Week 12: 小川未明童話集 - Ogawa Mimei’s Collection of Children’s Stories

There was no one there who didn’t think’ - is a turn of phrase that’s not unnatural in English either I think. It’s a bit more emphatic than just saying ‘everyone thought’, maybe.

Yes. ‘Helplessness’, ‘uncertainty’, ‘forlornness’ (is that an okay noun, haha) could all fit. At their essence they have enough similarities that you can paint a picture with here, I think.

I’d want to re read that paragraph before attempting to answer your other questions, but I can’t right now. So I’ll leave that for someone else. :upside_down_face:


It seems so natural now you translated it, but the thing with もの is that I never know which one it is - does it mean person? thing? is it the particle indicating reason? part of a number of grammar points with all kinds of different nuances? I’m sure easier understanding will come with frequent exposure to it, but for now it often perplexes me.

An amusing example of もの’s vagueness: I fed a similar phrase, 知らぬ者はない, into Deepl to see what it would come up with. Deepl had this to say:

So helpful, Deepl, thanks. :roll_eyes:

Your interpretation seems fine to me.

As many people had asked her that before, she thought ‘again?’, but given that this was a well-known wealthy man she couldn’t just curtly refuse him, so she was more than a little perplexed.

だけに means “given that” among other things.

Basically she wanted to refuse him, but because he’s rich and famous and important she feels pressured to accept and isn’t sure what to do, is how I understand it.

This is one of those lyrical description sentences that I tend to skim over. I think the subject is the harbour itself, filling the sky with a faint, lonesome (or something, not sure how exactly to translate this) light, but the blind boy couldn’t see this.

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It constantly perplexes me as well :smiley: . But I noticed in one other book that it’s used more often as a grammar point even if it’s just a very subtle emphasis. At least in that book it was used like that.

But the early 20th century Japanese is anyhow way different from later texts so there is also that.

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Haha you’re right, that didn’t even cross my mind. I see now where the confusion stemmed from. I guess the secret is exposure…? The more you see it used, the more used you get to it, and the easier you’ll be able to tell from context what it means.


Thanks for all the replies, everyone!

Here’s another もの sentence when the swan hears the boy’s flute: なんでも胸になやみのあるものが、はじめてこんな笛の音色を出し得ることを白鳥は知りました。

I’m just not sure what to make of this.

Is the もの here again a person (i.e. the boy)? Or is it the swan itself? Somehow I can see both fit. But the point is that this is the first time that the swan encounters such flute-playing, right?

The paragraph after that starts with a long sentence 白鳥は、その目に見えない細い糸の、切れては、また、つづくような、悲しい音色がどこから (etc).

I don’t know…

what to make of that. An invisible fine thread, is that the sound of the flute? Then there is something with 翼わゆるやかに刻んで which I really don’t get. And then something with 広場から起こることを知りました - again, I don’t know…

I don’t really feel like asking more questions because typing this all out takes a lot of time but maybe you can help out with these…


This もの should be the boy. I understand the sentence like this: It is said (なんでも?) that only if (はじめて) one has sorrow in one’s chest can one produce such a tone on the flute, the swan knew.

Next sentence

I believe so. By the way, I was recently watching a few episodes of Demon Slayer, and the protagonist apparently could see a fine thread connecting his sword with a demon’s vulnerable spots. Maybe that fine thread is a frequently used metaphor in Japanese? Or I just happened upon two random mentions of it in a short time, coincidences do happen.

翼をゆるやかに刻んで 、しばらくはをまわっていました
The verb choice feels very strange here, but I understand it as gently curving/folding her wings, she turned circles in the night sky for a while

Not entirely sure, but I think the swan found/knew (after flying around following the invisible thread) the clearing where the music was coming from.


That touches on two interesting points:

I took the なんでも to be more along the lines of ‘everything’ (so we get someone for whom everything is worrying/sorrowful). I guess there are even other possibilities because なんでも seems to have a lot of possible translations.

I guess you could be right about the はじめて. I’ve been noticing more often that I have trouble with finding the right translation for it since it can mean both ‘for the first time’ and ‘only when’, right?


I only included なんでも in my translation for the sake of completion to be honest. When I read I tend to ignore such words that tend to mean anything and everything. One day I hope I can feel what it means, but for now, most sentences work well enough without it.
As for this meaning of はじめて, it was new to me. But “for the first time” didn’t fit at all, so I had to investigate. :slight_smile:


I hadn’t encountered this meaning either but I think you can even get there when translating it literally:

A sorrowful person can for the first time produce such a sound“ - meaning that they could not produce the sound without first having the sorrows - which is „only when“. Very nice translation work!


Very good point. I often notice that words or phrases which seem to have many unrelated or even contradictory meanings, do in fact have some logic behind this, it’s seldom as arbitrary as it first appears.


It’s in かがみの孤城 too: at the start when it’s describing how the protagonist of that book (Kokoro) is experiencing the mornings at home from school, there’s a sentence with はじめて in it that I didn’t really know how to translate at first, but then I saw that the English edition translated it as “It was only after Kokoro stopped going to school that she discovered this was what mornings were like in her neighbourhood.” Here too you can probably translate it using “for the first time”, but “only when” is more natural. This is also sentence that has 知った as the main verb so it might be a set way of saying that someone “discovers” something. So maybe in this case it is better to say that the swan discovered that the flute can be played in such a way?

Indeed, it’s basically just a different way of using a word, but it’s just different enough to be harder to translate because the literal translation doesn’t quite work without some shuffling of the word order.

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First half up until the boy turned into a swan and flew away it was my favorite story so far, it just scratched a specific story itch and then it fell flat on its face. But thanks to @omk3 it at least makes sense now. Too much symbolism and flowery language to figure out for me. :laughing:


A bit late but finally got the time to read it today. I actually liked it! But oh how wrong I was about the 大尽-visit :cry: I didn’t realise it until reading your comments here… First I thought the visit was about mr 大尽 perhaps being enchanted by the girl and wanting marriage discussion etc. (don’t know why) and that the morale would touch upon the one from the other week; duty of helping others (i.e. looking after her brother) vs. chance of personal happiness. But going there for a dance-performance to earn well-needed income, and the “dance” being what it was, I think that she only did the best she could. I didn’t mind the abrupt ending (kind of felt like the last sentence described her feelings pretty well) but I really disliked how her brother only waited, ehhh, one night?? Even if she did break her promise it’s a bit of a harsh penalty to leave her forever… Not even thinking “is she OK?” “has anything happened to her?”, etc… That sort of ruins the story for me unless I imagine that the girl stayed with the 大尽 for a much longer time (perhaps she did, perhaps I misread); which I’ve decided to do, and then I like it :slight_smile:


This bothered my too at first. However, we need to remember that this is a barely ten year old boy, blind, left alone in an unfamiliar place, with no one to turn to. Panic started to set in even before the sister left him - he even told her he thought she was going forever, and even though she denied it, the fact that several hours passed after she was supposed to be back must have done nothing to set his mind at ease. He was completely reliant on her you see, helpless without her. I tend to blame the swan. If I were the swan, I’d offer to wait with the boy another day or so, then I would leave with him. The swan more or less abducted him as it is, it never felt like she gave him a choice in the matter, even if her intentions were nothing but good.


Yes, I completely agree! I actually forgot that he was only 10 years old :grimacing: Definitely makes the swan a much worse character… (although before saying that I should note that I don’t remember how much of the situation the swan knew about; did he perhaps only think the boy was permanently left alone? Anyway, the swan could definitely have waited or tried to help find the sister first…)

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Good point! The boy is actually rather vague in his answer: 姉が自分をここに置いて、どこへかいってしまったことをありのままに告げました。I’m not sure whether the しまった necessarily gives the nuance of permanence or not, but if that’s all that has been said, the swan may have been justified in thinking that the boy had been definitely abandoned. I believe it’s a female swan by the way, on account of her being sad about losing her children. The swan had a a big emotional gap to fill too, so everyone is faulty but good-intentioned in this story (well, probably not the 大尽).