eats for dinner is no-one else's business. If he wants to eat haricot beans, he eats them; if he wants butter-squash, it's butter-squash. And much like his young daughter's virginity, he has no right to go around talking about it. I was of a mind to open my mouth and tell him just that. But if Old Man Mushikubo were to dislike me there's no telling what he might spread around the neighbourhood, so I held my tongue. Once he's said what he wants to say, he'll go home after all.

Right up until after I'd eaten my spaghetti and salad and washed the dishes, Old Man Mushikubo kept droning on from the doorway, without pause, about the importance of virginity. His voice was so horribly loud, after he had left, my ears were left growling and barking. Such unbelievable misfortune. Then again, I suddenly thought, virginity has become remarkably uncommon these days.




The Spanner

The young man whose collar bone was smashed by Mayumi drove a white Nissan Skyline with an attached spoiler. She didn't know his name. On Sunday she was walking near her home when she was asked, "Won't you come for a drive?" For no real reason she got in the car, but then she was in Enoshima, against her will, being taken it seemed to a motel, so she took up a spanner from somewhere beside her and struck at the man's shoulder as hard as she could. With a snap, the collar bone broke.

Grunting, she escaped from the car, leaving the stricken man, and ran to nearby Odakyuu Station. She then went to buy a ticket from an automatic machine, when she noticed for the first time that she was still holding in her right hand a large spanner. The surrounding people were all staring at her and the spanner with undisguised suspicion. No shit they were. I mean, if a beautiful young girl walks onto train gripping a spanner, who wouldn't think "What the hell is this?"

Assuming an innocent attitude, she placed the spanner into her hand bag, boarded the train, and went home.

"Since then, I've always carried this spanner with me in my bag," she said to me. "Of course, I don't take it to parties or anything like that."

"Right," I said, pretending to be nonchalant. "Have you had any opportunities to use it since?"

"Yeah," she replied, looking into a pocket mirror and applying lipstick. "Two times. Once, in a Fair Lady; the other time, in a Silvia. Why is it only Nissans, I wonder?"

"Both times, collar bones?"

"That's right. Collar bones are the easiest to aim for. Not life-threatening either."

"Huh," I said. Though inside, once more, I grimaced. A smashed collar bone must be really painful. Just thinking about it made me shudder.

"But you know what?" She said, closing her make-up pouch with a click. "There are guys out there who deserve to get their collar bones smashed."

"Yeah, I guess so," I replied.

I guess so.




*The name Mushikubo looks like this in Japanese: 虫窪 and it means, taken literally, insect pit. At first, I didn't realise it was a real name (I'd never come across it before) so my first draft contained the moniker Old Man Fly Hole, which certainly lent the story a different flavour. It's lucky I checked it out on the internet. I should say, though, that it is rather a rare name, has an almost Dickensian flavour, and might cause the same stir as when an English speaker sees a funny name like, say, Bottomley. While this could be seen as a cautionary anecdote (it reminds me a little bit of a translation gaff made by another translator of Murakami stories) I guess it also makes you think about how deeply you could translate any Japanese text, say, by giving all the names their literal meanings. Yamashita (山下) would become Undermountain, for example; and Murakami (村上) would become Overvillage. If I recall, one famous Japanese text was actually translated this way, but I can't quite remember where I read it, or which one... Certainly, most translators, myself included, give names the phonetic treatment. Speaking for myself, if someone were to translate my name, George, into Japanese as 農業者 (nougyousha; farmer) I would feel perhaps less well represented than by the phoneticization, ジョージ (Jyouji). I don't think I am so far removed from common thought in believing that it is the sound of our names we are more attached to. Of course, Japanese people do have their own way of thinking about names, and when they name their children, the meanings of the constituent kanji are very important among other things. Though I can honestly say, I don't think you will ever meet a Japanese person who would introduce themselves as, for example, using given names, Exceptional Beauty (Nozomi; 希美) or Spring Tree (Haruki; 春樹)... In any case, whichever way you choose, it certainly goes to show there is always something lost in translation.

4 comments:

  1. excellent little stories! particularly the second one.

    some people would call this pedantic (but not me):

    'there was none' from the 2nd para of the 1st story doesnt sound quite right

    should "That is your dinner?" from the third last paragraph of the first story be "Is that..."

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  2. Glad you enjoyed them.

    I know what you mean about "there was none" only I settled on it in a (misplaced) spirit of grammatical bonhomie. I've just checked my Oxford Dictionary and it has this to say: "It is sometimes held that none can only take a singular verb, never a plural verb: none of them is coming tonight rather than none of them are coming tonight. There is little justification, historical or grammatical, for this view. None is descended from the Old English naan meaning 'not one' and has been used for around a thousand years with both a singular and plural verb, depending on the context and emphasis needed." Which means I should change it. (Also, come to think of it, grammatically, if anything in English is "not one" (i.e. zero or minus two, three, or point five) then it is counted in the plural, is it not? i,e, there were no cats at the party; or, I've lost 0.75 pounds...)

    As for your second point, John, it is so unbearably pedantic as to make me shudder. But since it makes no difference at all (and it makes you happy) I will change it . (I've just checked the Japanese, and you're lucky: it is also a proper question, rather than a statement phrased like a question).

    Thank you very much for your close reading!

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  3. Suggestion time!

    In old man mushikubo, I think "disconcertedly" sounds a bit awkward. But I also think any adverb right there makes it a bit awkward. So maybe that could use reworking? Maybe "Disconcerted, I tried to..."

    Also, all of a sudden + quickly might be slightly redundant.

    I had no idea what a spanner was, so I had to look it up. [Wrench.] Crazy british-isms.

    Nice stories. Are these from kumozaru?

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  4. Will, mi amigo, good to have you back. These stories are indeed from Kumozaru. Thank you for the suggestions! I will take you up on the first one, but the second one will have to stay, as it owes its strangeness to the original Japanese (though I think there is a small difference (if we're being pedantic) between being sudden and being quick).

    lol that you don't have spanners in the USA.

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