Hello all! It’s been over a year, but I’ve finally started up a new project! Some readers may remember, but my first translation here was a story by Kunikida Doppo called “The Bonfire“, and I’ve decided to return to his writing with a story called “Trouble With Women” (女難 jonan). It was originally published in December 1903 (Meiji 36) in a journal called Bungeikai (文藝界). “Trouble With Women” was published seven years after “The Bonfire,” and doesn’t use the same archaic language as the former story. The opening scene that shows a haggard beggar performing beautiful music on the street really stuck with me as I was skimming through potential stories to translate, so I decided to go for it. This is just the first of five segments, so you can expect more soon!
Trouble With Women
By Kunikida Doppo (Tr. C E Zambrano)
It was four years ago, a certain man began to say. I was walking through Ginza on some errand or another when at a street crossing I saw a man playing the shakuhachi alone in a corner. There were seven or eight people standing by him, so I decided to walk over and join the audience.
It was spring, the end of May, the sun was drooping westward so that the shadows of the western houses could be seen crawling two or three feet up the walls of the eastern houses. And so the man playing the shakuhachi was bathed from the waist up in vibrant evening sunlight.
As nightfall was near, the bustle of the city was at its peak—trains coming and going, the wheels of carts running east and west, the echo of rushed footsteps. All around was a chaotic clamor. It made one wonder how this man could be in such a noisy place at such a noisy time, and yet play the shakuhachi so serenely. To my eyes it made his whole upper-body, bathed in the evening light, seem utterly quiet and peaceful. It was as if the sound of his playing created a unique space of tranquility as far as it reached.
As I listened to the highs and lows of this melancholy tune, that seemed to end at times only to pick up again, I carefully examined his person.
He was blind. His age was perhaps thirty-two or -three years, but blackened by the sun and covered as he was in dirt, it would have been difficult to guess his actual age. And he wasn’t just dirty. He was frighteningly thin, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he spent his days on the streets getting covered in grime, only to sleep at night under the filthy covers of some inexpensive lodging. His face was long, with a tall nose and thick eyebrows, and his forehead was half-covered by unkempt hair that had probably never been combed before. For all this, however, once I’d had a good look at him it was apparent he didn’t have the gnarled, bluntly protruding forehead you often see in vulgar folk.
The power of this music was such that, no matter how lowly the player (man or woman), to the listener that person would be refined by virtue of its beauty. In this blind man especially I could see something in his shabby appearance that belied a refined character. I found myself deeply moved by this, and I suspect the other spectators felt the same way. Those people must have felt that the melancholy tune spoke to the man’s own misfortune, a story of the happiness of bygone days that accentuates one’s present sadness. Few people listened and merely passed on, most offering a coin or two before continuing on their way.