I'm always looking for ways to practice reading Japanese. The thing is, all writers write in a certain way, and I don't want to be stuck reading Japanese in a certain way, and consequently understanding Japanese in a certain way (at least, this is my fear). The vast majority of the raw Japanese that I read is Murakami and Genichiro Takahashi, and so lately I've been looking at new sources to practice Japanese and expand my Japanese reading skills. I especially feel that I need to practice reading non-contemporary Japanese. Even in English, I want to get better acquainted with the modern Japanese literary masters, who I am not as familiar with as I would like.
Which is why Aozora Bunko is awesome. It's the Project Gutenberg of Japan, i.e., free e-versions of public domain literature.
I found the following story by accident. Literally—I was using the more iPhone friendly version of the Aozora Bunko site, searched おつ randomly, and started reading お月様の唄, which I am going to share with you in a quickie translation over the next few days, cause it's a very cute little fairy tale.
The author of this tale is Yoshio Toyoshima, who, Wikipedia (kind of sadly) notes, was not famous at all for his novels, but did have great acclaim as a translator. He was born in 1890, and died in 1955. He was a novelist, translator, French literary scholar, and children's book author. He was professor emeritus at Hosei University and also taught at Meiji University. He had his literary debut as a college student, published in the third issue of Shinchishou alongside the great Akutagawa and Kikuchi Kan. He is most famous for his translations of Les Miserables and Jean-Christophe, which were bestsellers.
Anyway, without further ado, here is part one of お月様の唄, which I am (tentatively) calling "The Great Moon's Song." You can read the original, if you like, here.
"The Great Moon's Song"
In the Great Moon
Lives a Tailless Bird
With Gold Rings in its Mouth
Oh, Oh, It's Falling!
Oh, Oh, Look Out!
Once upon a time, when the forests were still teeming with small, cute wood elves, there was a prince of a certain kingdom, who was raised with much love, as he was the only child of the king. The prince was extremely kind, and had a great and compassionate heart.
Ever since the prince was small, for some reason, he loved above all to look at the moon. He often climbed the towers of the castle, or entered the expansive gardens to watch the moon until late at night. When he looked at the moon, he felt like he was looking at his mother who had passed away. The prince's mother died when he was three years old, and so he could not remember her face. But no matter how much he thought about it, it always seemed to him that his mother had ascended to the moon. Because of this, when he looked at the moon, he would think about his mother.
One night, when the prince was eight years old, like always, he went out to the garden to look at the moon by himself, when, a man, only twelve inches tall and wearing a Roger's flower on his head, suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Then, just as suddenly, he bowed his head to the prince.
The prince was surprised, for he had never seen nor heard of such a tiny man before. However, the prince, the lovely boy with a gentle heart, also had great courage, for he would someday be the king. And so, in a calm voice, he asked the one foot-monk:
"Who are you?"
The one foot monk replied, in a sing-song voice:
"A wood elf I am! A wood elf from the forest behind the castle!"
The prince smiled and asked:
"Why have you come?"
"To bring greetings to the prince," the one-foot monk replied. "I am a messenger of Princess Chigusa, and I need you to come with me, if ya' please!"
Having said this, the wood elf turned around and started walking away. The prince was delighted, and followed after him. When they reached the back gate, it opened immediately, and when the prince and wood elf passed through to the other side, it was closed again, just like before, without a sound.
Directly behind the castle was a large forest called "The Bamboo Oak Forest." The wood elf went directly into the forest, and the prince too followed after him silently. However, when they arrived at the center of the forest, he suddenly could no longer see the wood elf. Surprised, the prince looked all around, and saw before him a wide clearing, with a lush green lawn, with many different flowers blooming in the middle. In the center of the clearing stood a woman, wearing a silk robe of red and yellow and white, and a crown made of lily flowers. She looked at the prince and smiled, and beckoned him closer. Seeing this, the prince felt somehow like he was looking at his long lost mother, and fearlessly approached her.
"My, you found us easily!" the woman said. "I am Chigusa, queen of this forest. Now let us watch some entertainment."
Then Princess Chigusa raised her voice and said:
"Come out everyone, and dance for the prince's entertainment!"
Whereupon, from out of nowhere, the wood elf from earlier appeared above the clearing, wearing a single rose on his head. Then, spinning round and round, he sang this song:
Spin round and come out!
And a wood elf wearing a chrysanthemum appeared. The two danced and sang once more:
Spinny-spin round and come out!
And a wood elf wearing a peony appeared.
Round and spin and come out!
And a wood elf wearing a plum blossom appeared.
Round and round and round and come out!
And a wood elf wearing a cherry blossom appeared.
Everyone together burst forth!
To entertain the prince
Here and there and everywhere
Go round and round and round and round and round!
Then the clearing before him became full of wood elves, each one wearing a grass or tree flower on their heads. Then, linking hands, they formed a circle and sang a riveting song and danced a riveting dance.
The prince watched all this and felt like he was in a dream. The wood elves' dance continued on for an eternity. It was an amazing dance that he never grew tired of, no matter how long it continued.
"It's time, it's time! The palace is now closing!" a voice from far away suddenly called out. The wood elves who had had been dancing up this point looked like they all jumped high in the air, but when they fell back to the earth they had disappeared.
The prince was surprised, and looked all around, while Princess Chigusa stood smiling. Then she said to the prince:
"It is late now, so that shall be all for tonight. We will come with greetings again, so please come back at that time."
The prince wanted to stay longer, but because of what the Princess said, there was nothing to do but go home. Before he knew it, the wood elf wearing a Roger's flower appeared, and he lead the prince back to the castle gardens.