“A Gift from the Sea” (short story) by Naoko Awa
English Publication History: Speculative Japan 2 (Kurodahan Press, 2011)
Original: Japanese (海からの贈り物), 1977
Translated by Sheryl A. Hogg, 2011
Synopsis: Little Kanako receives two fifty-yen coins from her bedridden mother so that she can buy something at the village’s market festival. The paltry sum can buy her very little, but she’s determined to buy one thing for herself and another for her mother. An out-of-place woman sells a bag of “sakura shells” to her, which clatter in her pocket as she walks, yet they also whisper her toward the sea. There at the sea, women gamble with the shells and Kanako learns of her own naivety. 6 pages
Analysis: Kanako’s intentions were pure; she was grateful for the money as she knew they could barely afford the wastefulness. While eyeing the market, only the glittering shells were within the reach of power to spend. With a bagful of beautiful shells, she learns that all that sparkles and clatters isn’t necessarily worthy of its own beauty. Naivety strikes her upon losing all of her shells in the marble-like gambling near the ocean’s tideline when Kanako returns to the market to buy another bag so that she can win all her shells back. Upon finding the shell vendor absent, another vendor tell her of the thieving “old woman from the sea” who steals children’s money.
Immediately, Kanako is offended with the theft and runs back to the shore. There, without shells in hand or a physical gift for her mother, she confronts her innocent senses of trust, ignorance… and generosity.