Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Mysterious Town Beyond the Mist

Kiri no mukou no fushigina machi (1975) is the first novel by children's writer KASHIWABA Sachiko (葉幸子, born 1956). It seems that there is a translation by Christopher Holmes, The Marvelous Village Veiled in Mist, published by Kodansha in 1987. But it looks like it might be hard to get hold of, even second hand. If you've heard of the book, it will probably be in connection with the MIYAZAKI Hayao film, Spirited Away, which is sometimes said to be based on it. It isn't based on it, and the plot and atmosphere of the two works is quite different. But the book clearly did have an influence on the film. It was one of the works that Miyazaki had been trying to adapt before he made Spirited Away (as he explains in this interview); and a few elements of the story, along with one central theme, clearly made their way into the film.

During the summer holidays six year old Rina is sent on her own to stay in the village in the countryside where her father had stayed as a child. From the village policeman's accent, I would guess that this is in the north east (where e.g. ka becomes ga). Like Japan's most famous children's writer, MIYAZAWA Kenji, Kashiwaba is from Iwate. Where Rina gets off the train, the village people are only half convinced that her destination, the valley of mist, exists, but following their uncertain directions, she sets off, and helped by her umbrella, which gets blown away so that she has to chase after it, she finds herself in a strange one street village.

The house where she will be staying belongs to a tiny old lady, who seems perpetually angry and delights in putting people on the wrong foot.

"What are you dawdling for? If there's one thing I hate, it's dawdlers," the voice she had heard earlier sounded angry.

Rina inched fearfully into the room. By the window there was a big flowery sofa, and on that sofa, like a black fleck, a little old woman was sitting.

The old woman did not look at Rina. As if she knew who it was without looking, she went on eating her biscuit and drinking tea.

Rina, not knowing what to do, stared at the old woman who was ignoring her. Finally, the old woman broke the silence, "Six years old and you still don't know how to greet a person."

"Uesugi Rina," Rina said, bowing, "Thank you for your kindness in having me."

"Who said anything about kindness?"

 Anyone who stays in her house must work while they're there, she tells Rina. So Rina helps in the house or is sent to the different shops that make up the village. But this is no punishment, as they are all fascinating places run by different magicians. As she works Rina becomes more self confident and finds her true character. This theme is central to Spirited Away, of course, and also crops up in Taro the Dragon Boy; so perhaps it's a popular theme in Japan (or at least with Japanese parents).


  1. Hai ,

    i am looking for this book, could you please help me out to get this book.


    1. I'm afraid I can't. If you mean the original Japanese, you can simply order it from Japan. If you mean the English translation, you'll need to look out for it on second hand book markets or ebay. For instance, there's a copy on the German site at the moment; but I've never used the site or the bookseller it's linking to, so I've no idea whether they're trustworthy or not.

  2. Hello there! You seem to know a lot about books and all that. I have been looking for a book, that apparently the start of Spirited Away was based on. The part where the main character's parents were eating and were then turned into pigs. I was just wondering if you had hear of anything of the like before.

    1. I don't know what Miyazaki was basing it on, but in the end it goes back to the Greek poet Homer (6th to 8th century B.C.), Odyssey Book 10. The witch Circe gives Odysseus' sailors a feast, then turns them into pigs: Here's the Andrew Lang translation (public domain from Project Gutenberg):
      So she led them in and set them upon chairs and high seats, and made them a mess of cheese and barley-meal and yellow honey with Pramnian wine, and mixed harmful drugs with the food to make them utterly forget their own country. Now when she had given them the cup and they had drunk it off, presently she smote them with a wand, and in the styes of the swine she penned them. So they had the head and voice, the bristles and the shape of swine, but their mind abode even as of old. Thus were they penned there weeping, and Circe flung them acorns and mast and fruit of the cornel tree to eat, whereon wallowing swine do always batten.