By Ryūnosuke Akutagawa - Dec 27, 2017
I was eating a soft-boiled egg in the corner of a café when a man wandered in and sat at my table, oblivious of my presence. I was so taken aback by this odd affront I could only stare back at him sharply in protest. The man was sloppily dressed in a ragged business suit that looked as if it were made of raw seaweed.
I was walking behind the arsenal that’s always covered in soot. In the cloudy skies above, I saw a sliver of rainbow on the verge of disappearing. When I raised my heels to catch a whiff, my nose caught the faint scent of kerosene.
One afternoon in late spring, I went to take a five-minute photograph with a young naval cadet. Our photograph was developed in no time—when we saw it, however, we were stunned, and looked at each other in confusion. All that was on the print was the roman numeral “VI.”
Bits of Mud
I was walking behind a girl who was not more than twelve or thirteen. Her naked feet showed at the bottom of her sky-blue frock. Bits of dried mud were caked on her feet. I kept staring at the mud as we walked. Gradually, the mud transformed into the continent of North America, with mountains, rivers, and railways all taking vivid shape. I was stunned at the level of detail, and lost track of where I was headed. When I looked up again, the girl was nowhere to be seen. I was alone. Sprawled around me was Yokosuka Naval Harbor—rising triangular waves crashing everywhere on the docks.
RECORD OF EYES AND EARS
Character, strangely enough, shows in the lines of the neck. Dull lines portend, among other qualities, a hard head or insensitivity.
Voices show no less—terse speech, a sign of strength.
Bamboo; seaweed; buckwheat noodles—nothing more fantastical than cat eating man’s delicacies.
Portrait of a Religious Fiend—his starry skin; in chat, when stung by zeal, he squeezes one eye shut as if aiming a rifle, firing bubbles of thought at everyone indiscriminately .
I was chatting with a girl. Her left brow crinkled each time I became excited about what I was saying. —I wonder, how many left brows like hers exist in the world?
I showed pictures of women to a group of men whom I assumed to be of similar tastes and education. I had them choose which one they thought was the prettiest. Of the twenty-five people I asked, only two chose the same woman, which means that a margin of not more than four percent determined the consensus pick. For what it was worth, as I already clarified, the subjects were all men of similar tastes and education.
From my conversation with the fruit stand girl—“Honestly, I thought I was staring at a watermelon floating in the river. But it turned out to be the head of someone who had drowned.”
I am not sure why, but, when I see the hands of the overweight, I think of the fins of earless seals.
I can recall three examples of spoils in the lives of women—
One: a mother suckling her second-born boy with her back to her eldest girl.
Two: a waitress with a collection of school medals dangling between her breasts.
Three: a hooker turned mother-and-wife cradling her baby in front of her guests.
TRANSLATED FROM THE JAPANESE BY RYAN C.K. CHOI