Week 2: 小川未明童話集 - Ogawa Mimei’s Collection of Children’s Stories

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小川未明童話集 - Ogawa Mimei’s Collection of Children’s Stories Home Thread

Week 2


Start Date: Sep 4th
Previous Part: Week 1
Next Part: Week 3


Week Start Date Chapter Pages 1951ed. Pages 2013ed. Page Count
Week 2 Sep 4th 1. 電信柱と妙な男2 8 5

Vocabulary List

Discussion Rules

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Hello and welcome to week 2!

Here are some interesting points that might help you along while reading the story:


Detailed discussion

For the large-scale structure of this sentence, please keep in mind that ~て has pretty much the meaning of “and” or “and then”. That means the sentence can be divided into these parts:

Let’s look at them individually:
夜になって - the verb is になる (to become), so “it becomes / became night”

人が寝静まって - the verb is 寝静まる (to be sound asleep). The interesting part is 人 + が. The particle が indicates that this small sentence part is qualifying the verb in this subsentence. The 人 here has nothing to do with our main character, it refers to people in general. So: “people were fast asleep”

から - here as ~てから which means “starting from”.

So altogether (with a bit of liberty) the meaning is “When night fell and people were fast asleep, …”

We come across a bunch of 言うに followed by direct speech. This is a somewhat older and formal grammar which basically means “according to” - you can replace the に with と in this case if it helps you. Here is a short explanation (make sure to also follow the first link in the response for further details).

ああなんともいえぬいい - ぬ is the same as ない, so what we get here is ああ + 何とも言えない - Jisho.org + いい - “ooh, undescribably good”

するとこのとき - I had a short double-take on this one, so I thought it might be worth mentioning it here: Its parts are すると + このとき - “at the time when he was doing that”

いいざま - いいざま - Jisho.org - “at the same time as speaking”

That’s it for this week! If you have further questions regarding the above, please feel free to ask again!
(And of course also for any other questions you might have :+1: )


Thank you for the いうに explanation, I couldn’t quite make sense of it.

I’d also like to note that it may be worth reading with furigana, or at least checking them after reading. For example, I couldn’t find 針線 in Jisho or Yomichan at all, but searching for its furigana produced 針金, which means wires and seems to fit perfectly. Another example, 定める is given as さだめる in Jisho, but the furigana reads きめる in the story. Both seem to basically mean the same, so I suppose it’s just irregular kanji usage.

身動みうごきもせんで -Yomichan tells me that せんで is basically しないで。Again I couldn’t find it in Jisho, so I thought it worth mentioning.


Thank you @NicoleRauch for those explanations! Those were definitely some points that I was having trouble with!

In the thread of last week I said that this story seemed easier, but that was only after reading the first page; it got a lot hairier in the second half!

I have lots of questions but I’ll start with some questions about the vocab sheet because these might be relevant for those who are still reading.

Yes, I also had trouble finding that one and I only found it in one Japanese dictionary which listed it with reading しんせん and with はりがね as one of the meanings (the other meanings are ‘needle and thread’ and ‘embroidery’ if I interpret the Japanese correctly and I think it’s safe to say that those don’t apply :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:).

For 雲突く it might be fun to mention that my Japanese dictionary specifically lists 雲突くばかり as an idiom meaning 〔頭が雲に届くばかりに〕背が たいそう高いようす, which I freely translate as being so extremely high that one’s head practically touches the clouds (btw, iOS really makes it hard to type 雲突く).

For ふち, the list gives edge; brink as meaning but there is also 淵 meaning deep pool; deep water (interestingly pretty much the opposite meaning :thinking:). I thought both could fit because the water would have to be pretty deep to compensate the pole’s height.

I saw that the vocab list contains わら屋根 straw roof and somebody already added a comment in the sheet that it should be かわら屋根 tiled roof. I agree (I think the particle before it is と and not とか). With these kinds of words I always wonder whether it is a coincidence that they are only one syllable apart (I assume that these are kun readings that preceded the Kanji).

For 真っ青 the sheet lists the ghastly pale meaning but I thought that the other meaning (bright blue) might also apply because we are talking about electricity here, right? But that whole part was giving me a lot of trouble, so those sentences probably deserve a whole discussion on their own.

And finally, I was really surprised to see Aozora use furigana せい for 丈. I couldn’t find that reading anywhere. Does anybody have an explanation for that?


Is it perhaps possible that it is an older reading that has since been superceded? In any case, 丈 gave me some trouble at the start until I found out it could also represent a unit of measurement (about 3.03 meters) unto itself

Overall I enjoyed the story, but there was definitely some stuff I couldn’t quite figure out but mostly seems to be covered here already - the かわら屋根 bit being one of them, so I’m glad to see that was covered


Thank you for that explanation, @omk3! I couldn’t figure that one out at all.


That was my mistake, thank you for correcting it. I thought とか was a little strange there, but as I found a fitting meaning for わら屋根, it never occurred to me that かわら屋根 could also be a valid word. Those pesky missing kanji at work again…

Excellent point. I think you may be right.

Ah yes, this was the one I forgot to mention when I was talking about furigana before. I think it is used in the sense of 背 (height) in this case (the phrase is せいたかすぎる) and it’s just another instance of unusual kanji usage.


Yes, of course! That makes so much sense! I hadn’t realised that せい is one of the possible kun readings for 背.


So… the moral of this story is “don’t antagonise telegraph poles”?


Or, if you don’t like people, you probably won’t like telegraph poles either?

Seriously, I kind of like this “huh?” feeling I get at the end of each story. Morals are way overused anyway. :grin:


The weirdness might grow on us yet :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:. I mean, who doesn’t like Japanese weirdness?


I’ve been scratching my head at the missing moral and seeming pointlessness of these children’s stories both weeks. I suppose they’re intended to be purely entertainment…? :thinking:


I don’t know, I mean last week had the whole thing about war and it coming between a friendship

This one I haven’t quite worked out exactly what it’s trying to say yet though


Regarding the morale: I found the weird man to be quite demanding of the telegraph pole. “I cannot talk to you like this.” - “I cannot walk there.” - “Lift me up to the roof.” and so on. But the man did not consider the telegraph pole’s need to return to his place of origin before the city awakes. So the man was discarded. Which might lead to the morale “don’t be selfish, be considerate of others as well”? Or am I reading too much into it?

Regarding the weirdness and whether these are typical children’s stories (picking this up from last week where I did not have the time to respond), there was a feature about the author in the Japan Times:

Often referred to as the Japanese Hans Christian Andersen, Mimei Ogawa (1882-1961) is the father of modern children’s literature in Japan and has published more than 1,200 fairy tales alongside a collection of essays and poetry. Grounding his frequent forays into fantasy, Ogawa was a socialist, anarchist and humanist, and his stories tackle political and realistic issues during the Meiji, Taisho and Showa eras (collectively 1868-1989), showing philosophical depth in their poetic, simplistic language.

Also a pioneer in the Japanese dōshin-shugi (child’s-heart) movement, which believed that the hearts of children were both pure and innocent, Ogawa resisted the popular tendency in the Taisho Era (1912-26) to create simplistic, moralizing propaganda for children, and instead crafted thoughtful works that elevated the literary value of children’s literature in Japanese society, aligning himself with the bunmei kaika (civilization and enlightenment) movement within education.

Although later criticized for the dark negativity of his children’s stories, Ogawa frequently used his works to call attention to society’s underlying cruelties, and many of his stories retain a deeply humanistic tone.

[…] the thoughtful lens through which he viewed humanity retains a modern freshness, despite being written nearly 100 years ago.

I think it is quite a giveaway that he was associated with Hans Christian Andersen… and although Wikipedia claims that this is “because he was one of the first authors to publish children’s stories under his own name”, I have a hunch that there is more to it than just this…


I’ve been doing some reading on him too after we started discussing the intended moral of the stories, and I’m pretty sure he intended them to have one. I have even come across a thesis or two analyzing his work and his influences - reading for later maybe.

Now I believe @VikingSchism has very nicely described last week’s moral. Two people who have apparently nothing in common, different generations, different countries, can come together and live in harmony and even friendship. Even war couldn’t break the relationship they formed, but it could destroy their lives. War has nothing to do with differences between people, it’s only politics. Or something. Morals sound lame when you spell them out, a bit like jokes.

This week, I’m sure it’s more or less what @NicoleRauch said. The telegraph pole stayed away from other people out of need - he was too huge to walk among them. The strange man just didn’t like them. He didn’t know how to live in harmony with others - he showed no respect to his new friend, only made demands and then even ended up mocking him. This ended up costing to the telegraph pole (who, if I understood correctly, stopped taking walks?), but it cost the strange man more. He was stuck on the roof, ridiculed by his neighbours, falsely arrested, and then ended up never leaving his home at all. All because he couldn’t make an effort to respect other people and live with them in harmony.

Looking for more info on these stories, I came across some quirky illustrations for this one. I found them funny and thought I’d share.





I think your descriptions of the moral of the story hit the nail on the head @NicoleRauch and @omk3! And thank you also for sharing all this background information! You are taking this book club to a new level. Discussions like these really help motivate me to push on with these stories!


Very interesting thoughts about the morals of the stories. I’m curious what the other stories will bring over the coming weeks!

Regarding the current one, there are some things I don’t quite understand. I would very much appreciate some help.


Did the little man really say that it’s ok for the telephone pole since he is insensitive/thick-skinned but it still bothers the little man? That would be quite rude if I understand it correctly.


I was a bit confused by the use of いられない here. Does the telephone pole mean he can’t do it like this in terms of he can’t stick around and wait for the little man to make up his mind because it’s dawn and the telephone pole needs to return to his usual place?


What is せんで? It seems like it’s a contracted form but of what?


I was wondering if the use of the word 小言 is perhaps a specific signifier of this? Perhaps I’m completely incorrect, but I’m under the impression that 小言 is quite a negative word that implies nagging and complaining (but maybe I’m conflating it with the English word petty). I really felt that it was a marker that said “up til now their friendship was going smoothly but then the complaining started” :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:.


Yes, I think that is correct. Basically, he has a valid objection but he expresses it in a rude way, I think (which fits with the moral of the story).

I’m sure someone here can give the grammar point to back this up, but I think you are correct here as well. The telegraph pole is basically saying ‘I really can’t go on like this’, I think.

This was already answered by @omk3:


Indeed! Thank you for sharing! And a confirmation that yes, we are literally dealing with an actual telegraph pole. But the box on the strange man’s head is not actually in the story, right? Or did I completely miss that somehow? :grinning: