From KJ 8, A ONE-ACT PLAY BY HAROLD WRIGHT Drawings by Lars Martinson   People sometimes ask me about how I translate Japanese, do I translate very literally or do I translate freely, and I guess I’m usually in-between, kind of a middle-of-the-road translator. But something happened to me the other day that I just have to share with you in a literal sort of way. Now, all the gaijin I know in Kyoto know what ogatagomi is. You know, you’re walking down the street and all at once you see, say, a Sony TV set, a bicycle, a suit of armor and three bookcases lying abandoned out on the street, and you say, “Wow! What time does it get dark?” Then you get it all home and you find out that the TV is only black-and-white and the cord’s been cut off…But anyway, that’s the easy part. Trying to get rid of ogatagomi is a problem. It’s really hard. I know. I tried, and this is what actually happened to me. Definitions: (Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary, 4th ed.) Ogata: 1. Large, full-size; oversize. Gomi: n. dust; rubbish; litter. CAST: (in order of appearance) NARRATOR: Someone who knows everything… VOICE ON: Japanese, male, bureaucratic. ALIEN ME: The Alien, me. VOICE TWO: Japanese, male, bureaucratic. Setting: The Alien Me’s tatami living room in Sakyo Ward of Kyoto, Japan. He kneels in front of a telephone for three reasons: 1. He is about to make a phone call, 2. He doesn’t have a chair, and 3. He is too stiff and sore from carrying the trash the day before to really stand. The season is pre-cherry blossom March, the time mid-morning. Narrator: Spring coming Kyoto, Buds coming to the trees, Politicians coming to the streets, Has forced one lazy alien Away from his kotatsu Away from his dwindling pile of mikan To peer out the door And to come to feel some ambition About cleaning the yard, Or that path-sized strip of ground Between two sunless walls And to actually pick up the stuff That should be thrown away. Now the spouse of this Alien Was on her way to town To get herself fingerprinted For her own Alien reasons And was asked to ask at the ward office About Ogatagomi… (These aliens hate Japanese phone books Almost as much as they hate telephones, No matter what language they speak…) Returning from the Sakyo-ku office She handed him a piece of paper (Smeared with a bit with fingerprint ink) With a number, she said, for Ogatagomi And repeated to him as a lecture She had received from the fingerprinter Dealing with his never dealing with TRASH, But in a spirit of public service And International Cooperation He did look up a number… Which our alien While in the privacy of his own home But in the same spirit of service (Well, he could have left the trash alone Or gone ahead and piled it in the street Hoping another Alien would steal it…) He decided to forfeit a morning To international Confusion, And DIAL… VOICE ONE: Speak. Speak. NARRATOR: Newcomers think Moshi Moshi means Hello But literally it means “speak speak”. Although experts seem to disagree Who is speaking, you or me or us, Let’s just leave the subject off And be as literal as we can be. ALIEN ME: Speak! Speak! Concerning Ogatagomi… I wish to beg of you… VOICE ONE: Concerning Ogatagomi… There do exist established rates And yearly contracts… Concerning the name of your company… We wish to beg of you… ALIEN ME: There is no excuse But I am private residence only A company for me does not exist, However… VOICE ONE: Concerning contracts We do not have relationships With private residences only However… ALIEN ME: Concerning contracts I am not concerned Concerned Ogatagomi I am! However… VOICE ONE: Understanding has taken place… Were you to dial another number It would be appreciated… I think… ALIEN ME: There is absolutely no excuse… However… But if that other number Could be bestowed as teaching upon me… I would wish to beg of you I think… NARRATOR: After much humble gratitude Another number is jotted down, After the Alien has poured coffee, In fear of the coming ordeal, He dials again… and somewhere A phone is answered saying “Speak! Speak!” To which the Alien replies In flawless Japanese: “Speak! Speak!” and then adds: ALIEN ME: Concerning Ogatagomi I do wish to beg of you… VOICE TWO: Concerning Ogatagomi Is it? NARRATOR: This aging man Has been saying This same thing For years and years… VOICE TWO: (continuing) And may we inquire As to just how large The OGATAGOMI could maybe be? Is there a refrigerator perhaps? Or maybe an old TV? ALIEN ME: No, just average Ogatagomi. VOICE TWO: “Average” Ogatagomi Is not fully understood… Were you to list for us What actually exists for you As teachings upon us It would be better We do believe… ALIEN ME: Old corrugated metal roofing VOICE TWO: Yes! Yes! And concerning old corrugated metal roofing Just how many thin objects of these Do exist there for you? ALIEN ME: Well, there is no excuse, however… But I rolled them up into tubes And I believe I should be forced to say That 5 or 6 of these cylindrical objects Exist for me… NARRATOR: But as he spoke He really wondered If maybe it should be: 5 or 6 rows or 5 or 6 rolls or 5 or 6 bundles or 5 or 6 reams or 5 or 6 volumes or 5 or 6 vehicles or… VOICE TWO: “Speak! Speak!” You said “Old corrugated metal roofing” Now just bestow upon us As teachings for us The number of thin objects That exist for you there. ALIEN ME: Ah, Truly. Truly. There is no excuse at all and This never ends… Five or Six Thin Objects Exist for me here. VOICE TWO: Truly, Truly. This never ends… Five or Six “thin objects” of old corrugated metal roofing Understanding has taken place, And now what else Exists for you there? ALIEN ME: Pipe. VOICE TWO: And how many cylindrical objects Of that PIPE Exist for you there? NARRATOR: One of the pipes had been smashed flat Somewhere in the middle But the Alien held his tongue in secret… ALIEN ME: As for the pipe, There are 2 or 3 cylindrical objects That exist for me here I do believe…however… There is no excuse… VOICE TWO: Yes, Yes… Two or Three cylindrical objects of pipe And what else… NARRATOR: The Alien was amazed That the voice did not ask The materials of which the pipes were made Nor the thickness, nor the length, Won’t the collectors Be totally shocked to find His 42-feet of 8-inch pipe Made of deadly asbestos? VOICE TWO: Speak! Speak! And what else…? ALIEN ME: A box of trash. A box of average trash. VOICE TWO: Describing the contents of a box of average trash Is not necessary… What is the box made of? Wood perhaps? Or cardboard? ALIEN ME: Cardboard. VOICE TWO: Describing the contents of a box of average trash Is not necessary… What is the box made of? Wood perhaps? Or cardboard? ALIEN ME: Cardboard. VOICE TWO: …and One Thing of Cardboard Box… And what else…? ALIEN ME: That is the limit of the trash That exists here for me. VOICE TWO: Then perhaps you will provide Your name, your address And your telephone number As teachings upon us… NARRATOR: Knowing all that data could He provided it without flaw And felt he could at last Return to his morning But the Voice continued… VOICE TWO: Now without hanging up, Wait until we can locate Your house on our map… Sssssssaaaaaaaaaaaaa… Well, on this map of ours, And it is really regrettable, Your name does not exist. NARRATOR: With land prices in Japan Being as outrageous as they are It is indeed no surprise… That his name is not on maps. Or if the old tenement house Which he can afford to live Appears anywhere in Kyoto records He would really be amazed. ALIEN ME: Since I only rent The landlords’s name Would be of some help Perhaps… But not knowing anything And having no excuse… VOICE TWO: It is Kyoto City Police Concerning Ogatagomi When the name of the Real Person Does not appear on our map Then the name of a neighbor Must be provided As teachings upon us… ALIEN ME: The neighbors? Well, you see, the truth is… There is really no excuse… However… The neighbors are all quite nice But I haven’t lived in Kyoto THAT long, Just nine months… And haven’t talked to anyone yet And don’t know anything at all But doesn’t the house number 61 Mean anything at all…to you? VOICE TWO: It is necessary for you to provide The Name of a Neighbor Whose name would appear On this map of ours As teachings upon us We beg of you Now cut yourself off from the phone Go outside and learn the name of a neighbor It will be written as a nameplate It will be hanging on the door Do this as teachings upon us We beg of you, we think… And call us back. ALIEN ME: JESUS! NARRATOR: (This happened, this really happened!) Still in yukata He moves from the phone Still in bare feet He puts on cold shoes Since it is still raining He opens an umbrella And hobbles next door To peer at a Nameplate. And just when he wished He had studied more kanji The neighbor, a young wife Comes out of her door To find a kimono-clad gaijin With untied shoestrings Under an umbrella LOOKING AT HER… And the nameplate on her door With widened eyes She runs back inside and bolts the door For her safety… The alien grins politely And bows to her peephole Before running home So we wouldn’t forget The number of strokes In his neighbor’s name Then free of cold shoes Free of the umbrella He runs to his desk To reconfirm for himself And the city of Kyoto That his neighbor’s surname Was BABA. Confident now, He calls The Voice back. VOICE TWO: Speak! Speak! ALIEN ME: Speak. Speak. There is no end to all of this But concerning the neighbor The person is Baba. NARRATOR: Now in fairness to all Alien and local alike It should be noted (as teachings upon you) Then the characters involved In writing the neighbor’s name Are “ba” “ba” like “horse” “place” Or “Riding ground” or “racetrack” But “baba” also means “hag” Or “old woman” or “witch” Or even a “wet nurse” at times So how would the Voice be likely to know Which kanji the Alien meant? VOICE TWO: Speak. Speak. Concerning the neighbor? ALIEN ME: Speak. Speak. Concerning the neighbor? The person is Baba. VOICE TWO: Concerning the neighbor? Concerning a Baba? ALIEN ME: Speak. Speak. Concerning Ogatagomi… VOICE TWO: Yes. Yes. Concerning Ogatagomi Is it? NARRATOR: This aging man Has been saying This same thing For years and years… VOICE TWO: (continuing) And may we inquire As to just how large The Ogatagomi could maybe be? Is there a refrigerator perhaps? Or maybe an old TV? ALIEN: Speak. Speak. No. No. That’s not right. It was decided already: Old corrugated metal roofing And pipe…Remember…? VOICE TWO: And how many thin objects Of corrugated metal roofing Exist for you there? ALIEN ME: Jesus! It can’t be helped… 5 or 6 thin objects of corrugated metal roofing and 2 or 3 cylindrical objects of pipe exist for me here… But I already offered that As teachings to you And I live in Ichijoji And my name is Ra-i-to And I don’t know anything at all But my neighbour, however, is Baba! VOICE TWO: Speak. Speak. Concerning Ogatagomi, is it? Perhaps?... ALIEN ME: Speak. Speak. I am speaking… My name is Ha-ru-ro-do Ra-i-to Which isn’t on maps And YOU needed to know The name of my neighbour But I don’t know why But I went outside And I got wet And I read the Nameplate And the neighbor now thinks I am a STRANGE ALIEN And that neighbor is BABA! VOICE TWO: Understanding has taken place… However…. There are baba Living all over Kyoto And it is not enough to know One is living next to you… Concerning Ogatagomi You must learn that baba’s name And bestow it upon us as teachings… ALIEN ME: (understanding the confusion at last) My neighbour’s NAME is BABE And she is not THAT old I don’t mean babe, a hag I mean Baba Like where you ride horses Because that is the name On the door of my neighbor. VOICE TWO: Ah. Soo. Baba. You are a neighbour of Baba-san. And luck is now with you Baba-san is here on the map! ALIEN ME: Truly. Truly. Luck is upon me. I am so grateful… Indeed. VOICE TWO: No. No. Don’t mention it at all… Now, where is your house? To the north or to the south? ALIEN ME: SWEET JESUS… VOICE TWO: Speak. Speak. To the north or to the south? ALIEN ME: …in the direction of the south perhaps, however… …in the direction to the north perhaps, however… maybe east, or even west I really don’t know anything at all Can’t you find the number 61? VOICE: It is the Policy of Kyoto City Concerning Ogatagomi In the event that the Real Person Doesn’t exist upon our maps Then the name of a neighbour AND A DIRECTION Must be provided As teachings upon us And to do so We are begging on you… ALIEN ME: Understanding has just taken place. It is probably for sure the direction north For Mt. Hiei lies still north of me And I live north of Baba. VOICE TWO: Speak. Speak. Mt. Hiei? Your house exists in Sakyo-ku? Concerning Ogatagomi? ALIEN ME: Yes. Yes. Sakyo-ku. Yes. Yes. Ogatagomi. Yes. Yes. Next to Baba-san. North of Baba-san. Yes. Yes. VOICE TWO: Understanding has been achieved. Now let’s discuss the date Of Ogatagomi in your area… Thursday, March 26 is the next We start at 8:30 am. But never know Where exactly we have to go Or when we will actually finish Or when we can pay a call Upon your home… Actually you may be the very first So we beg of you to cooperate And have the Ogatagomi Set out by half past eight And also attach a sign Written on PAPER With your name upon it And the words OGATAGOMI. ALIEN ME: Understanding has taken place And I am grateful There was no excuse at all And I know nothing This never ends. Sumimasen…Sumimasen Moshiwake gozaimasen deshita… Truly Truly, Domo Domo Honto ni. Homma ni… Arigato gozaimashita Okini. I have been so rude. Shitsurei itashimashita.
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