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Yasunari Kawabata (Japan, 1899 - 1972)

The following excerpt is from the Kawabata’s novel The Old Capital, published in 1962:

The Flowers of Spring

Chieko discovered the violets flowering on the trunk of the old maple tree. “Ah. They’ve bloomed again this year,” she said as she encountered the gentleness of spring.

The maple was rather large for such a small garden in the city; the trunk was larger around than Chieko’s waist. But this ancient tree with its coarse moss-covered bark was not the sort of thing one should compare with a girl’s innocent body.

The trunk of the tree twisted slightly to the right at about the height of Chieko’s waist, and just over her head it bent even farther. Above the bend the limbs extended outward, dominating the garden, the ends of the longer branches dropping with their own weight.

Just below the large bend were two hollow places with violets growing in each. Every spring they would put forth flowers. The two violets had been there on the tree ever since Chieko could remember.

The upper violet and lower violet were separated by about a foot. “Do the upper and lower violets ever meet? Do they know each other?” Chieko mused. What could it mean to say that the violets “meet” or “know” one another?

Every spring there were at least three but no more than five flowers on the violets in the tiny hollows. Chieko stared at them from the inner corridor that opened onto the garden, lifting her gaze from the base of the trunk of the maple tree. Sometimes she was moved by the “life” of the violets on the tree. Other times their “loneliness” touched her heart. . . .

Japan's bell cricket

The Bell Crickets

Chieko had begun raising bell crickets four or five years earlier, long after she had first found the violets on the old maple tree. She had heard them chirping in the parlor of the home of her school friends, and had received several as a gift.

“The poor things, living in a jar . . .,” Chieko had said. But her friend had answered that it was better than keeping them in a cage and letting them die there. She said that there were even temples that raised them in large quantities and sold the eggs. It seemed there were many who had similar tastes.

This year Chieko’s bell crickets had increased in number. She had two jars. Every year about the first of July the eggs would hatch, and about the middle of August the crickets began to chirp. But they were born, chirped, laid eggs, and died all inside a dark, cramped jar. Still, since it preserved the species it was perhaps better than raising one short generation in a cage. The crickets spent their entire lives in a jar; it was the whole world to them. Chieko had heard the ancient Chinese legend of a “universe in a jar” in which there was a palace in a vessel filled with fine wine and delicacies from both land and sea. Isolated from the vulgar world, it was a separate realm, an enchanted land. The story was one of many such legends of wizards and magic.

Of course the bell cricks had not entered the jar in order to renounce the world. Perhaps they did not realize they were, so they went on living.

What surprised Chieko most about the bell crickets was that if she happened not to put in males from elsewhere, the insects that hatched were stunted and feeble, the result of inbreeding. To prevent that, cricket fanciers would often trade male crickets. Now it was spring, and the bell crickets would not begin to chirp until late summer. Still, there was some connection between the crickets and the violets blooming in the hollows of the maple tree.

Chieko herself had placed the bell crickets in the jar, but why had the violets come to live in such a cramped spot? The violets bloomed, and this year too the crickets would hatch and begin their chirping.
………………………………
Translated by J. Martin Holman

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