Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Until the Beans Are Cooked

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Until the Beans Are Cooked

Article excerpt

Translator's Introduction

Aw a Naoko (1943-1993) was an award-winning writer of modern fairy tales.1 She was born in Tokyo and lived in different places throughout Japan while growing up. As a child, she read fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Wilhelm Hauff as well as The Arabian Nights, which later influenced her writings. She received a bachelors degree in Japanese literature from Japan Women's University, where she studied under Yamamuro Shizuka (1906-2000), who translated Nordic children's literature into Japanese. While still in college, Aw a made her literary debut in the magazine Mejiro jido bungaku (Mejiro Children's Literature).

Hanamame no nieru made (Tokyo: Kaiseisha, 1993) collects six stories about Sayo, a twelve-year-old girl who lives with her grandmother, the owner of a hot spring inn. The title story - "Until the Beans Are Cooked" (6-34) - which appears in English translation here, was originally published in Kaizoku (Pirates) in 1991 and won the second Hirosuke Dow a Prize. In it, Grandmother tells Sayo how her father met her mother, the daughter of a Yamanba (mountain witch). Readers familiar with the works of Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933) may recall his Kaze no Matasaburo, as the wind plays an important role in both books.2

Exploring the intersection of humanity and nature in her fictional worlds, Awa left an enduring body of work that transcends generations. Readers who grew up with her stones now share them with their children, as her timeless, lyrical prose resonates with readers of all ages. Once a year, Awa's friends and fans gather and discuss her works over tea and cookies at her alma mater. This gathering - called Hanamame no kai [the gathering of beans] after Awa's 1993 book - started in 1999 to ensure the preservation of her literary legacy for future generations. Although Awa has won the hearts and minds of many Japanese readers, very few of her writings have been made available to readers abroad. I translated this story with the hope of generating international interest in Awa's fiction. 1 would like to thank Mr. Minegishi Akira, who has granted me permission to translate his late wife's work.

Sayo didn't have a mother.

Not long after Sayo was born, her mother had gone back to her village - a place with beautiful plum blossoms beyond many mountains. But no one - not even Sayos father - could visit the village.

"It's a Yamanba village," Sayo's grandmother said. "Your mother is the daughter of a Yamanba, so she went home to the Yamanba village. Nothing could be done about it."

The Yamanba is a mountain witch. Mountain witches and humans are very different creatures.

"How did my parents get together if they were so different?" Sayo wondered. "Why did they separate after they got married?" Every time she thought about it, she felt empty and alone.

"When it rains in my village, does it rain in the Yamanba village? When hydrangeas are in bloom in my village, are they in bloom in the Yamanba village?" Sayo wondered.

It had been raining since the morning, and there was nothing to do. Sayo told Grandmother, "I want to visit the Yamanba village."

Grandmother was cooking kidney beans in a big pot. Sayo's father had gone to Kitaura to buy groceries. Takara Hot Springs had no guests. The hot spring inn deep in the mountains was soaked in rain and silence.

Grandmother lifted the pot lid and sprinkled sugar on the beans swelling inside. She said, "Nobody can go to the Yamanba village. Your father can't go. You can't go either, Sayo. Neither can I."

"Then how did Father meet Mother?" Sayo asked.

"Well, that was when ..." Grandmother reduced the fire cooking the beans and looked at Sayo. "I'll tell you the story of how your father met your mother if you like. But it's going to be a long story"

Sayo nodded. "I'll listen to your story, Grandmother, while the beans are cooking. …

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