Sunday, May 07, 2006

An Inner Landscape [Kajii Motojiro]

one

Takashi gazes from his window at the sleeping street. No windows are lit, and the silence of late night forms a halo about the street lights. The occasional harsh sound could be beetles colliding.

It is a maze-like town, and even during the day few people pass by. Fish entrails and the corpses of rats lie for days without moving. The houses on either side have a dilapidated air, and show the scars of weathering. The colorings are faded, the rough plaster walls crumbling, and one feels that the people within must live spiritless lives like old rags. The window in Takashi's room opens out to that street, positioning him as if sitting at the head of a table.

At times the sound of a clock's pendulum can be heard seeping in through gaps in the door. A wind blows blackly through a faraway tree, and then a nearby oleander tree begins to shudder in the deep night. Takashi just gazes. The dimly white peaks of houses fade away and then reappear in his field of vision, and he feels unfocused thoughts passing through his mind again. Crickets are chirping. From where he thinks he can hear them wafts a faint odor of moldering vegetation.

"Your room always smells like French escargot," a friend once said while visiting. "No matter where you live you immediately give the place an aura of gloom".

A spread out futon pushes through the room's clutter: A water heater meant for use on picnics, always choked with spent tea leaves. Here and there various books, separated from their cases. Scraps of paper. During the day Takashi sleeps in the midst of all this like some nocturnal bird. He awakes to the faraway sound of a school bell. At night, when people are settling down to sleep, he comes to the window to gaze outside.

His thoughts gradually become clearer, like a silhouette emerging from a thick fog. The scenery that disperses and condenses before his eyes begins to seem at times completely familiar, and then at other times completely unknown. Then a certain point is reached, and Takashi can no longer distinguish between his thoughts and the late-night town. His melancholy and the oleander in the darkness are one. An unseen electric lamp traces out an earthen wall, merging its shadow with the darkness, and there his resignation too takes solid form.

Takashi thinks that his inner landscape lies just there.

two

Takashi stays awake at his window all night because he can't sleep, even at such an hour. Thoughts too dark to allow sleep torment him. He has caught a terrible illness from a woman.

Long ago, he had a dream something like this--

His leg is swelling. Not only that, but it bears two rows of something like bite marks. As the swelling gradually becomes worse the marks grow deeper and their edges expand.

Some of the marks look like the navel on a navel orange, with mounds of foul-looking meat peeking out from within. Some are long, deep slits, like the path of a bookworm through an old book. Strangely, his leg turns green as it swells before his eyes, yet there is no pain. The sores are scarlet, like flowers on a cactus. His mother is there.

"Well, now look what's happened to me," he says in an accusing tone.
"It's not my fault!"
"Well you're the one who made these marks with your fingernails!"

He believes that his mother has dug her nails into him. But as he says so, a thought comes to him. Could it be...? But there is no way she could know about that, he reassures himself, and in his dream he implores her, "Mother! Help me!"

His mother's resolve softens, and after a time she at last says, "All right, I'll fix you up."

At some point the two rows of sores have moved, and now stretch from his chest to his stomach. As he watches, wondering what she will do, his mother pulls at the skin of his chest (which at some point has started sagging like a shriveled teat) and begins stuffing one sore into its opposite, just as if sliding a button into a buttonhole. In the dream Takashi looks on silently with a dissatisfied expression. One pair at a time, a sore is tucked into the one opposing it.

"This is Dr. ___'s method," his mother says.

He looks as if he is wearing a frock coat with many buttons, though the smallest movement seems likely to make them come loose. Takashi is careful to keep his secret concealed from his mother while he continues to stab out at her. This had an effect on him, even though it was all within a dream.

* * *

Takashi was surprised that consorting with prostitutes could so darkly encroach upon his life, to the point of appearing in his dreams. In the course of his normal life he would have relations with girls, and sometimes a girl would do some unkind thing. At such times Takashi would imagine that girl a cruel whore, and then be taken by an unbearable self-loathing. Each time that happened Takashi realized how filthy he had become inside, and knew the extent of the deformation caused by this wedge driven into his life.

And then another wedge was driven into him-the suspicion of disease. Part of his old nightmare had come true.

He found himself noticing doctors' signboards on the street, or unintentionally reading advertisements in newspapers, though he had never before paid attention to such things. He would see some beautiful thing, and feel happy because of it. But then he would feel a sudden discontent, and following that emotion to its source would invariably lead to the sickness. At those times Takashi could not help but feel as if some dark thing lay in wait for him everywhere he went.

Sometimes he would take out that diseased part of him and examine it. It beseeched him with an expression like some sorrowful animal.


three

Takashi often remembers that unfortunate night.

He sat alone in a room facing the traffic, where he could hear drunken johns and the voices of the women who called to them. The sounds of lively shamisen guitars and taiko drums from the neighborhood beat against his solitary heart.

Oh, this place! Takashi thought, straining to hear the sounds of shuffling sandals and, weaving among that, the clacking of wooden clogs. It seemed as if all the sounds, the call of the ice cream seller, the singing voices, all of them, were being made for some purpose.

The sound of the serving girl's clogs, too, hadn't affected him so when they were just out front on Shijo Avenue.

Takashi felt a self like the one that had walked down Shijo Avenue a few minutes ago–a self that could freely think upon things–there in the room with him.

Finally, I'm here, he thought.

The serving girl entered, and the room filled with the smell of wax from the charcoal sticks in the brazier she brought. Takashi found his tongue tied, and when she left he told himself that no one could be expected to change moods so abruptly.

The woman was a long time in coming. Takashi grew anxious, and on a whim decided to climb up to the fire lookout of this house that he had come to know so well.

Climbing up a rotting ladder, he passed a room with its paper window screen open. Inside, a futon was laid out and someone glared out at him. Takashi pretended not to notice and continued up, thinking about how this place lent self-assurance.

Climbing up to the lookout, he saw that this part of town was covered in dark roof tiles. Here and there amid the tiles electrically lit parlors were visible through bamboo screens. A tall building containing a restaurant stuck out from a surprising location. That must be Shijo Avenue, Takashi thought. Beyond the rooftops he could see the red gate of Yasaka Shrine and the forest, dimly revealed by reflected light from electric lamps. The evening haze blurred the far-away details of the Maruyama and Higashiyama districts. The Milky Way flowed from somewhere in that direction.

Takashi felt himself being set free. From now on I'll always come up here, he thought. A night heron flew by, calling. A soot-black cat walked along the roof. Takashi saw a pot of spent autumn flowers at his feet.

The woman said that she was from Hakata, and her Kyoto dialect had a strange accent. She had a neat appearance, and Takashi told her so. This loosened the woman's mouth, and she told him that even though she had just come to town she had sold some thousands of flowers the previous month, putting her fourth from the top in this brothel district. Starting with whoever topped the list, the girls’ names would be posted in the coordinating office, and some number of top girls would receive prize money. She said that she looked so neat and tidy because her mistress, who she called Mother, took good care of so valuable a girl.

"So I'm working as hard as I can," she said. "Just recently I caught a cold, and so I'm quite tired, and so Mother told me I should rest, but I keep working."
"Are you taking any medicine?"
"They gave me some, but each dose costs five sen , and it never helps, no matter how much I take."

While listening to the girl, Takashi recalled a woman that a man named S___ had spoken of.
She was an ugly woman, S___ said, and you would be embarrassed to ask for her by name no matter how drunk you were. And the filth of the nightwear she wore, you wouldn't believe it, he said.

The first time S___ was paired with her it was by mere chance. He ended up having quite the bizarre experience, however, and after that whenever he got raging drunk he would give in to his baser self and call for that woman. He said that when he drank something happened to stir him up, and then no other woman could satisfy him.

When Takashi heard the story he thought that it was one thing if the woman had perversions of her own, but the fact that the battle for survival in the red light district forced that ugly woman to do such peculiar things was depressing.

S___ told him that the woman was as silent as a mute. Not that you would want to talk to her, he added. At the time Takashi had wondered how many customers, likely mute themselves, the woman had.

In his mind, Takashi compared the ugly woman with this one as he listened to her prattle.
"You sure are a quiet one," she said.

Her skin was hot. Each time his touch reached some new place he found her heat increased.

"I have another to go to," the woman said, beginning her preparations to leave. "You're leaving too, right?"
"Yeah."

Lying down, Takashi saw the woman facing him, putting on her kimono. Watching her, he thought, Here it comes… There! That's it…, ‘that’ being a feeling something like this: He's always thinking about women, and he comes to a place like this to buy one. She comes into the room. Up to this point she's fine. The woman takes off her kimono, and still she's fine. But then as things progress he becomes unsure of what it is that he is always imagining as being a woman. So, these are the arms of a woman, he tells himself. But they are just a woman's arms, and nothing more. But then, as she prepares to leave, she once again takes the form of a woman.

"I wonder if the trains are still running?"
"I have no idea."

Actually, Takashi hoped that the trains had stopped. Then the mistress downstairs might say something like "If you don't want to leave, I don't mind if you sleep here until morning." Takashi thought it more likely that she would say, "If you aren't going to call someone up, you need to leave."

"You aren't leaving with me?" The woman had finished dressing, but was still hanging back. Well..., he thought, starting to take off his sweaty robe.

The woman left, and he immediately told the serving girl to bring him a beer.

The cry of a sparrow sounded in the gutter. In his half-awake mind, Takashi pictured the fresh exterior being lit up in the morning fog. Lifting his head, he could see the sleeping face of a woman, lit by the dim light of electric lamps in the morning air.

He awoke again to the sound of a flower seller's voice at the front door. What a fresh voice, he thought. He could almost see the color of the morning sun spilling over the flowers and the sakaki leaves that she carried.

After a time the doors of homes flew open, and the voices of children heading for school came from the street. The woman was still deep asleep.

"Go home. Take a bath," the woman said through a yawn, holding on her palm the woven hairpiece she wore on top of her bun. "I'm going now," she said, leaving. Takashi just went back to sleep.


four

Takashi goes from the foot of the Marutacho Bridge down to the dry riverbed. The houses facing the riverbed create afternoon shadows.

There is a pile of the stones used to fortify the riverbank, and they have a strong, peculiar odor under the autumn sun. Over towards the Aragami Bridge centrifugal drying machines are strewn about the fields. Somewhere in that direction a metal measuring tape flashes in the sun. Below the Aragami Bridge the river flows in fine ripples like a reed screen. Shallow water glitters as it burbles by a sandbar choked with summer grasses. A wagtail flies off.

The sun stabs down onto his back, but in the shade the cold of autumn curls about him. Takashi sits there. People go by, cars go by, he thinks. And then, I'm in pain in the city.

Foot and vehicle traffic passes by on the road running along the opposite bank. Along it is the public market, a shed filled with barrels of tar, and people working in an empty lot, perhaps building a house.

Occasionally a wind blows from upriver. With a rustling it pushes a crumpled page of a newspaper past where he sits. Stopped by a small stone, for a time it holds out against the wind. But then with a sudden flip it is carried off again.

Two children and a dog walk upriver. The dog comes back, gives the newspaper a sniff, and returns to following the children.

A zelkova tree thick with leaves stands on his side of the river. Takashi is taken by the tips of its branches, waving high in the wind. After gazing at it for a time some part of his soul moves into the treetop, and he feels himself swaying with the small leaves and bending with the green branches among the high air currents.

Ah, this feeling... Takashi thinks. To just look, that's something, too. I can move part, perhaps all of my soul into a thing.

Takashi thinks on such things. The lure of the window he sits at every night, how it quells his depression and troubles. The marvel of becoming some thing that he gazes at from a distance. He feels that in the high branches of the zelkova tree as well.

I'm in pain in the city.

To the north, red torii dot the Kamo Forest. Above that the faraway mountains blend together. Hieizan Mountain forms a backdrop for columns of smoke from the chimneys of spinning mills. Red brick buildings, a post office. Bicycles pass over the Aragami Bridge, among parasols and horse-drawn carriages. The shade reaches the riverbed, and a peddler sounds his trumpet.


five

Takashi sometimes aimlessly walks the streets of the city until late at night.
There are no people on Shijo Avenue, except for the rare passing drunk. The night fog has settled down onto the asphalt. Stores on both sides of the street have trash bins pushed out to the pavement, and their doors are locked tight. Here and there are puddles of vomit and overturned bins. Takashi recalls times when he would get so drunk, but now he walks on in silence.

He turns and enters the Shinkyogoku mall, where it is oddly busy for the time. The sound of a woman's clogs comes from between shuttered doors as she carries a metal basin to the bath. A shop clerk brings out a pair of roller skates. A man carries a delivery order of udon noodles. Youths play tug-of-war with a pole in the middle of traffic. It is almost as if the existence of these people is buried in the bustle of daytime, but is able to express itself at this hour.

Leaving the mall, the town returns to a true late night. The sound of his clogs, which he never notices during the daytime, is sharp in his ears. The silence of the area makes him feel as if he is walking through it with some strange intent.

Takashi hangs a small Korean bell at his waist as he walks through these late nights. It is a gift from a friend, purchased for him at the Korea Pavilion in the Okazaki Park exhibition grounds. It has blue and red cloisonné work over a silver base, and a beautiful mellow sound. When among other people it can't be heard, but it begins to ring on late night roads as if an embodiment of his heart.

The town he walks through opens up to him, as does the view from his window. These are roads that he has never walked down before, but at the same time they produce a feeling of familiarity in him. These are no longer just the same roads that he has walked down some few times before. Takashi would lose track of how long he had been walking, and would feel that he has become an eternal passer-by.

At such times, the ring of the Korean bell causes Takashi's heart to tremble. At times, Takashi feels as if his shell of a body is left behind on the street and only the sound of the bell passes through the town. At other times it feels as if a clear mountain stream flows out from near his waist and into his body. It flows about within him, and cleanses his sickness-fouled blood.
I'm gradually getting better.

The ringing of his small hope purely vibrates the late-night air.


six

The view from his window is the same every night. To Takashi all nights are the same. But one night Takashi sees a point of blue-white light in a tree in the darkness. It must be some kind of insect, he thinks. Takashi sees the light again the following night, and the night after that.

When he leaves the window and lays down on his bed, he feels a dim point of light glowing in the darkness of his room as well.

"You creature that is ailing me! In due course I will disappear into the darkness, but I think that you are able to stay awake without sleeping. Like that insect outside, burning its blue light."

8 comments:

Tony said...

The Japanese title for this story is "Aru kokoro no fuukei" (ある心の風景). This is a translation I did for the 5th Shizuoka International Translation Competition. I chose this story because it was the most difficult of the three fiction pieces, under the false assumption that only a good translation of the most difficult story could win. Of course, the judges were more enlightened than that (the top two translations were good translations of the "easier" pieces), and since this story is a bit beyond my skill level I turned out a mediocre submission, at best.

Kajii Motojiro was born in 1901 and died of tuberclosis in 1932. This story was written in (I think it was) the late 1920's, when Kajii was bedridden with the disease. As in this story, much of his work had themes related to participation in vs. observation of life ("Ah, this feeling... To just look, that's something, too. I can move part, perhaps all of my soul into a thing."), as his illness forced him into a life of watching the world pass by him as he lay sick in bed. Kajii's most famous story is probably "Lemon".

Links:
The original Japanese story in XHTML, courtesy of Aozora Bunko

(Japanese) Wikipedia article for Kajii Motojiro

Tony said...

Photo courtesy of skyseeker on Flickr. Thank you for releasing this photo under a Creative Commons license!

Anonymous said...

Hello Tony,

My name is Ozlem, from Turkey. I have translated "an inner landscape" from Japanese to Turkish, and now trying to send it to a magazine. I have to write some information about Motojiro and the story, but I couldnt find sufficient things. I tried the embassy and the Japanese foundation in my city but God I couldnt find anything about this story. Do you mind if I ask you some questions such as; when did Motojiro write this story and in which book was it published? I dont have any one to ask and am so sorry to bother you...
Thanks in advance

ozlemneptun@hotmail.com
neptuneptun@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

FYI, I've just added a link to your translation, in the Links section of the Wikipedia article at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motojiro_Kajii

Tony said...

anonymous--
Thank you for adding my translation to the Wikipedia article. I should have thought of doing so myself. :-P

Anonymous said...

My name is Liliana, from Argentina.
I'm looking for english translations of Motojiro's works, since I know it's practically imposible to find them in spanish. I'm particulary interested in "Under the cherry trees", its first lines being of such an importance in Japan's popular culture. If anyone knows where can I find that story, I'd be eternally thankful.
By the way, thank you very much for this translation- it's such a contribution to the spreading of japanese culture.

rayss said...

thanks

ahab's dark shadow said...

Thank you so much for the translation. I live in India and am unable to find English translations of Motojiro's works, which I've been looking for since having read a translation of "Lemon". This one was much appreciated.