Outline by Takashi Atoda

September 19, 2011

It was just before nine on a Sunday morning. Twenty or so library-goers were sitting on a bench in front of the library entrance waiting for opening time. I’d recently moved into a house in the town and after hearing about the public library nearby I’d decided to stop by for the first time.

I used to visit the library a lot as a student. Those libraries of the past were dark, dingy places, but recently they’ve changed their appearance significantly. At the time I’d indulge myself in wide reading, borrowing books with little relation to my studies.

The library was due to open in about ten minutes. Feeling lethargic, I stretched out my spine and stopped myself from yawning.  

When I looked over there was a young man sitting down next to me. Black trousers and a blue sweater, maybe a high school student.  He looked like a typical geek, wearing glasses with his mouth tightly closed. He was studying English vocabulary, mumbling the words without really opening his mouth.

“Do you often come to the library?” I asked.

The young man was a little surprised, but nevertheless gave a speedy reply. “Yes. I almost always come on a Sunday. My house is small so I find it easier to study here.”

“Don’t you want to enjoy yourself on a Sunday?” Judging from the young man’s attitude he was a model student. It made me want to tease him a little, although I knew deep down that it wasn’t the mature thing to do.

“Of course I want to, but that won’t get me into a good university.” His logic was plain and simple.

The young man was holding four or five study-aid type books. It seemed he had no intention of borrowing anything, just using the library as a place to study.

I continued my questioning. “Do you students not read for pleasure?”

“Read for pleasure?” replied the young man, looking puzzled.

“I was just wondering if you read novels.”

“Novels?”

“Yes, Like Soseki Natsume or Ryunosuke Akutagawa?”

“Ah. No I don’t read them. But I know all about them because I had to memorise them for my exam.”

I was a little confused. “Memorise them?”

The young man looked at me and proceeded to explain. “Soseki Natsume was a pioneer of modern literature. His notable works include ‘Botchan’, ‘Kokoro’, ‘Sanshiro’, ‘The Poppy’, ‘And Then’ and ‘Light and Darkness’. ‘Botchan’ is a humorous early work about a reckless Edo boy called Botchan who becomes a middle school teacher in a country town and gets involved in some unexpected events. ‘Kokoro’ is a late work which is an introspection of human greed, with running themes of love and friendship.” He sounded like a walking encyclopedia.

“And what about Ryunosuke Akutagawa?”

“Well he was a writer of short stories so there’s a lot of works. ‘The Nose’, ‘Yam Gruel’, ‘Hell Screen’, ‘In a Bamboo Grove’…”

“I see.” He certainly knew his stuff.

“Most of his works are folklore stories which took their themes from old Japanese tales. ‘The Nose’ is a story about a priest who gets laughed at for having a big nose. ‘Yam Gruel’, is a story about a man who thinks he wants to eat high quantities of yam gruel, but when he tries to eat a lot he loses hope. ‘Hell Screen’ is a story about a crazy artist who is told to draw a picture of hell by his lord and goes as far as killing his own daughter to do so. It is also an examination of the author’s devotion to his own work.”

“You’re pretty clued up, aren’t you? Even though you’ve never read these books.”

“Yes. I learnt it all at cram school. We chose two hundred famous works of Japanese literature and memorised the authors name, the literary characteristics and then the outline of the stories.”

“But there’s no point having novels if you only know the outlines.”

“I disagree. Going out of my way to read every bit of a long novel is a waste of time. If you know the outline, it’s the same as having read the book,” replied the young man, bounding with confidence.

This young man was certainly smart. Remembering in detail all the outlines of novels he’d never read is something I would never be able to do. But somehow I wasn’t quite satisfied.

“It does save time by just reading the outlines, but it’s not the same as reading the novel.”

“Well there’s no point in reading novels in the first place.”

“So doesn’t that mean that there’s no point in reading the outlines either.”

“But they appear on my Japanese test so I’ve no choice but to read them. If I know the outlines, it’s pretty much the same as having read the book.”

“And why are you so concerned about saving time?”

“So I have lots of time to spend studying other things.”

“And why do you want to study so hard?”

“I’m going to enter T University.”

“Why do you want to enter T University?” I persisted in my interrogation. I wasn’t teasing, merely examining the thought patterns of a young genius.

“I’ll enter the school of law, and then I’ll enter the Ministry of Finance.”

“Why do you want to enter the Ministry of Finance?”

“It’s the elite of society. Civil servants have stable lives, and with lifetime benefits they easily do better than workers in the private sector. They get good pensions and if you work for the Ministry of Finance you also have the chance for post-retirement re-employment.” I was somewhat surprised. The young man had a thorough, unobstructed view of his life to come.

“You have indeed made a clear outline of your life. So you really don’t need to go out of your way to live it out now, do you?”

When I came to my senses, it was still a few minutes before the library was due to open. I must have been sleeping. A smart looking young man was sitting beside me busily studying away.

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The Odd One Out by Iwao Kimura

September 13, 2011

Four blood filthy kings were enjoying merry banter over drinks. Just as the banquet was reaching its climax, the King of Clubs noticed something.

“Hearts, you have no beard,” he said suddenly.

The King of Diamonds and the King of Spades looked over at the King of Hearts’ upper lip.

“It is true. You indeed have no beard. Thus, I declare you the odd one out!” said the King of Spades, with a hearty laugh.

The King of Diamonds continued the mockery.

“A beard is essential to the air of a king. A king without a beard is like a bird without a crest, or a lion without a mane.”

Not being beaten, the King of Hearts held his ground.

“Well if I am not mistaken, Diamonds is the only one here with an axe about his person. It is common sense that a king should carry a sword. Diamonds is not a woodcutter. How ridiculous!”

Embarrassed, the King of Diamonds looked down.

“So there we have it! You are also the odd one out,” declared the King of Spades triumphantly.

The King of Hearts was the next to laugh.

“Well Spades, it is about time you came down from your high horse. I will have you know that you too are the odd one out.”

The King of Spades was taken aback.

“I encourage you to step down, Hearts. I am perfect, a fine figure of a king. I have a beard and I am carrying a sword. What leads you to think that I am the odd one out?”

“You are the only one facing right. Look carefully. We three kings are all facing left.”

The King of Spades looked at the other three kings. Hearts was indeed correct. The King of spades began to look rather disappointed.

As the kings considered who would be up next they simultaneously glanced over at the King of Clubs. Aware of their gaze, the King of Clubs put down his glass and took to the floor.

“Let me assure you. There is nothing that makes me the odd one out. Look, here is my beard, my sword and I am also facing left. I am perfectly flawless,” he said jokingly.

But the other three kings were not amused. They proceeded to survey the King of Clubs from head to toe in the hope of finding that one point that would make him the odd one out.  

“My royal cousins, I ask you to put an end to your impossible quest and let us make merry. There is no way you will ever declare me the odd one out. How utterly absurd!”

Upon hearing this, the King of Diamonds smiled wholeheartedly.

“We three kings have all been declared the odd one out. However, Clubs, you have not. Thus, your highness, you too are the odd one out.”

Investigators by Rado Mida

September 5, 2011

When I ran down the stairs of Otowa subway station and rushed through the underpass, I saw a man and woman out of the corner of my eye. They were both sitting down on chairs in the passageway. Wondering what they were up to, I glanced over to where they were sitting. The women had a quick look over at me, but soon looked down again. She was wearing a yellow arm band which had the word ‘INVESTIGATOR’ written on it in black letters. The man was also wearing an identical arm band. I stepped through the ticket machine, turned around and looked at the two of them, but they were just sitting there doing nothing.

As I was being rocked about by the train, I wondered what the investigation which the arm band referred to was all about. If they were investigating the volume of traffic then they’d surely have one of those contraptions, what do you call them? The ones that professional baseball referees carry. Maybe it’s called a counter, maybe not. I can’t remember. Anyway whatever you call it, they usually carry a device.

Come to think of it, I can remember a pretty girl passing me a questionnaire as I got on the train once. She told me to hand it in when I got off, and when I asked her what kind of questionnaire it was, she told me that they were measuring people’s movements on the subway. That’s right, regular investigators would be carrying questionnaires or counter-like devices. So who were those two before?

Even at work, my mind occasionally wandered to the sight of the man and woman just sitting there, and my way home they were still there at Otowa station as I passed through the ticket machine. They were sitting on their chairs just like in the morning. I walked past them once and then turned back on myself.

“What sort of investigation are you doing?” I asked them.

“We’re investigating the level of indifference in the city,” explained the man, with a distinct lack of expression. “You’re the fifth person to come and talk to us today. Five people in twelve hours.”

The Diet God by 鈴木強

September 4, 2011

The Diet God

“It’s just not fair. Why am I the only one out of the twenty-five starting the diet not to lose weight at all? I know there are various roads to progress. And there are those who reached their ideal style and those poor buggers who get far too thin. There are also some who don’t change very much at all. But I’m just rubbish. My waist hasn’t shrunk whatsoever. I have no figure, no shape at all, and it’s beyond a joke. Why am I the only one not to be a saved by the hands of the Diet God? He even comes close. I get nervous thinking he’s coming to help me then he reaches out to the one next door. I can see why he’d choose them and not me though. On one side there’s Blacky with her great skin and on the other side Browny and her sexy tan. The only thing good about me is that I’m white. Even so, with this shape I’m just a white pig. Please Diet God, do something for me!”

And that’s when the Diet God reached out his hand. He chose Whitey, not Blacky on the left or Browny to the right. He held her in his hand and stared at her as if he was performing some kind of evaluation. Whitey held her breathe.

“White paint, you really are good for nothing,” the Diet God sighed.

Whitey is still a fatty.

The husband came home to his eighth floor apartment and pleasingly wolfed down his dinner in record time.

“I’ve been really hungry the last few days,” said the husband.

“And why’s that?” asked the wife.

“Something smells good, right? Up until a few days ago the smokestack from the crematorium was causing an awful stink, but lately there’s a great smell drifting about and it’s like it somehow makes its way into the food. I wonder if there’s a new chicken grill opened up nearby.”

“Yes. I guess you could be right.”

The truck, which was loaded with a large quantity of grilled meat sauce, secretly made its way in and out of the crematorium.

 ‘Yaki-niku’ or grilled meat cuisine is a kind of indoor Japanese barbeque. The types of meat include various cuts. Flesh, tongue, intestinal organs etc!

Age by Kyoko Nishimoto

August 29, 2011

I’ve been doing this job for a very long time. And I know perfectly well that ferrymen have already had their day. But this boat is loaded with memories.

When the young bride boarded with her groom, we comforted her together as she cried and cried over leaving her family. Naturally, I offered a kind voice to the children travelling alone and talked about the world with the elderly. Now, when I’m told to give it up the thoughts of the past stand in the way.  

I am aware–you know–that it’s now the age of the car. Big bridges are the call of the age and my power has been outmoded. I sigh as I stare up at the huge bridge crossing over above my head. Bridges across the Sanzu River–why did they come up with something like that?

Up on the bridge a bus carrying a load of the deceased comes thundering past. Their numbers have been on the rise ever since the nuclear war.

The Sanzu River, or River of Three Crossings, is a Japanese Buddhist tradition and religious belief similar to the River Styx. It is believed that on the way to the afterlife, the dead must cross the river. They have three ways to go:

1. They use a bridge (if they’ve lived a good life)

2. They use a ferry (if they’ve lived an average life with a balance of good and evil)

3. They wade through deep, snake infested water (if they’ve lived a very naughty life)

The one’s who make it across get stripped naked by a female demon and have their clothes weighed on a tree by a male demon. The weight of their clothes determines the weight of their offences.

Good Luck by 明昌生

August 26, 2011

 

“If you were to choose the luckiest moment since you were born what would it be?” said the reporter as he held out the mic. There was a man standing behind with a TV camera on his shoulder. Taken aback by the sudden appearance of the mic, the old man replied “When I was a child I got ‘Excellent’ on the omikuji.” 

Omikuji is a kind of sacred lot usually found at Japanese temples, but here’s an electronic omikuji. Have a go and see if you’re as lucky as the man in the story!

www.asahi-net.or.jp/~EB3Y-kktk/omikuji/omikuji.html

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