Japan Literature Translation

Flounder School

Note:  I’ve just started doing ‘modern’ translations again, as for most of the past few months my head’s been stuck in Classical Japanese.  All criticisms/corrections welcome!

ひらめの学校, “Flounder School”, by HAYASHI Fumiko.

The principal of the Flounder School was getting on in age and wore eyeglasses.  The pupils were all amazed at how big her glasses were.

“Well, why have glasses that big, anyway? She can probably see as far as the shore with those things. I heard when the school council met at the palace of the dragon god of the sea not long ago,  she got those glasses from him!”

The pupils were lying on their bellies in the sand on the ocean floor and chatting.  It was fine weather, and even under the sea a blue, translucent light shown, breaking through the foam and flooding in.

“Hey, here comes the gym teacher.”

Lately he’d taken up hiking and injured his fin a bit.  His large fin was wrapped up in a bandage.

“Good morning, sir.”
“Morning, sir.”

The gym teacher, in his red and white exercise cap, came over to the students.

“Today, students, we’re all going on a field trip to the Mackerel village.  Large monsters that none of you have ever even seen before have suddenly come to the upper reaches, apparently.  They’re like flying fish, but it seems they’re huge and don’t move at all.”

The little flounder students began to cry out in excited voices.  Some of the hastier pupils were already floating up, the water gushing past them as they raced.

The gym teacher suddenly gave a whistle, tensely.

“You up there, who is that?  Everyone, double file lines, and swim properly so you don’t break ranks. It would be unfortunate if you got accosted by a scorpion fish.  Got that?  Swim quietly after my lead.  The Mackerel village’s mayor may treat us to a feast there.  The principal will attend as well.  It’s about two kilometers to the Mackerel village.  We shall swim in, grouped properly in lines.”

The pupils of the Flounder School got in two lines rather quickly.  The principal set forth, wearing those big eyeglasses.  The students set out together with the principal, their flat tails a-flutter.  The principal’s glasses were so very heavy that they had to be connected to a wooden buoy.  The buoy was connected to both sides, so her big glasses would sway a little around her short nose, which was convenient enough and suited her.

In the sea, they don’t bring along food or anything at all.  There’s no need for money to pay for anything; they could eat anywhere for free.

The flounder students swam along happily behind the teacher. They passed thickets of seaweed and dodged coral groves as they went.  Sometimes a family of amberjack would come swimming up.  When this happened, the gym teacher would quickly whistle.  The students would surround the principal, flattening themselves together on a rock and letting the amberjack go past.

When they finally arrived at the mackerel village, the young mackerel students in their blue uniforms were waiting for them among the many rocks that made up the town entrance.  When they passed by the rock gate, much to their surprise, there was a large, silver monster with circular, crimson marks on its wings that had thumped down in the sand.

It truly was a very curious creature.  The principal carefully slid over to look, pulling the buoy that supported her glasses along.  The mayor of the Mackerel village was a woman, too.  She was a very plump woman, who had a scarf made from some pretty algae which fell to the middle of her back, almost seeming to brag about it.

“Welcome everyone, so glad you could make it.  This is, as you can see, quite a strange thing, but this is something made by the people on the shore, called an ‘airplane’.  Even His Majesty, the king of the Mackerels, took the time to view it the other day.  Right now, on the shore people are beginning something called a ‘war’, it seems.  The Sharks find it all very interesting, and their whole village has gone to the south sea to watch.  His Majesty wishes for anyone from the Sharks who is able to sojourn to the south sea to do so.  Anyway, please, at your leisure, have a look at this ‘airplane’.”

The flounder students were swimming around the airplane excitedly.

“He-ey, what’s this?”  The plane’s large rubber tires were facing upward.

“Maybe it’s a slide!”

Everyone had come to see this strange sight; there was no work to be done.  When looked at from the glass window, a small doll could be seen hanging inside.  It was so cute that, after asking permission from the mayor of the Mackerels, the Flounder students took it as a souvenir of the day.

When their curiosity had been satisfied, the Flounder students were treated to many goodies at the rock dining hall, returning to the Flounder village as evening approached.  The school was lit up by luminous dinoflagellates.  Everyone gathered in the light to sing this song:

Long shall the land beneath the sea remain beautiful
End all disputes, and join hands
We pray to the God of the Sea, from the bottom of the sea
For our glorious education
For the land we have joyously worked for, the land beneath the sea

A female teacher was playing an instrument made of kelp.  The principal held up the ‘doll’ that had been given by the Mackerel village to show to the assembled crowd from the village.

“So it seems these ‘humans’ don’t have fins!  Very strange, all around.  Without fins, how ridiculous must they appear!  What on earth’s a ‘war’ anyway?  And why do they make ‘war’?  Just once, I’d really like to go visit the land where ‘humans’ live…” The crowd of Flounders all murmured this amongst themselves.  The Shrimp chief of the Flounder village coughed, “Ahem!”, before saying:

“Looking into a world that others live in is like going straight to hell.  There aren’t as many good places elsewhere as there are beneath the sea.  Lately, if you listen to the rumors, the crowds of Sharks that went to the south saw the humans’ war and were killed.  It is also said they will return soon.  We cannot tell them of such a monstrous thing, for those who have not survived from the Shark village.  Let us offer a prayer.”

The crowds from the village and the pupils formed a circle, and from the dark depths of the ocean they began to offer a song of prayer.  As the night advanced, the bottom of the sea became hazy and bright.  “Gosh, the moon is bright this evening…”

The octopi from their area in the next village over used their voices for prayer as well. In every part of the Kingdom of Fish, prayers were being offered up to the gods, so that the gods might deign to take them into their heart.  Even the King of the Sea Bream liked the prayers.  The Flounder school produced a number of interns who came to the dragon god of the sea’s castle every year, but the pupils who returned after a short while were all great, too.

And so it was always a race to do just what would benefit the village.  Although there was no money in the Kingdom of Fish, everyone worked, and everyone got along.  The principal always swam around the school, glasses wobbling.  Honestly, those glasses really suited her.