“Triceratops” (short story) by Tensei Kono
From Apostolou & Greenberg’s The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories (1989)
Originally from Omni, August 1982
Original: Japanese, 1974
Translated by David Lewis, 1982
“A funny thing happened on the way home—a dinosaur crossed our path” (104)
Synopsis: A father and his son bike in the hills surrounding their home’s subdivision when they witness a shadowy giant cross their path. His wife discredits their exaggeration of the rhino-shaped intruder as no news report had surfaced, yet again the oddity manifests itself in their garden only to disappear through a stone wall. Later, other dinosaurs appear transparent in the daylight to the duo, who also witness a massive carnivore/herbivore confrontation.
Analysis: Upon first reading this story, I thought it was a simple juvenile story of father-son bonding over an inexplicable event in their lives—being the only witnesses to dinosaurs roaming their neighborhood. This sense of awe stemming from the son and the bond it induces with his father works only so far… until the herd of triceratopses is massacred by a band of tyrannosaurus rexes, a battle scene which leaves all of their entrails sprawling over streets. This is a rather gruesome end to a seemingly juvenile story of bonding.
One paragraph denotes a literal wind of change and frames the conclusion to the story in a sympathetic light of innocence (the Japanese?) destroyed by the aggressors from the directional west (the Chinese?) or the figurative west (the Allies?): “It was a day when yellow sand blown from the continent filled the air and turned the sun the color of blood, a harsh, unpleasant day” (116).
China has a number of deserts (notably, the Gobi Desert). Though the Japanese were never conquered by foreign forces from the directional west—be they Chinese or Mongol—they later accepted an unconditional surrender to the Allies, the figurative west (the Mojave Desert). The destruction of Japan at the hands of Allies speaks through one triceratops’s inner thoughts: “[W]hy did you keep butchering us?” (119); meanwhile, the father and son also witness everyone else carry on with their pedestrian lives, like the average America immune to the suffering of the average Japanese.