Japanese to English: Kokoro no fuukei/ The Landscape of a Heart Detailed field: Poetry & Literature
Source text - Japanese [Kokoro no fuukei], short story by well-known turn-of-the century Japanese writer, Kajii Motojiro. Japanese text version unavailible here, but printed in several anthologies.
Translation - English The Landscape of a Heart
By Kajii Motojiro
Translated from the Japanese by Francesca Leader
Takashi started fixedly out his window at the slumbering street. No other window showed signs of anyone else being awake, and the deep silence of the night gathered in haloes around the street lamps. The occasional metallic sounds that he could hear appeared to be the insects buzzing about and striking against the lampposts.
It was a back street neighborhood, unfrequented even in the middle of the day. The guts of a fish or the carcass of a rat could lie undisturbed there for days at a time. The houses on either side had an air of dilapidation, visibly weathered by the forces of nature. The reddish-brown paint had faded, the rough-coated walls were crumbling, and it seemed as if the inhabitants within must be lifeless as an old, wrung-out towel.
It was as though this street were a table, and Takashi’s window opened at the head of it, commanding a full view.
From time to time, the sound of the wall clock’s pendulum seeped through the seam of his door; a black wind passed among the trees in the distance. Before long, a nearby oleander began to sway in the depths of the night. Takashi could only stare vaguely—the dim white brows of the houses seemed to undulate in and out of his vision, and in his heart he could feel the transient thoughts rise and depart. The crickets were singing. From near the source of that song—or so it seemed—the faint odor of decaying vegetation came wafting up to him.
“Your room stinks like a French escargot.”
A friend of Takashi’s who came to visit him had said that once. And somebody else had remarked,
“No matter where you live, you instantly suffuse the place with gloom!”
There was the portable water-boiler with the dregs of black tea; The scattered books estranged from their covers; The numerous chits of paper; The futon, spread in the midst of it all, dividing one half of the disorder from the other. It was here that Takashi slept diurnally, like a grey heron. He would wake up hearing distant school bells. Then at night, when everyone else had fallen asleep, he would come to the window and stand there, gazing out.
The thoughts that passed silhouette-like among the thick mists were beginning to sharpen in resolution.
As the night scene dispersed and condensed in his field of vision, it seemed one moment intensely familiar, the next beginning to morph into an unknown place before his eyes.
And then came a moment when Takashi could no longer tell where his own thoughts ended, and the view of the night street began. The white oleander in the darkness was the very embodiment of his despair. The earthen wall, shown in relief by the beam of a hidden lamp, cast a shadow that merged seamlessly with the darkness. And now his thoughts, too, had assumed a three-dimensional shape.
Takashi felt that there was something in this scene that resonated with the landscape of his own heart.
The reason Takashi stood awake by the window at all hours of the night was simply that he could not sleep. Every time he lay down, he was tormented by dark thoughts.
He had contracted a virulent illness from a woman.
A long time before, he had seen a dream like this.
. . . His legs were covered in boils. Alongside these, they also bore twin rows of indentations resembling bite marks. The swelling of the boils grew steadily worse, and the marks deepened as the flesh around them was engorged. Some of the marks resembled the indented butts of oranges, a disgusting fleshiness oozing up to peer out of them; some of the marks were long, thin and deeply incised, like the slender scars left by bookworms on old pages. It was a strange sensation, actually watching his legs turn bluer as the swelling increased. He felt no pain at all. The boils were a deep crimson, not unlike cactus flowers.
His mother was there.
“Oh, no, just look at what’s happened to me!”
The insinuation in this remark was meant for her.
“How would I know?”
“Come now, you made those blasted marks on me with your claws, didn’t you?”
He had no doubt that his mother must have been squeezing him with her fingernails. But just then, the thought flashed across his mind that this might not be the case at all . . .
She can’t know the truth, can she? It isn’t possible! He dismissed the idea forcefully, and in his dreams, he cried out in reproach,
“Confound it, Mother!”
His mother softened at this, but she allowed some time to pass before saying, at length,
“Righty, then, let’s cure you.”
Without Takashi realizing it, the two rows of boils had spread to his chest and abdomen. As he watched her, wondering what on earth she meant to do, his mother pinched up the skin of his chest (flaccid now like withered breasts, though he knew not when it had become this way), and then proceeded to work her way down, pulling the boils on one side across, and inserting them in the boils on the opposite side, exactly as if she were fastening buttons. In his dream, Takashi watched in silence, a less than satisfied expression on his face.
Pair after pair she fastened the boils, until one row had completely disappeared into the other.
“This is the method used by Doctor So-and-So,” his mother said.
It was now as if he wore a frock coat with buttons all the way up the front. But he had the perilous sensation that, at the slightest movement, this garment would slip from his shoulders . . .
Desperate above all to conceal the truth about himself from his mother, he had lashed out at her. Even though it had all been a dream, it pained him to think that he had done so.
He wondered that the act of buying a woman should have left such a dark stain, affecting even his dreams, permeating the whole of his existence.
He sometimes had occasion to interact with little girls, and a few of these children would play nasty tricks on him or treat him with disdain. At such times, the image of a cruel, embittered harlot rose in Takashi’s mind, and he was overcome with self-loathing.
The impact of a single wedge driven into his life had warped the entire structure. Confronted with this fact, Takashi came to realize the extent to which his very self had been contaminated.
And then, the suspicion of a vile illness drove in a second wedge.
His nightmarish dream from before soon became, in some measure, a reality.
Wherever he went, he began to take note of the signboards posted by physicians. He also noticed himself casually reading a certain kind of advertisements in the newspaper. These were things he had never paid any mind to before. The sight of something beautiful could still instantly fill him with delight. But he sensed a place in his heart that was no longer quick to rejoice, and when he sought out the source of this numbness, he found just what he feared he would find—the sickness. At such moments, Takashi could not avoid sinking into the realization of a self now teeming with dark creatures that lay in wait in every crevice.
Now and again, he would take out the diseased part of his body and gaze at it.
It seemed to look back at him imploringly, like an animal in pain.
Takashi sometimes revisited that unfortunate night in his mind.
The voices of drunken whoremongers and the whores calling out to them reached him as he sat alone in a room facing the traffic. The twang of a vigorously played shamisen, the hearty chock of a drum somewhere in the neighborhood, reverberated in the solitary space of his heart.
“What a singular atmosphere!” He thought, and pricked up his ears.
The scraping and shuffling of footgear; the delicate clatter of wooden clogs
wending their way along the street.
It seemed as if all the sounds were crying out for the same thing: The call of the ice cream vendor, the voices raised in song—all of them.
But back on the main avenue of Shijo, those delicate clogs had not sounded the quite the same way.
Takashi remembered himself as he had been a few minutes before, walking down Shijo Avenue—His thoughts so free—and he could feel this same self, present in the room now.
“I’ve finally come to this place,” he thought.
A serving girl came upstairs, and the tallowy smell of the quick-charcoal that she put in the brazier soon filled the room.
Takashi failed to express himself satisfactorily. Once the serving girl had gone back downstairs, he was astounded to think that she could be so matter-of-fact, as if it meant no more to her than flipping over the palm of her hand.
The woman took her time coming to his room.
He felt deflated, and in a moment of whimsy, knowing the layout of the place as well as he did, he decided to climb up to the deck on the roof of the house.
He had just started to climb the rickety old ladder when he noticed that the sliding paper door to the room in front of him was ajar. Inside, there was a futon spread on the floor, and a pair of glowering eyes pointed in his direction. As though oblivious, he went on climbing up the ladder, and thought to himself that pretending not to know anything was the secret to having courage in a place like this.
Viewed from the roof-deck, a sea of dark rooftops covered the surrounding district. Here and there in the interstices, illuminated private entertaining rooms could be seen through rattan blinds. Tall restaurants thrust their heads up out of the darkness in unexpected places. He wondered if the street he glimpsed beyond was Shijo Avenue. There was the red lacquer gate of Yasaka Shrine, the woods shown indistinctly in the reflected light—such were the things he could perceive beyond the dark spines of the rooftops. The haze of evening obscured all that lay in the distance—the mountains of Maruyama, Higashiyama . . . the Milky Way flowed from that direction.
Takashi felt a release within himself. And then he thought, let me always climb back up to this place.
A night heron cried out as it flew by; a soot-grey cat stalked over the roof. Near his feet, Takashi discovered a pot containing a flowering autumn herb that had begun to wither.
The woman said she came from Hakata.
She spoke the Kyoto dialect with a peculiar accent. Her appearance was clean and well-groomed, and Takashi told her so. That was all it took to loosen her tongue. Hardly any time had passed since she made her debut, but she talked about how much “flower money” she had made last month, and how she was already ranked as number four in the red-light district. She said she was on a list posted in the geisha call-office, from one to such-and-such, listing how much money had been earned for each rank. The reason she looked so trim and neat was that the Mama-san (“Ma”) took such good care of her.
“An that’s why ah work so hard. For a while now ah’ve been ill, somethin’ awful, and Ma tells me to rest, but ah neva do.”
“Are you taking any medicine?”
“They gave me some at home, five sen a dose . . . that stuff won’ work no matta how much ye take.”
Listening to this story brought to Takashi’s mind a woman some fellow named S— had told him about.
The woman was ugly. No matter how drunk he might be, S— said, it was always embarrassing to have to say her name and ask that she be called. He mentioned the filthiness of her nightdress, saying it was too horrible to go into detail about. S— ended up getting stuck with the woman in the first place purely by chance. His initial experience with her was so bizarre that it left him incredulous. But ever after that, when in a state of severe intoxication, he would soon find himself unable to stand it any longer and ask for her, his heart in such a turmoil of desire that no other could satisfy him. It was the same thing every time he drank, he said.
Takashi drew a comparison between the “ugly woman” and the woman beside him, surrendering his ears to her chattering voice.
“You’re a quiet one,” she said.
The woman’s skin was hot. So much so that each time he ventured to touch her in a new place, he wondered at how feverish it felt . . .
“I’ll have to be getting along naw,” the woman said, preparing to leave.
“Aren’t you goin’ too?”
Still stretched out, Takashi watched the woman put on her kimono, tie her sash as she faced him. Well, now. How about that. So this was it,” he said to himself.
So this was what it felt like.
For so long, the idea of a woman, a woman, had circled in his mind, and at last he had come to this place, paid for her, she had come to his room, and until that point, everything was fine. She took off her kimono, and that was fine, too . . . but in all that had happened after that, he could not find the woman he had spent his days dreaming of. This is the arm of a woman, he told himself, seeking confirmation. The one thing certain was that it was an arm that belonged to a woman, and nothing more.
But just now, beginning her preparations to go home, she had shown him the figure of a woman.
“Wonder if the trains are still runnin’.”
“Hmm, I don’t know.”
In his heart, Takashi thought it would be nice if the trains had all stopped.
Then the lady downstairs might say, if you don’t want to leave, sleep here until morning, I won’t care. But he thought is more probable that she would say, if you won’t be calling somebody else, then please go home.
“Wouldja leave with me?”
The woman had already dressed, but remained there, hesitating.
Oh, well, Takashi thought, peeling off the top of his sweat-soaked yukata.
As soon as the woman had gone, Takashi immediately ordered a cold beer from
the serving girl.
A sparrow was chirruping from the gutter on the roof. In his half-sleeping brain, Takashi imagined a fresh, vivid scene emerging with the dawn from the morning mists outside.
Lifting his head, he saw a thin beam of lamplight passing through the morning air, shining on the sleeping face of a woman.
The voice of the flower vendor coming in the door was what finally roused him fully. Such a fresh voice, he thought. He felt as if he could see the color of the morning sunlight, spilling over the sakaki branches and all the other multicolored flowers.
Presently, the doors of the neighboring houses were thrown vigorously open, and the voices of children on their way to school began to fill the streets. The woman was still fast asleep . . .
“Go home, go take a bath,” she said yawning. Taking the hairpiece, braided into a swirl, that had crowned her hairstyle in the palm of her hand, she said “I’ll ask you to let me be on my way now.”
Takashi remained as he was, and fell back asleep.
Takashi descended from the foot of the Maruta-machi Bridge to the edge of the Kamo River. The houses overlooking the riverfront cast afternoon shadows on its pebbled surface. There were piles of gravel set aside for bank reinforcement projects, which gave off a somewhat pungent odor in the autumn sun. Centrifugal drying equipment used in shoring up the banks lay scattered in the grasses. The light glanced off of a tape measurer left somewhere in the same area. The waters of the river tumbled from beneath the Koujin Bridge like a bamboo screen. Beyond was a sandbar luxuriant with summer grasses, and the shoals of the river burbled and sparkled brightly. A wagtail soared overhead.
The patches of sun pierced his body with warmth as he passed, but in the shaded places, the cool of autumn crouched.
Takashi sat down.
The people keep passing by, the wheels keep turning, he thought. And then he thought, it pains me to be on those streets.
Pedestrians and automobiles moved along the road beyond the river. There was the riverside Public Market; casks of tar stood stacked inside a shed; In a vacant lot, human figures moved about, perhaps in the process of constructing a house.
From time to time, the wind gusted down from Kawakami. A crumpled newspaper was rustling not far from where he sat. Restrained by a small stone, it withstood the pull of the wind for brief moments, but no sooner had it come to rest than it was carried away again.
Two children and a dog came walking from upstream. The dog went back a few paces, gave the rumpled newspaper an inquiring sniff, and then followed after the children again.
Taskashi’s soul was drawn to the high treetops swaying in the wind. He sat there gazing at them, and after a time, it seemed that something in his heart had flown off to perch in those treetops, shivering with the tiny leaves in the high atmospheric currents, bending with the green branches.
What a curious feeling, Takashi mused. What can it mean to see a thing, after
all? The object I perceive is no more than the transference of a part of my soul, or perhaps my soul in its entirety.
That was what went through Takashi’s mind.
Yes, and such was the allure of the window where he sat nearly every night—for among the highest branches of these zelkova trees, he felt as if his depression and the sufferings of his everyday life were assuaged, that the mysteries of his own heart were laid bare where he could observe them at a distance.
How it pains me to be on those streets.
To the north, the Kamo forest revealed the gleam of a red temple gateway. Mountains piled thickly in the distance. There was sacred Mt. Hiei . . . against this backdrop, the stack of the spinning mill sent up a column of smoke. There was a building in showy red brick, then a post office, bicycles wheeling across the Koujin Bridge, bustling parasols and horse-drawn carriages. The shadows lengthened on the pebbled riverbank, and the peddlers sounded their horns.
It was not the first time that Takashi had roamed through the streets until nightfall.
When Shijo Avenue was deserted, only rarely crossed by a wandering drunkard, the night fog descended to hover on the asphalt. All of the garbage cans had been put out on the pavement, and the shops on either side of the street were locked. There were puddles of vomit here and there, a few of the garbage cans overturned. Takashi was reminded of that time when he himself had been drunk on sake, and walked silently onward.
Turning the street into the Shinkyogoku temple district, he heard the sound of wooden clogs as a woman with a metal basin emerged from a doorway, on her way to the public bath; The proprietor of a small shop was putting out pairs of roller skates; There was a man carrying a take-out box of udon noodles; Two youths played at pole-pushing in the middle of the road, each holding one end of a stick and trying to force the other down. It all made for a strange night scene in the pleasure quarters. It seemed that these people had lain immured beneath the commotion of the day, waiting until now to make their existence known.
Beyond Shinkyogoku, the city had sunken deeply into night. The clack of his own wooden clogs, which he never noticed in the daytime, had an unnerving sound to Takashi’s ears; the utter silence of the surroundings made him feel like one slinking through the streets, plotting some devious act.
With a little Korean bell jingling at his waist, Takashi walked the depths of the darkness. The bell had been a gift from a friend who visited the Korean pavilion at an exposition held in Okazaki Park. It was a cloisonné of reds and blues on silver, and produced a beautiful, blighted sound. It seemed to him that this little bell—its voice so easily silenced in a crowd, only able to ring out on a late-night street—was like a symbol for his own heart.
The streets of the city, just like the scene he viewed from his bedroom window, unfolded graciously before him as he walked.
It was a street he had never set foot on in his life. Yet at the same time, it was a street he seemed to know intimately. . .
It was any street, the kind he may have walked before, if only a few times in passing. But when had he been down this street before? Takashi wondered. At that moment, he felt his own ephemerality—he was a mere traveler passing through eternity.
Just then, the Korean bell gave a plangent tinkle, stirring Takashi’s heart. At certain moments, he wondered if his earthly form might not melt into the street, leaving only the sound of the bell to continue on its way without him. At other moments, he felt as if the bell were a spring bubbling at the small of his back, the source of a clear mountain torrent rushing into his body—it seemed to flow all through him, cleansing the poison of the sickness from his blood.
“I will get better—better all the time!”
Jingle-jang, jingle-jang . . . The tiny voice of his hope trembled sweetly in the night air.
The view from the window remained changeless night after night. All nights were as one in Takashi’s mind. But then one night, he perceived a speck of pallid bluish flame on one of the trees in the darkness. It seemed that it must be an insect of some kind. He saw it again the next night, and again the night after that.
And when he had left the window to stretch out on the futon, in the darkness of his room he was aware of another place touched by phosphorescent flame . . .
Diseased living creature of mine . . . By and by I shall disappear into the depths of the darkness, but somehow I think that you will remain, awake and solitary. Like the insects outside . . . burning with your own blue phosphorescence.
Years of translation experience: 3. Registered at ProZ.com: Jun 2005.
I am a graduate student currently taking some time off before heading to UCLA to begin my PhD studies, having been granted deferred admission there. I am taking on freelance translating/interpreting work in addition to doing some subsitute teaching. Between 2004 and 2007, I was a graduate teaching associate (GTA) at the Ohio State University. I taught beginning to intermediate level Japanese as well as Japanese culture. I love to translate/interpret and am always looking for opportunities to use my Japanese skills outside of the academic world. Having lived in Japan for over two years, and studied the Japanese laguage formally for nearly eight years, I have acheived a near-native fluency level, obtaining over 80% on the Level 1 Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). My skills are more than sufficient to accomodate all general translation/interpretation tasks, and I can also take on specialized assignments (i.e., in the fields of law. biology or medicine). My rates are negotiable, depending on the length and/or duration of the assignment. As a general note, for documents in Japanese, I charge not by the word but by the source character (by the ideogram).
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