Saturday, May 1, 2010

A 32-Year Old Day Tripper

Before the resolution I made to tackle Genichiro Takahashi as my next translation project, I had been 85% (made up number) done with a translation of a Murakami short-story from かンガルー日和, a simple but not easily translatable title, I think. 日和 simply means weather, usually implying "good" weather. It's the attachment to the noun that makes it a bit tricky. So I think Rubin/Birnbaum[?]'s "A Perfect Day for Kangaroo-ing" is a sweet and effective title. Whoops, getting off track already. Anyway, the story is called "32歳のデイトリッパ". It's quite short, one of the reasons I picked it, and I was also curious about the very obvious Beatles' reference in the title.

Since I always feel the icy specter of a certain creative rights management company looming over my shoulder whenever I post things Murakami-related (probably unnecessary) I won't post the story in it's entirety here. But I do want to talk about it some. So I will.

Like I said earlier, the story is short and sweet, with not a whole lot of meat on the bones. But it does start with a curious premise, as most Murakami stories do:

    I'm thirty-two and she's eighteen, and... every time I say that to myself, it just always sounds so boring.
    I'm not yet thirty-three, and she's still eighteen... that'll do.
    The two of us are simply friends; nothing more, nothing less. I have a wife, and she has no less than six boyfriends. On weekdays she goes out with these six boyfriends, and one Sunday a month she goes out with me. The other Sundays she watches TV at home. She's as cute as a walrus when she's watching TV.

I quadruple checked the word "walrus", せいうち, since that is an awfully strange animal association. Is this girl kind of fat? Masculine (obviously I know there are both female and male walruses but the word itself seems to be undeniable "male" to me)? Or does Murakami just have a soft spot for this particular sea creature? Mysteries upon mysteries.

The narrator spends some time thinking about how strange it is to be hanging out with a girl so much younger than him. Then he starts judging people:

    The general consensus of our peers is that “Young girls are boring, man!” Nevertheless, these  very same guys date young girls too, all the time. So do you think they eventually discover young girls that aren't boring? Nah, it doesn't mean that at all. It's actually the boringness of the girls that attracts them.  They're just playing a complicated game, a game they honestly enjoy. A game where they wash their faces with buckets full of the young girls' boredom water, while they don't let their lady friends have a single drop.
    At least, that's how it seems to me.
    In truth, nine girls out of ten are boring things. However, girls don't realize that. Girls are young, beautiful, and full of curiosity.  The boringness of their own selves is completely unrelated to the things that young girls are thinking about.

The last sentence of the first and third paragraph in that excerpt drove me nuts! In the first case I just had to divide up the sentence into those parts. I'm still not entirely convinced of the accuracy of the translation (actually, I'm pretty sure of it, but it was a pretty messed up sentence), and even now it doesn't sound great, but so it goes. (This ain't being published, and I just want to get this out there and start my new project. If I was in an alternate universe were I was being paid to publish Murakami, I'd still be working on it, だよ.) "Yeesh", of course, is what I decided to use for Murakami's quintessential "やれやれ”. Maybe it's too personal a choice. How would y'all handle it? Oops, derailing again.

So, anyway, the rest of the story is mostly a conversation between the narrator and his date about whether they'd like to be eighteen again. They have a fun little banter, ultimately deciding that neither particular would want to, though for no particular reasons why either.

Again, a simple little story, that based on the above contents, makes it not particularly memorable to me. A sweet little diversion, but not surprising that it's not in any English langauge short story collections yet. However, I really like the very end. And that is what salvages the story for me.  It needs a little context, so I'll start at the end of their conversation:

   “So will there ever be a time when you think you'll want to be eighteen again?” I asked.
    “Hmm, let me see.” She grinned and pretended to think about it. “Nope. Doubt it.”
    “I don't get it,” I said. “Everyone says that being young is a wonderful thing.”
    “Yeah, it is wonderful.”
    “Then why don't you want to?”
    “Even if you're old, you know why.”
    Of course at thirty-two, if I skip even a week of running, my stomach flab starts getting conspicuous. I can't be eighteen again. That's obvious.
    After I finish my morning run, I always drink a can of vegetable juice, lie on my side and put on“Day Tripper” by the Beatles.
    “Dayyyy-ay-ay tripper!”
    When listening to that song, I start feeling like I'm sitting on a train. Telephone poles, train stations, tunnels, bridges, cows, horses, smoke stacks, garbage, steadily they all pass by, one after the other. Scenery that never changed, no matter where I was. Though in the old days, it seemed like the scenery was incredibly beautiful.
    Only the person sitting next to me would change. This time, the one sitting next to me is the eighteen year old girl. I'm in the window seat, she in the aisle seat.
    “Would you like to change seats?” I'll say.
    “Thanks,” she says. “You're too kind.”
    It's not a matter of kindness, I say with a bitter laugh. It's just that I'm much more used to boredom than you.

    A 32 year old
    Day tripper
    Sick of counting the telephone poles.


A lot of interesting things in this last section. The first and most obvious is the inclusion of another poem. Looks like early Murakami had a thing for it in his early days of writing. There's no other way to see it. It was tricky because in the paperback edition, it's basically by itself on the page, due to the layout. But there's a very clear line break (it doesn't start where the first line normally starts on the margin), and for only a handful of words it is divided up in a very specific way. Of course, due to Japanese word order it comes out a bit difference. Literally, it should be more like:

Sick of counting telephones poles
A 32 year old
day tripper.

In a way it's nicer for the composition to end with the word "Day Tripper" since it's in the title. But the most poetic image is obviously the "sick of counting telephone poles" part. So I'm willing to make the trade.  The stilted clause order is too classical Japanese for me, too Basho.

 The next bit that's interesting to me is that it ends with the date. August 20, 1981. Five years before the book was published, well after A Slow Boat to China, his first collection of short stories, was released. It almost makes me wonder if it's somewhat based on a true story that he came back. Or maybe he wrote it at the time but didn't include it in that first collection for some reason? Who knows.

Finally, something about the line "It's just that I'm much more used to boredom than you" just stirs something in me. I think it's a powerful line with a lot of weight, even though there's not all that much to it. It ties the story together to me. Then again, maybe it's just me.

And one final aside. I don't see how the original Beatles song fits into this story thematically at all. It must be just the tune that he likes. The lyrics don't fit at all. But considering the amount of English Murakami may have known back then, maybe all he could understand was, "Day Tripper. One way ticket, yah." So maybe he just associated it with travel. Traveling far away with the intention to never go back.

EDIT: Check out why I'm wrong(!!) and the entire translation of the story here

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