See-through Fish (Part I) – By Takashi Atoda

December 7, 2011

ImageThe coffee shop ‘El Mar’ was on a small side-street off the main drag in Aoyama. It was just past ten on a cold windy night. I don’t remember exactly what had brought me to that place. I could see the red of the electric fire through the large wooden lattice style glass door. It looked perfectly warm inside and a faint smell of coffee drifted out from within.

I pushed open the door with the shoulder of my coat and stepped inside. It was silent in there, and there were no other customers in sight.

“Make yourself at home!” The scrawny waitress said as she made her way over. “What are you having?” she asked.

“I’ll have a hot coffee.”

“Is that a regular blend?”

“Do you have a selection?”

“Yes, we do.”

I opened the menu on the table in front of me. Columbian, Arabian Mocha, Guatemalan, Kilimanjaro, Cona, Blue Mountain. My head was a blur. I needed something with a kick.

“I’ll have a Blue Mountain, please.”

The lighting in the room had been dimmed and there was no music. It was the perfect place to take an absent-minded mental break. I rested my back on the cushion, placed both hands behind my neck and indulged in a long, deep yawn. Vague thoughts drifted in and out of my head.

Suddenly, two slips of dim orange light appeared to wriggle somewhere in the shadow of the curtain to my right. When I looked over I noticed a large glass tank and one unconventional looking fish revealing only its head from beneath the water-weed.

What the hell is this? I thought. Its whiskered face vaguely resembled that of a catfish, and above its mouth, which was warped into the shape of the character ‘へ’, two scarlet coloured bead-like eyes glowed brightly. It was hard to believe that these were the eyes of a real living fish.

But that wasn’t all. Upon closer inspection, the body was perfectly well formed. However, the flesh appeared to be completely see-through giving the impression that a fish head on bones was swimming around in the tank.

The fish momentarily placed its mouth against the glass of the tank and surveyed me closely with its bright orange eyes before flapping its tail and dorsal fins to change position. However you looked at it, the proportion of head, bone and guts was low. Could the body of a living thing possibly be this transparent? I wondered. A thick bone ran down the centre of the body and smaller ones, placed at regular intervals, formed a comb like structure along the top. The structure rolled flexibly and in line with the movement of the body much like the fluid motion of a cilia plant. I was completely engrossed in its mysterious appearance.  

“You’re quite obsessed with it, aren’t you?” The sudden presence of the female voice caught me off guard once again. When I turned around there was a girl standing nearby wearing a long chestnut coloured coat. Another customer? I wondered. When did she arrive?

“Well, it’s extremely rare.”

“That fish is a glass cat, you know.”


“Yes. I’m sure it is. Can I sit down here?” Before I had chance to answer, the girl had sat down beside me. She was pale, with large eyes, and must have been in her early twenties.   

“When you look at the colour of those eyes, you kind of feel like you’re about to be pulled to the depths of the ocean, don’t you?” Her approach was over-familiar.

“I didn’t even know this kind of tropical fish existed.”

“There are a lot of them around. Although one this big is pretty rare.”

“But it’s perfectly see through.”

“I think they call it a transparent.”

A transparent?”

“Yes. With see-through fish, you have fully see-through ones and half see through ones. The fully see-through ones are call transparents. And the half see-through ones are called translucents. Ah, and then you’ve got the ones that glow silver and look see-through. They’re what you call silver types.

“You really know your stuff.”

“That’s because I’ve lived abroad. I saw lots of them in South America. This type of fish is really interesting. You put it in the tank with other fish.”


“And it makes friends with the other fish and even their bodies gradually become see-through.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. I think it has some kind of contagious power.”

“It’s quite a conjurer!”

For a moment we both stared, together, at the see-through conjurer inside the glass tank, although my mind was beginning to wander away from the fish itself.

I stole a look at the girl out of the corner of my eye. The finger, which she had placed on her cheek, was long and the silver nail varnish which covered it was perfectly befitting. She felt my gaze and raised her head.

“I bet you think that I’m a weirdo!”

“No, of course not. Do you come here often?”

“It’s my first time. I was just feeling a bit irritated and stepped inside for a change of scene.”

“It’s my first time too. Are you a student?”

“Do I look like one? I’m just a girl. That’s enough isn’t it? You met me by chance and you’re enjoying the adventure.” She had a mischievous tone which matched the look in her eyes.

“Are you having another coffee?” I asked.

“I feel like something stronger.”

“Are you a drinker?”

“Not exactly.”

We left the shop together and as we were waiting at the first traffic light the girl made her move and dived under my left shoulder.

“I’m cold,” she said, shivering. “Take me somewhere with a warm bath.”

(To be continued….)


3 Responses to “See-through Fish (Part I) – By Takashi Atoda”

  1. Yoko Says:

    cant wait to read the next babe!! XD

  2. This seems like yet another use of a strange object as the focal point of a statement about the actions of individuals in society (cf. stinky yoghurt, shrunken heads, suspicious meat…) I immediately was comparing the types of fish to different kinds of people, their identities, and how they affect each other. Does that say more about modern Japanese flash fiction or about your tastes?

    Very nice sexy chemistry at the end. This is wish fulfilment for your average male bar loner! But how this story ends for the protagonist is looking all too ‘clear’…

    I have a technical thing. i’ve noticed that in many of the stories you post on here, there’s a feeling of narratorial formality. for example:

    “Even I struggle to recall exactly what had brought me to enter that particular establishment.”

    This is a really pretty formal style for ‘I don’t remember why I went in that place’. The risk is, the narrator could come across somewhat bizarrely stuffy. But obviously I respect your translation skills and I couldnt read the original.

    I was wondering, are there cultural reasons for this formality? For example, could you say the relationship between first person narrator and reader is more formal in the Japanese stories you’ve been reading than in stories from other cultures?

  3. nikzback Says:

    Thanks Mike. You’ve given me some things to think about. Most of the stories I’ve posted were written or compiled by the same guy. The ones by other authors were chosen by him for his compilations which he put out once a year until the series ended in the mid-nineties. Since then Japanese flash fiction has been really thin on the ground. So it could say something about his personal taste rather than mine, or the genre in general. There does seem to be that certain theme though.

    The ending is pretty obvious isn’t it. I might have to write my own ending for it. Something not quite so transparent!

    The technical thing is interesting, because I never even noticed I was doing it. It could be me over-compensating for the more formal Japanese narrative, or me just wanting it to sound more pretty. When I read these stories though, I always imagine the protagonists to be quite stuffy. They always come across as upper class and slightly deranged or socially stiff. Regular Japanese conversation is a lot more formal and stilted than other languages though. Wonder how it is for Japanese readers. I’ll have to ask Yoko.

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