Wednesday, 2 October 2013

When Yatchan Swallowed a Go Stone

[You may want to check the warning on this blog's translations.]

This is another translation of a story by ARISHIMA Takeo (有島武郎, 1878-1923), whose ʻA Bunch of Grapes’ (一房の葡) I translated earlier (here). It was published along with ʻA Bunch of Grapesʼ and other stories in the collection of that name in 1922. Arishima’s work is in the public domain; and the story can be downloaded from Aozora Bunko, here.

 I’ll explain in advance a few of the things mentioned in the story. If you’re familiar with Japan, you probably know everything already and you might want to skip this. 

Go stones are the playing pieces for the game of go, a board game played on a grid (19 rows each way), in which two players, one with white stones, one with black, compete to control territory. In Japan the stones are typically shaped like lentils (or smarties, if you prefer). The diameter of a stone might be about a centimeter or slightly under that.

Go stones
By liz west  [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The tatami mentioned in the story is a kind of straw mat of a standard size. Several of them are placed together to cover a traditional Japanese room. The rooms are in standard sizes too, measured as multiples of tatami mats. The rooms are fairly flexible, with removable or slidable walls and doors.
Japanese room
 The ochanchan that the nurse is sewing in the story is the same as the chanchanko (ちゃんちゃんこ), I think, a short padded sleeveless kimono jacket (typically for children).

Seishoukousama (“Say-show-Coe-sama”) is probably a Buddhist temple in Tokyo, also known as Kakurinji. But I haven’t found anything relevant about it online.

I’ve put the translation after the break.
When Yatchan Swallowed a Go Stone



Because Yatchan was taking all the stones, black and white, in both hands and sticking them under his legs, I got angry.  

ʻYatchan, those are mine,ʼ I said; but Yatchan just made round eyes at me and kept on stealing the stones, even the ones I was using. So I simply took them back. At that Yatchan had the nerve to scratch my cheek. Although Mother often said that because Yatchan was my little brother I should be kind to him, if Yatchan scratched my cheek it was me that was suffering. So putting my strength into it I too scratched Yatchan’s little nose. When the tip of my finger touched his eye, even while scratching him, I was a little concerned. I thought if I scratched him, he would cry straight away. Well, that would make me happy, I decided, and scratched him. Yatchan didn’t cry, but attacked me. He bent the legs that were stuck out in front of him, lifted his bottom, and came at me, silently, with both hands held ready to scratch. So I watched for an opening and scratched Yatchan’s pug nose one more time. At that, for a few seconds Yatchan’s face filled with a strange expression, but suddenly he bumped his bottom down and let out a loud scream that made my heart jump. 

‘Serves you right,’ I thought and giving one more knock to Yatchan’s cheek, I hurried to snatch the go stones that were rolling around at his feet. But on the other side of the room, nurse, who had been sitting in the sun and sewing a kimono, turned her spectacled face my way and glaring at me from under her brow, said, ‘You’ve made him cry again. What a bad big brother! Being older he should know better.’

Then, since Yatchan was hammering on the floor with his feet and wailing as if he was dying, she got up abruptly and came over to pick him up and hug him. Nurse was the one giving Yatchan her breast to drink. So she always took his side.

Then, ‘Oooh poor thing,’ she said, ‘Where does it hurt? Really, what a mean big brother! Look, you’ve made such a welt under his eye. Say you’re very sorry! If you don’t, I’ll tell your mother, I will.’

As if I was going to say sorry to Yatchan! If you look at who started it, it was Yatchan’s fault. I said nothing and glared at nurse.

All the while hugging the wailing Yatchan, and patting his back to console him, nurse kept nagging at me; but, since I just wouldn’t apologise, finally she said, ‘Very well. Yatchan, nurse will tell mother everything later. So no crying now, be a good little boy! Yatchan is nurse’s favourite little boy. Don’t play with that brother of yours, come to nurse! That nasty big brother!’

Hearing that I hastily reached out for the pile of go stones and grasped a handful. I hurried to cover the stones with both my hands; but nurse undisturbed picked out a few stones and took them to where she was sitting.

Normally I would have chased after nurse and, whatever she said, took them back; but I was uneasy about the welt that she said had come up on Yatchan’s face, and thinking I might be scolded by mother too, I decided to endure the taking of the go stones for a bit. Anyway there were far more go stones with me than with Yatchan, so I could count myself the winner, I thought. I made my camp in the middle of the room and began separating the black and white go stones and lining them up in neat rows on the tatami.

Yatchan was sitting on nurse’s lap and still crying from vexation. Even though nurse offered him her breast, he wouldn’t drink. Sometimes he would remember his injury and let out a great wail. Finally his crying got to me and I started thinking that it really would have been better if I hadn’t quarelled with him. I remembered how earlier, Yatchan had smiled happily and grasping a bunch of go stones in his little hand had said, ‘I don’t need them.’ The little fistful of stones floated in my mind’s eye.

Meanwhile nurse poured out the go stones she was holding onto the tatami. Yatchan had been whining all the while; but he instantly stopped at this and slipping down from nurse’s lap he started to play with them.

Nurse looked on, and said, ‘Yes, you play quietly there like that. Nurse will just sew Yatchan’s ochanchan here.’ And she busily set about sewing.

I, meanwhile, was trying to make a rabbit with the white stones and a tortoise with the black. The tortoise had come out well, but I had made the rabbit too big, so that I didn’t have enough stones for the front of one ear. If I just had ten more, it would work out fine; but since Yatchan had ended up with them, there was nothing I could do.

I thought of saying, ‘Yatchan, won’t you let me have just ten white stones?’ and my eyes turned towards him; but when I saw him facing the veranda and playing with the go stones, my voice somehow wouldn’t come out. Since we had just been quarelling, I couldn’t say anything. So, as there was nothing else I could do, I ended up breaking up the rabbit and trying to make it again a little smaller. But when I did that it made the tortoise too big, so that even if the rabbit didn’t doze off, the tortoise was likely to win in a running race. So that was no good.

I really had to ask Yatchan to give me the go stones I needed. As he was only three and forgot things straight away, I thought if I asked perhaps he would freely stretch out little handfuls like before.

On the point of saying, ‘Yatchan,’ I looked his way.

When I did so, he was playing behind nurse’s bottom, but his face had become bright red, his eyes were full of tears, his mouth was opened wide, and his hands and legs were hammering up and down on the floor. At first I thought perhaps he was imitating the way the beggars with leprosy in Seishoukousama begged for money. Even so it was strange that that chatterbox Yatchan wasn’t talking. On top of that, looking more closely, he was bringing both hands up to his mouth and trying to force them into it. He wasn’t playing around, he looked like he was in real, real earnest. Finally his eyes were turning white then black, and he started choking with a ‘Gheeh, gheeh’ sound.

I shuddered inwardly. I realised that Yatchan had suddenly become scarily sick. I shouted out, ‘Nurse …. nurse …. I think Yatchan’s sick.’

Nurse immediately twisted round and putting her hand on Yatchan’s shoulder turned him towards her. Then, in a sudden panic, she grasped him from behind.

‘Oh, what’s wrong Yatchan? Open your mouth for me! Open your mouth, come on! Look this way, towards the light! …. Ah, you haven’t swallowed a go stone, have you?’

Saying that she closed her hands into fists and kept hitting Yatchan’s back again and again.

‘Come on, say “Caa” and spit it out! …. One more time! …. What should I do? …. Yatchan, you have to cough it out.’

Nurse lifted Yatchan up square on her knees and thumped his back again. At some point I don’t know when I had come to nurse’s side and was standing there looking down on Yatchan’s face. It was as red as if blood was coming out. Nurse in a stumbling voice said, ‘Big brother, go quickly and get water, a cup of water ….’

Without waiting for her to finish, I rushed out onto the veranda and ran towards the kitchen. I thought if Yatchan would just drink water his sickness would surely get better. As I ran, from behind nurse called out again, ‘Big brother, the water …. Go quickly to your mother, ask her to come quickly ….’

I stopped heading for the kitchen and now ran at full sprint to the living room.

Mother had the sliding screens open and was sitting in the sun calmly sewing. Next to her I could hear the water in an iron kettle boiling pleasantly.

The calm here was so strange for me. Perhaps Yatchan’s sickness had already got better, I thought. But my heart was beating away as if I was running a race, and I could not get my words out.

‘Mother …. mother …. Yatchan is …. he’s doing like this. …. Nurse says come quickly,’ I said and stood imitating how Yatchan had been acting. Mother turned a sleepy eye my way and looked at me with a smile; but when she saw my imitation, her bent over back suddenly shot up straight.

‘Something’s wrong with Yatchan?’

I grew terribly serious, ‘Yes.’ I stuck my head forward emphatically and nodded, ‘Yes … Yatchan’s doing this …. he’s sick.’

I did the same performance as before one more time. Looking at it, mother smiled involuntarily; but her face grew concerned straight away. Hurriedly pulling out the needles in her hair she stuck them in the pincushion, and clambered to her feet. She ran, brushing off the loose threads clinging to her apron with both hands as she went, and followed me to where nurse was.

‘Nurse …. what’s happened?’ Mother asked, pushing me aside and coming to nurse’s side.

‘Yatchan has …. your …. I think he’s maybe swallowed a go stone ….’

‘Think maybe, or maybe not?’ Mother’s voice was the one she had when she was angry. Then suddenly, as if grabbing him from nurse, she took Yatchan in her arms. Her own face full of unbearable suffering, she looked closely at him, as he thrashed with his arms and legs.

‘Perhaps if I go get ivory chopsticks …. If we stroke his throat with them ….’ nurse said; but without letting her finish, mother said, ‘It’s nothing sharp, it shouldn’t have caught hold.’ Then looking my way, ‘Big brother, go quickly and get water.’

Hearing that, nurse got up; but, thinking that she was making so much of Yatchan and that it was me who had been ordered, I overtook her running steps and raced to the kitchen. But it was nurse who was first to hunt out a cup and fill it with water. I grew sulky and snapped at her, ‘It was me who was supposed to get water. Mother told met to get –ʼ

‘It’s no place for that,’ she said angrily, and shaking me off with her free hand she went off towards Yatchan. I had not imagined that nurse had so much force in her.

Angrily crying, ‘It’s me. It’s me. Getting the water is my work,’ I chased after, but I could not catch up before she had handed the cup to mother. I had not imagined that nurse could run that fast without spilling the water.

Mother took the cup from nurse and brought it to Yatchan’s mouth. Half the water got spilled down the back of his neck, but he still managed to drink some. Choking and in agony, he scratched at his chest with both hands. The toy boat I had folded for him was peeking half out of his pocket. I felt unbearably sorry for Yatchan. If he was in this much pain, he was surely going to die, I thought. He couldn’t die; but for sure, he was dying, I thought.

I had been sulking till now, but I quickly grew sad. Mother’s face was deadly pale, her hands were shaking and shaking. Yatchan’s face was deep red, so that it didn’t look even a bit like Yatchan. Seeing that I felt so alone, I couldn’t help myself and burst into tears.

Mother did not notice me starting to cry. All her attention was on looking after Yatchan. Nurse was on her knees peering in at mother and Yatchan’s faces, close against each other.

At this point Yatchan let the hands grasping his chest fall and made an astonished face. And then he suddenly started wailing as loudly as ever and burst into tears. Mother in a trance clasped him to her. Nurse said excitedly, ‘It’s gone through. Ah, thank heaven!’

For sure the go stone must have gone into his stomach. Mother too seemed a little relieved. Still crying, I looked at mother and found that her eyes were filled with tears.

At that moment, mother suddenly came to herself and told nurse to hurry and fetch the doctor. Nurse bowed her head I don’t know how many times, wiped her face in her apron, stood up, and went out.

Soothing the whining and crying Yatchan all the while, mother gave me a strict look and told me to put the go stones away quickly. I felt as if I had been scolded, as if I had done something bad, and hastened to put the go stones in their containers, not caring if they were black or white.

Yatchan was put to bed. He didn’t seem in pain at all. The crying would begin to peter out, then suddenly he would remember and start wailing and crying again.

Then mother said, ‘That’s enough now, Yatchan. You aren’t hurting anywhere. How feeble, crying like that! Mummy’s patting you better, so there’s no need to cry now. …. Big brotherʼ and she looked my way, then noticing me snivelling, she said, ‘Well, big brother’s a crybaby too, isn’t he?’ and started crying herself. She hid it, though, from me and pretended she wasn’t crying.

‘Big brother, stop your crying and bring one floor cushion please,’ she said. Seeing mother crying and hiding her tears, I grew more worried whether Yatchan was going to die. I thought if I did what mother said, perhaps that would save Yatchan, and went and got a floor cushion straight away.

The doctor was a gold rimmed spectacles sort, not a white bearded one. That young doctor, patting Yatchan’s stomach and holding his wrist, spoke quietly with mother, his face concerned. When the doctor left, Yatchan had gone to sleep, worn out with crying.

Mother sat by him the whole time. Yatchan from time to time seemed to be having a nightmare, and he would suddenly start crying.

That evening I slept with nurse. Mother slept with Yatchan. Nurse would get up from time to time and go to Yatchan. That woke me up again and again after I had managed to get to sleep. I wondered how Yatchan was doing and felt truly lonely and sad.

Even when the clock struck nine, I couldn’t sleep. As the thought, ‘Ah, can’t sleep’ came to me, suddenly I realised that morning had come. I must have fallen asleep at some point.

‘Big brother, open your eyes.’ I heard a gentle voice by my ear. Hearing mother’s voice my body grew warm. I opened my eyes a crack, filled with happiness, and rolled over to face in the direction of the voice. There was mother. She was in fresh clothes, and her hair was done up prettily, and she was gazing at me with a bright smile.

‘Good news. Yatchan, you know, he’s quite better. He went in the night and the go stone came out. …. But it was really scary, so from now on I’d like you not to use the go stones – only them – as toys, all right? Big brother …. When Yatchan was ill, big brother was crying wasn’t he? There’s nothing to cry about now. In fact today I’ll give you your favourite sweets. So come on and get up!’

Saying that she took hold of me with a hand on either flank and made to lift me up in her arms. I couldn’t help reacting to the tickling and laughed loudly, ‘Ahaha ahaha.’

‘You’ll wake Yatchan, now, with that loud voice,’ mother said, her face growing a little serious; but a moment later the smile returned and she helped me out of my night clothes.

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