Translation: Hirose – “Object”

Hirose Tadashi. “Mono”. In Tsutsui Yasutaka, ed. 60-nendai nihon SF besuto shuusei.  Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo.  2013.

I haven’t stretched my translation muscles in a while, and I happened to read this today.  I’m going to give a shot at translating Hirose Tadashi’s “Object” (「もの」), an exceedingly short story from 1961 originally published in Space Dust (宇宙塵) and then in Hitchcock Magazine in 1962.  The translation here is based upon the version of the text cited above, and (just to cover my bases) no infringement of copyright is intended.  Can you solve the riddle before the end of the story?  

“Object” by Hirose Tadashi

The first scholar spoke.

“I believe this object to be a type of weapon used by the ancients.  If one were to hold this object in one’s hand and strike an opponent with it, it would be capable of inflicting considerable damage to the face or thereabouts.  Conversely, the object could also be used to block an opponent’s attack.  In all likelihood, the ancients probably used this object for day-to-day self-defense.”

The second scholar stood up.

“I do not believe this object to be a weapon.  On this object are two protuberances, the tops of which are slightly worn down.  A number of materials were detected on these areas, and I discovered traces of banana, a plant the ancients greatly enjoyed eating, to be present among them.  Mightn’t it be that the ancients would spread fruit juices and the like on these protuberances and licked them as a kind of indulgence?”

The third scholar’s turn had come.

“I cannot bring myself to agree with the opinions of my colleagues.  Neither has touched upon the holes that are present on this object.  I believe it is precisely these holes which hold a crucial key to illuminating what this object is.  As the result of extensive research, I realized that the position of these three holes is almost identical to that of the interval between the eyes and the position of the mouth of the ancients.  Accordingly, I believe that this object is something the ancients wore over their faces for some purpose.”

However, the first scholar and second scholar would not concede and continued asserting their own theories.  Ultimately, no conclusion was reached.

With no other alternative, it was settled upon to utilize the time machine.

After some time, an ancient was brought back in the time machine.

The ancient spoke.

“You’re asking about this object?  Well you can’t use it as it is.  Let’s see…”  He looked about, but at length took out a cloth apparently made of plant fibers from around his own waist and tore it in two.  Then, he took up the object and connected the three holes by threading the cloth through the areas between them.  He manipulated it surprisingly skillfully.

He placed his foot on the object.  On his foot were five digits that had not yet retrogressed.  He held the knot of the cloth between the first digit and the other four.  He lifted his foot to demonstrate.  The object stayed firmly nestled against his foot.

He demonstrated taking two or three steps, then spoke.

“We call this a geta.”

[Translator’s note: some of the punchline is lost by keeping “geta” in Japanese, but “sandal” doesn’t bring to mind an object with bits sticking out, “clog” feels too closely tied up with Scandinavian shoes, and “clog sandal” doesn’t feel mundane enough.  If I end up thinking of an English term that carries the same punchy familiarity that “geta” would have for Japanese readers, I’ll substitute it in.]

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