Japan Literature Translation

The nose (excerpts)

Excerpted from AKUTAGAWA Ryunosuke’s Hana (The Nose), 1916.

The people of Ike-no-O said that it was probably best that Zenchi was a priest, because what woman would marry someone with that nose? There were even those who said that his nose must’ve been the reason he became a priest. But Zenchi himself didn’t think becoming a priest had made him worry any less about his nose; Zenchi’s self-esteem wasn’t so delicate as to be influenced by such a shallow thing as marriage. And so, in ways both subtle and obvious, he set about recovering from the damage done to his self-esteem.

First off, the priest thought that there were ways to make his long nose appear shorter than it was in reality. When there was no-one around, he would turn to his mirror and study his face from different angles, devising new tactics. No matter what angle he tried, just changing the position of his head didn’t help at all. He tried resting his head in his hands, then putting his finger on his chin, all the while staring into the mirror. But he couldn’t come up with one way to satisfy even himself that his nose looked shorter. At times it felt like the more he sighed over it, the longer his nose appeared. When he felt like that, Zenchi would put the mirror away, sigh dejectedly, and slouch back to his desk to read the Kannon Sutra.

When the priest pulled his boiling nose out of the hole in the tray his apprentice began to stomp on it, his feet falling with all the force within them. The priest lay on his side, his nose stretched across the floorboards, watching his apprentice’s feet rise and fall right in front of his eyes. Occasionally the apprentice would look down at the priest”s bald head with a pained expression, and say something like:

“Doesn’t it hurt at all? The doctor did say to stomp on it… But, well, doesn’t it hurt?”

Zenchi shook his head to show that it didn’t hurt. Because there was a person standing on his nose it wasn’t very effective. He glanced up and, staring at the cracks on the man’s feet, said angrily, “I said, it doesn’t hurt.”

In fact, the part of his nose that his apprentice was treading on had been quite itchy.  Instead of being painful it actually felt rather good.

After he had been stomping for a while, something grain-like began to emerge from the priest’s nose. The nose looked like a small, plucked bird with nubby skin. When the apprentice saw this, he quit stomping and said this, as if to himself:

“He told me to pull these out with tweezers.”

The priest huffed a bit and silently left it up to his apprentice. It is not that he could not understand the apprentice’s kindness. That being said, the thought of treating your own nose as just an object is surely quite a repulsive one. With the expression of a person undergoing an operation at the hands of a surgeon he doesn’t trust, the priest watched his reluctant apprentice pull the grease out of the pores of his nose. The grease plugs, shaped like the feathers of a bird’s wing, were nearly a half inch long. When he had just about finished, the apprentice sighed with relief and said, “Let’s boil this once more.”


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