Juuni Kokuki — 十二国記
(The Twelve Kingdoms)
(The Birds of Hisho)
Translated by o6asan
First edition released on 2009.Jul.15
Second edition released on 2013.Apr.28
Third edition released on 2013.Sep.7 : Current
It is very necessary to make Tōshaku. Now, he has no time to think about something unnecessary.
He gave up complaining and seated himself at his table. Hisho had his office in one of the buildings of Rajin-fu(羅人府). There were two tables and two couches in the room which was not very wide. It was a place where he had settled down with Soken(祖賢) before. One of the tables and one of the couches already became a storage The table that Hisho had been using was indeed settled, but, dust lay thick everywhere because he had not come here for a long time. He cleaned up the dust on the table for the meantime, expanded paper reluctantly, ground an ink-cake, and took a writing brush. ―And, his movement stopped. There was nothing inside of Hisho.
There was only blank even if he tried to imagine something.
Hisho always said that his creative power was exhausted. But, actually he thought he only lost his drive. The passion of wanting to try this or to do that, had certainly run out. He never imagined nothing came to mind.
It’s because he chucked up his job too long. —He wondered, though he tried to recall how he worked out thoughts before, it didn’t come out even vaguely.
When he had thought what was next, he had felt short on ideas. But even at that moment, in his brain he had had a lot of idea fragments. Just if something was chosen from among them, he couldn’t get very enthusiastic about it. Or, somehow, if choosing something attractive, he couldn’t continue with it. —This was to find it difficult. That is not to find noting in his brain. —This was the first time he experienced that he had a complete blank like cottons in his own brain.
He was absolutely shocked by it. And he felt pressed. A moderate number of Tōshaku will be needed if becoming Taisha(大射). Only to get the number required, workmen working round-the-clock will take half a month. They need complete Tōshaku to be finished trying and erring, test-shooting, adjustments, before they secure the number required. If he really wants them from complete beginning, he needs to start immediately. He needs something but has nothing.
― ‘Got it,’ he understood. ‘I, already dead.’
When? He didn’t know. At Shōran(蕭蘭) disappearing? —at Ruler Yo(予) giving him a word? Or long time ago? Since Soken(祖賢) had been gone, thinking people were as Tōshaku, Hisho was obsessed with making Tōshaku continuously, but the obsession, from the start, might be completely different from the passion to make Tōshaku.
Certainly, Hisho had not felt pleasure by making Tōshaku during that period.
― You should have made it more beautiful.
Shōran(蕭蘭) smiled wryly and said so whenever he gave her instructions. Each time, Hisho repeated. He thinks it is wrong to be pleased by seeing Tōshaku broken.
“It is cruel that Tōshaku are shot and fall down.”
To face reality, Hisho showed her the valley seen from the window. The gorge placed between huge peaks, though pear trees growing luxuriantly blot it out, there lies the lower world which is neglected by the Ruler and trampled down by power in the bottom.
“The crude administration of an incapable ruler ruins the country. People are made a fool by the politics that aren’t well thought, and everyone is starving and has become poor. The Ruler can save them with one finger or push them down into further poverty. The Ruler can take their lives. The Ruler has to know about it.”
Shōran(蕭蘭) sighed in amazement and disbelieve.
“I wonder if the Ruler could understand. If someone can understand it by seeing Tōshaku broken, I think someone has already done it before.”
“I guess you are probably right.”
There’s some truth in what Shōran(蕭蘭) says. But if so, what can he do?
“Is it the only thing we can do? Make Tōshaku for the Ruler we cannot respect? Even if we can please the Ruler and her aides on each scene, what will it do for the people?”
“But, that’s our job.”
Shōran(蕭蘭) said so naturally and her appearance as she kept calmly working irritated him. He was angrier because she looked happy and seemed to be satisfied.
“Yes, both of us are officials but insignificant ones. We don’t take part in important affairs of state, our intentions cannot be reflected in national administration because of our position. But, we are still officials. People’s livings fall on our shoulders. I at least want to do something for people through my duty. —That’s our only obligation.”
Shōran(蕭蘭) chuckled without raising her face.
“For people — huh.”
“Then, what do you think Ra-shi(羅氏) and Rajin(羅人) should be?”
Shōran(蕭蘭) said and laughed amazedly.
“You don’t think all human beings are the same, do you? We all do our assignment. So, if the difficult Ra-shi(羅氏) gives a difficult instruction to me, I would follow it carefully. Right?”
“Nothing changes when you look away from reality.”
“Though my eye catches them even if I look away. — I think the Ruler isn’t different from me. If we show her things that she doesn’t want to see, she would only deny them.”
“―Like when you shut your eyes from the lower world by hiding it under the pear trees?”
As he had a sting in his talk, Shōran(蕭蘭) shrugged her shoulders.
“What else can I do by looking at the ruined lower world? It’s better to see beautiful things than that, isn’t it? It is foolish to contemplate an unpleasant thing purposely and to have unpleasant time.”
“So? You shut yourself up in your workshop and look at your desk with your head down all day. Only in such a shut place, you might feel happy.”
“Of course,” Shōran(蕭蘭) laughed loudly.
“It doesn’t exist there only, but it does exist only there. I love workmanship. Go well or go wrong —I love both of them.”
After her words, she took her file in her hand. She began to polish a piece of silver handiwork.
“I’m very happy to confine my attention to the workmanship and not to think about anything else…”
Shōran(蕭蘭) giggled after talking to herself.
“To your surprise, people might be also the same as me? A woman you are pitying might be spending every day trying not to think about the Ruler but to be pleased that today’s dish is good or there’s good weather and the laundry dries well.”
After saying so, she suddenly sat up straight and put on a serious look because of Hisho’s unpleasant reaction.
“Yes. I’ll obey Ra-shi(羅氏)’s instructions. With pleasure.”
Hisho thinks Shōran(蕭蘭) didn’t have the will to face reality. She was not very interested in the people and the country. She tried to look for a little pleasure in her own backyard than misery there. Though she cried herself hoarse when Soken(祖賢) was executed, she might only feel sad because someone close to her died. Indeed, compared to Hisho carrying it for a long time, she recovered in a shorter time. She said it was sorry but it ended.
As Shōran(蕭蘭) had such an attitude, most craftsmen in Rajin-fu(羅人府) had the same behavior. Without taking interest about that, they carried on with serious mood because they were ordered by Hisho who is Ra-shi(羅氏). Nobody understood Hisho and he was isolated. Sekichō-shi who are Soken(祖賢)’s successors left it to Hisho and thought it’s enough, without a lot of interest in what Hisho made up. They had their interest in Hisho’s results only. People on the clouds being pleased with it or not. And, Hisho satisfied most successive Sekichō-shis.
Most of them were pleased with Hisho’s Tōshaku. Sometimes they said “There is no cheerfulness”, but they more often praised it as solemn and beautiful. It’s not always their real opinion. They might have had an illusion that they needed to praise it because famous Ra-shi(羅氏) in Ra-shi(羅氏) had made it. However, there was nothing better to knock down Hisho than somebody saying radiantly that it was splendid. He charged his products with significance, but nobody felt it. After the ceremony, the archer who was a soldier visited Hisho and said that it moved his heart because it was really painful and sad. This was very ironic for him. A person whose position is low felt it. —A person whose position is high didn’t. Hisho’s intention never reached the person who had to get it.
Hisho was absorbed in making Tōshaku. Two female rulers showed up and they disappeared. Often times, they didn’t have a ruler in the throne and held no Taisha(大射) though, Hisho did not stop devising. But —At last, the day when Hisho’s intension reached a Ruler came.
It was the Ruler Yo(予)’s enthronement ceremony.
The Tōshaku with long graceful wings and tail were pushed away and took flight from the throwing machine rather than being tossed up, and it fluttered sliding into the air. It seemed to see birds that flew down from a sky height. When the archer shot it, it made a weak sound, dispersed a five-colored spray, and was broken into two wings and the tail. It fluttered down like struggling. While fluttered down, its sound remained weakly like a scream. The wings falling down slammed painfully to the ground, and were broken to pieces while making a pathetic clear sound. It became fragments of red crystal at the same time as breaking and scattered. When the shooting-arrow ceremony ended, the royal garden was vermilioned by the fragments of shining crystal.
Shōten-den(承天殿), where the Ruler and the high officials sat in a row, and the garden in front of it were filled with silence. Hisho heard their quiet, heavy silence and realized his intension had reached their mind at last. After the ceremony he was called by the Ruler, he took her words directly even through the bamboo blind.
But her first words were “It is frightening”.
“Why did you show me horribly ominous things? I would not like to see such cruelty.”
Hisho lost all words. Yes, that’s very cruel, so he wanted her to see it. It was certainly cruel if the people were killed. He wanted her to confirm what she had on her hands with the ceremony.
“Her Majesty can hurt very much.”
Saiho(宰輔) also said so. But, he wanted her to feel the pain, of course. And, he wanted her to imagine people’s pain from it. The deeper scars, the more difficult to forget. He wanted the cruelty to remain etched into her memory with deep pain.
Even if people shut their eyes to the cruelty, it cannot vanish. They wouldn’t be able to become conscious of all the cruelty.
It cut the Ruler deep, but didn’t reach to her mind. —Hisho was at a loss. What else should he do? Hisho lost the desire to make Tōshaku rapidly after this. At the Kōshi(郊祀) after ascending the throne, they didn’t hold Taisha(大射) itself. Though Sekichō-shi did not know the reason either, Hisho thinks the Ruler maybe told them she did not want to see it. Still, he didn’t give up making Tōshaku. At the time —yet.
Hisho came frequently to the town since then. He looked at people’s livings closely and sometimes visited even the battlefield and the execution ground. He could obtain any thoughts by witnessing misery, couldn’t he? He might look for something that inspired himself who tended to wilt.
Shōran(蕭蘭) received them with a wry smile, whenever he took something that he picked up to Rajin-fu(羅人府). Tōshaku which had no recipient. —Hisho continued to make them and to throw them out for years, without understanding, what he had to make. And one day, when Hisho returned, he didn’t see Shōran(蕭蘭) there.
That day, clouds hanged heavily. The previous night, at the lower world people had frost, even ears of rice had not ripened. While he heard the anxious voice ―”What’s going on?” ―of the people who looked up at heavens, he finished a brief trip, came back to Gyōten and returned up to Jichō. At that time, what original idea he picked up and where he found it out, he currently can’t recall any more. Some idea occurred to him surely, he was very eager to come back to Tōkan-fu(冬官府) —and he suddenly noticed all the workshops filled with a strange silence.
An invisible huge thing seemed to press hard on everything around here. He felt something, mood of disquiet, and arrived at Rajin-fu(羅人府), and did not see Shōran(蕭蘭). Shōran(蕭蘭)’s room looked the same as always. Her desk where the things were piled up and the tools were thrown out, it seemed as if she left her seat for a little while. Nevertheless, as soon as he entered her room, Hisho felt the empty freezing cold there. There was nothing missing but the room was completely empty. Seikō(青江) ran into the room when he was vacantly looking for something.
“Mr. Hisho —I’ve seen you.”
Seikō(青江)’s face was as white as a sheet.
“Where is Shōran(蕭蘭)?”
“My master is absent. I have not seen her in the morning. I haven’t seen her anywhere though I looked for her here and there. I can’t understand what happened. —But,”
Seikō(青江) trembled discernibly.
“Not only my master. Craftsmen have disappeared from workshops here and there. Women —only.”
Hisho became frozen.
“Yes. They say soldiers took away the master of the comb craftsmen before the dawn. Only the women also have been similarly carried off from the construction section. —Mr. Hisho, what’s this?”
Hisho caught Seikō(青江)’s trembling. His knees began to shake. —He was unable to stay on his feet.
“…So, I told her that she should have run away!”
He didn’t know what Ruler Yo(予) had been thinking about when she ordered it. About three months ago, the Ruler who was staying in the inside of the palace showed up abruptly in the court, ordered all female officials to get out of the palace and to leave Kei. Nobody received this seriously at first, though it alluded to the worst penalty when people didn’t observe orders.
Because, recently, most laws which were given from the throne were such as this. The law was promulgated ostentatiously, but it lacked clearness of purpose and concreteness. Although only an official notice was put out, the government authorities didn’t show zeal for operation, therefore most ended as mere information. Also at this time, it lacked veracity as all female officials were banished not only from the palace but also the country. Nearly half of the government officials in the court were women. Nobody knew how long it took for an enormous number of women to leave the palace, and the biggest point was that national administration didn’t continue if all were banished.
Though they took it so lightly at the beginning, some female officials really began to disappear on the clouds after a while. Most of them collected their own belongings and got away from the palace, but some of them who obviously didn’t seem to run away disappeared.
You’d better run away, Hisho told Shōran(蕭蘭).
“Apparently, Her Majesty is serious though it is very hard to believe for me. This is not a token notice like the usual one.”
No way, Shōran(蕭蘭) laughed while sitting at her desk as usual.
“I’ve never heard such a ridiculous notice.”
“But, higher-class female officials have actually disappeared.”
When Hisho appealed, Shōran(蕭蘭) inclined her head.
“I wonder if she fought against a female official. If she did so, I am not worried. Because the Ruler doesn’t know me. I don’t think the Ruler imagines that there are lower officials in Jichō and that some of them are women. She cannot punish me because she doesn’t know I exist, can she?”
Though she laughed after saying so, he thought that her recognition was too optimistic. The fact was that she simply disappeared one day. He didn’t know even how and where she was, if she was dead or alive as well as other female craftsmen. All was decided on the clouds, and under the clouds nobody was able to explain what had happened. No one that disappeared, however, came back again. Now, Ruler Yo(予) passed away, and the New Ruler ascends the throne, but he has no communication of any kind with the disappeared. Only that it is an undeniable fact.
―Therefore, I told you not to look away from reality.
Hisho thought so ever since. Because Shōran(蕭蘭) did not try to see the cruelty at all. Her impression of the Ruler was optimistic, and her precaution against the power was insufficient. Didn’t she think that the misery would reach her if looking away? Did she forget that Soken(祖賢) wasn’t guilty but was killed anyway?
He was both exasperated and sad. After Shōran(蕭蘭) had disappeared, Hisho’s will to make Tōshaku was completely lost.
Hisho was too helpless. Both Soken(祖賢) and Shōran(蕭蘭) were lost. He even could know neither what happened nor who was to blame. In spite of their innocence, he could neither guard nor protect them. Inside the palace —though he is in the Ruler’s neighborhood.
It was wrong, and he wanted to shout for it to stop. Hisho had, however, no method of sending the shout to the Ruler. In fact, he didn’t have even a way to send it to Saiho(宰輔) or the Palace aides. His cry could not reach the Ruler if he shouted continuously toward the clouds. Hisho was almost nonexistent from the beginning for people on the clouds. There were none who tried to listen, and they did not feel even the necessity. The only method of Hisho’s telling a Ruler something was the shooting-arrow ceremony. That’s why Hisho tried his wish to be reached through the shooting-arrow ceremony, but it wasn’t reached. ―No, even worse. It was not accepted though it was reached.
He hoped Ruler Yo(予)would have understood the cruelty of the power by the shooting-arrow ceremony that she herself said “It is frightening”.
However, Ruler Yo(予) refused to understand. She did not notice her own cruelty because she looked away from the cruel things.
―This country is hopeless.
He got tired of the search for the message that had to be raised and of raising the message. Anyway, the Ruler showed little interest in Hisho. Although he stayed in Ra-shi(羅氏) because eating to live is necessary for a person, he lost a will to make Tōshaku and hated even to think of them. He wanted to think neither the government nor the country. Even if he thought something, he had no way to send it to the clouds, and they had no will to listen him at all.
Everything seemed meaningless to him. He felt troublesome even raising a finger, stayed in his residence and spent all his time there. He did nothing. He thought nothing. Probably the empty days he spent his life doing nothing made a big hole in Hisho.
I am a mere shell. —Hisho thought, gave up and put down his writing brush.
He thought of nothing, then they had no choice except remaking the past ones. Could they make it in time if those were made? He had to consult with Seikō(青江).
He got out from the room while thinking. A lonely night breeze announcing autumn blew through the corridor enclosing the courtyard.
The Tōshaku that was dedicated to Ruler Yo(予) would be safe. The producer was Shōran(蕭蘭), but it was Seikō(青江) who actually bundled craftsmen and created them. Seikō(青江) probably remembered details. He thought, however, he would meet with a refusal again if he remade them. Even if he did not meet with a refusal, Hisho himself did not want to make them again. He did not want to dare to make Tōshaku that only shouted cruelty. Then, it might be correct to make the Ruler Ri(悧)’s Tōshaku, but he didn’t feel like doing so.
He did not want those which had been broken splendidly like that. He did not want to leave any thoughts with Tōshaku anymore, but he also did not feel much like making Tōshaku that were broken and opened up and that made the audience applaud. It is also painful to show Ruler Yo(予)’s Tōshaku which were shot and broken. He wanted them not to break if possible, though no breaking is no meaning.
“…I couldn’t do such a thing though.”
Hisho smiled to himself. There’s no meaning unless Tōshaku are shot down. Though, actually, he could do nothing but destruction, he also did not feel good that they would play music after being broken. Both profound Gagaku(雅楽) and lonely folksongs do not fit them. In the first place he wants no music. He wants a more quiet and simple tone. Just the sound that makes stopping cheer and applause and listening avidly to. The tone deeply sinking in one’s ears and opening them.
He came into the next room while thinking, he said shared thoughts with Seikō(青江) who sat at the desk by the weak light, Seikō(青江) looked back inclining his head still on his chair.
“For instance —Snow sound?”
Hisho smiled wryly while sitting on boxes piled up beside Seikō(青江).
“Snow has no sound, doesn’t it?”
“No”, Seikō(青江) blushed.
“Well, splash or whish?”
That’s not it —splash, Hisho thinks. He thinks it differs from all the water sound that runs over, flows, murmur, and ripples. But it also differs from all the wind sound. Both water and wind are too talky.
“More silent… yes —you’re right, it might be snow’s sound.”
Though it’s saying nothing, people can’t help but listen to ―.
“Snow has no sound, but my feeling fits it if it exists. How did you know?”
Seikō(青江) smiled embarrassedly when Hisho said so.
“Because my master said something similar. …Ah, you’ve said the same thing, I think.”
Hisho asked it back in surprise.
“Yes. She said she preferred snow’s sound such as a sound of silence. She told me she would prefer to do so if possible.”
Hisho was at a loss for words.
―Well, he did not give her a chance for doing what she wanted to do.
In fact, Hisho never once asked what Tōshaku she wanted to make. And she never said what she wanted to make. While Hisho was obstinately making cruel Tōshaku, she said he should have made it more beautiful though, she never told concrete plans and never gave him a look at her desire.
She also wished. Shōran(蕭蘭) hoped for it, too. He thought.
“Did she say anything else? About how to break?”
When Hisho asked it again, Seikō(青江) looked at the ground and turned things over in his mind.
“She told me Ruler Yo(予)’s birds were cruel. She said it’s painful. But if they are broken colorfully, it is too cheerful, which is not interesting. That is what she said.”
Saying so, Seikō(青江) looked up suddenly recalling something.
“Now, I remember she said birds were good. It’s very painful for them to be shot down, so it’s good for them to be birds again from pieces.”
Seikō(青江) nodded his head longingly.
“She said as long as they were birds. She wished they were flying. They keeping to fly, the ceremony would not finish but she wanted people to feel sorry when they were just shot down. When people felt sorry, birds would be born again from the ruins.”
“And, they are flying away…?”
As Hisho murmured unconsciously, Seikō(青江) smiled with satisfaction.
“Yes —She said so. She wished real magpies(鵲) were born from broken Tōshaku. And went flying away.”
“That’s not bad.”
Tōshaku are thrown up. Shot and broken to pieces, real magpies(鵲) are born from them, and they will fly away in front of people sitting in a row, yes, they will leave everything behind, the Ruler, the power of the throne, all the officials’ authorities and motives―.
“She said she didn’t like that the birds which were born with considerable effort fell and remained in the yard. Disappearing is fitter for her feeling.”
“Fitter… she said?”
Hisho nodded. He thought that Shōran(蕭蘭) had same feelings though she had said nothing. No, only Hisho did not show a will to hear it. Only his desires were stubbornly chased, and he reached at last the same place when his hope was lost ―.
Hisho looked back on the west side window. At the moment he could only see the darkness there but in daytime he could have seen the scenery of the valley. The rock surface would be covered with thin clouds, and pear trees would interrupt the view where the town should be seen.
“Shōran(蕭蘭) had often seen that scenery, hadn’t she?”
Seikō(青江) traced the direction of Hisho’s eyes, and he threw up his eyes with a confused look.
“…Of the valley? Well, yes.”
“What did she see really?”
At this late date he wonders. Why was she looking at the valley and what did she think?
“She said she did not want to see the lower place. I thought that it was true because she said so. But my thinking about it more deeply, if she did not want to look there, I don’t think she should have seen the valley in the first place. Sitting on the stone on the end of the courtyard, she had often seen the valley, but I think that direction we can see only the lower place.”
Hearing something he didn’t expect, Seikō(青江) also put his head on one side.
“It seems to be true, come to think of it.”
Hisho recalled the bird he had seen before. At that time he felt the bird was seeing the devastation only. Just like that bird, wasn’t she seeing the devastation while saying ‘I don’t want to see’?
“Am I thinking too much?”
When Hisho smiles wryly, Seikō(青江) asks it back.
“Nothing… She said she did not want to see the lower world although she was able to see nothing but the lower world. And, she planted pears patiently. How patient she was, she hid the misery of the lower place by her behavior at last, though.”
“She hid it… didn’t she?”
“Am I wrong?”
‘I don’t know.’ Seikō(青江) put his head on one side.
“Certainly my master often said she didn’t want to see the lower world. Nevertheless she always saw there. —Yes, I think she must have seen the lower place. Because at the end of her gaze was Gyōten.”
“Precisely, pear trees. Especially, she worn a smile and gazed when the flowers bloomed.”
“But, she still saw the same place in the middle of winter. Winter coming, pears’ leaves fall. At that time, we can see nothing but the scenery of the lower world.”
“It’s true what you say….”
Seikō(青江) stood up and approached the window. The autumn-like breeze with the sign of loneliness was blowing in.
“I suppose she did not want to see the lower world because she was well aware of the misery of it. So, she said that. Actually, she said she did not want to hear painful news, but she always knew about it before I told her.”
“Yes. —I think she couldn’t help straining her ears for the sound that she did not want to hear. In a similar way, she wanted not to see it because she knew how it was, but she couldn’t help seeing. She planted pear trees, but she did not plan to hide the lower world, I guess…”
Trying to find a word, Seikō(青江) looked through the lower world in the dark.
“When the flower bloomed, she was highly pleased. She said what beautiful scenery it was, which does not mean that the flowers erased the lower world, I think. My master might surely have superimposed the flowers on the lower world. I think she saw the beautiful Gyōten that might be realized someday when she enjoyed the flowers.”
Maybe so, Hisho thought.
“I thought Shōran(蕭蘭) was always turning her back on reality…”
Seikō(青江) smiled turning around.
“Certainly right. Actually, she did not face the reality squarely. Turning her back on it, she had been looking at her own hands only. But I don’t think she refused the reality.”
Hisho nodded… He understood in some way. The method of blockage like Hisho might have said to deny the reality. Like staying in one’s residence and waste all one’s time. Although Shōran(蕭蘭) stayed inside and turned her back on the world the same as Hisho did, she never stopped making Tōshaku and finding out her pleasure at her moving hands. At this late date, he thought that might have been Shōran(蕭蘭)’s method for facing the world.
She kept seeing the lower world. Saying not to want to see the devastation, she was eager for the day when the lower world would be filled with flowers ―.
“We will make the Tōshaku Shōran(蕭蘭) might have wanted.”
When Hisho said so, Seikō(青江) nodded painfully —However, surely gladly.
“As much as possible, you will recall what Shōran(蕭蘭) would want to make.”