I’ll Get Rid of Your Discontent – Mayumura Taku

 Kurodahan- Speculative Japan
“I’ll Get Rid of Your Discontent” (short story) by Mayumura Taku

First published in Uchujin (Cosmic Dust) 57 (July, 1962)

Currently available from Kurodahan Press’s Speculative Japan (2007)

Original: Japanese, 1962
Translated by M. Hattori and Grania Davis, 2007

Synopsis: A curious shabby item at a curious shabby store draws one man’s attention yet he is unable to read the paper instructions of the object unless her purchases the hand-sized trinket. Inside, he discovers the welcome gift of three wishes that will appease his discontent. Amid an argument with his boss, he uses his first wish; while a train arrives late, he uses his second; the third placates a friendship. Regardless of the “fatal” consequence, he keeps it.

Analysis: Pain is an essential mammalian experience that requires all mammals to learn in order to avoid repeating the same mistake, the same pain. However, pain comes in many varieties: the physical pain of cold, heat and pressure; the mental pain of regret, sadness and anger. Each experience with these pains alters our approach to life—you get burned by a flame, you stay away from flames; you get burned by a blond, you stay away from blonds.

If this learning tool is avoided, the physical and mental scars will build up over time into a eviscerated mess of primality… but if this learning tool is replaced with one that changes the experience, what will the result be? Without the physical sense of pain, a man would become a human bulldozer, without emotional pain, a man would become, yet again, a human bulldozer. Therefore, pain is essential as a learning tool because it aligns our trust on painlessness as a pleasant experience.

Now, compare: a) to be without pain because of invulnerability and b) to be without pain because of contentment. Respectively, one is a Caterpillar bulldozer and the other is a Woomba vacuum; one is a wrecking ball and the other is an aggie marble. If a bulldozer had emotion, how would it feel if it suddenly became a vacuum? If a wrecking ball had emotion, how would it feel if it suddenly became a marble?

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Hikari – Tensei Kono

 Kurodahan- Speculative Japan
“Hikari” (short story) by Tensei Kono

First published in Shukan Shosetsu (May 3, 1976)

Currently available from Kurodahan Press’s Speculative Japan (2007)

Original: Japanese, 1976
Translated by Dana Lewis, 2007

Synopsis: Along the railway line, another city of lights sends its spectral beacon into the defused sky. As one man wonders of the oddity of its alienness, another man tells his tale of its becoming while others hang on his every word. One day, his family became placid and content—brightness blazed behind their eyes. They were left oblivious to emotion and maintained a clean godliness to the city. When confronted with the errant ways of the flesh, enlightenment came.

Analysis: Inspiration strikes some in unseen yet life-changing ways; sometimes, a dream will shift your perspective on reality or a single instance can flip your paradigm. These epiphanies elevate the human experience, embracing individual experience for the better—in essence, these enlightenments help us become better, more positive people. However, this change is purely internal and does not actually change the world around us… unless it’s collective.

In “Hikari”, this enlightenment (if I must use a play on words—the people of light do experience a sort of transcendence) benefits those touched by its simplicity. They are objective in every approach, even to family matters; they see cleanliness and godliness, like the wholeness of white light; and they actually care for the errant humans in their community. The ones not touched by the otherwise shared objectiveness, are the errant ones, the ones attached to vice. Their anger boils over as they feel belittled by the perfect emotionless of the touched. Though the touched cause no direct injury or harm, the errant ones channel their internal anger externally toward the touched—a move which, itself, transcends the boundaries between the two kinds of people. As an individual epiphany can change the world very little, a collective epiphany can radiate the light of righteousness.

A Time for Revolution – Kazumasa Hirai

 Kurodahan- Speculative Japan
“A Time for Revolution” (short story) by Kazumasa Hirai

First published in Hayakawa SF Magazine (January 1963)

Currently available from Kurodahan Press’s Speculative Japan (2007)

Original: Japanese, 1963
Translated by David Aylward, 2007

Synopsis: With the mindset of a common bully and with the ruthlessness of a gang boss that he is, Shin and his band of brother rules his petty piece of turf with an iron fist in 1967. While knocking back a whiskey and waiting to collect his protection fee, Shin’s mind is flooded with poetry he later learns is from Byron. Confused by his newly found gift of poetry and sympathy, Shin heads home, where the artists in his mind hatch their plan.

Analysis: The plot written in the synopsis is framed by the artists in the latter portion of the same synopsis. The story initially opens when a small group of humans emerges from the Pit—the deep underground prison where all humanity is kept, bred to become akin to domestic pigs. The earth, however, is scorched and barren and they are being chased by their captors. Being a world dominated by machines, it is the machines that they fear, hate, and wish destroyed.

In a time when—I guess like any other time in post-war Japan, actually—technology was becoming an increasing part of daily life, there was an obsession with mechanization in all areas of life (even massages—the first massage chair was invented in Japan in 1954). All this mechanization replaced the skill of human hands, thereby devaluing our humanity. If machines can do everything that our hands and minds can do, what is there left to our so-called humanity? In the Pit, the artists carry the torch of the human spirit in their artistic endeavors, but their subterranean prison is merely a another prison within the barren earth.

Naturally, with progress there is something left behind. When there is collective progress, very little attention is paid to what’s being left behind, only that forward is the way to go. The naysayers of progress are seen as conservative, but they also act as a telescope to the past, re-evaluating modern ways in terms of the past—a past which is continually being lost. Kazumasa Hirai may be insinuating that artists are our links to the past, but aren’t Luddites more in touch with the past?