by Shunrō Oshikawa, translated by Natalie Mueller
This piece was originally written in Japanese in 1907 by Shunrō Oshikawa. Here, it has been translated by a human translator and two machine translators. We also analyze the process of creating this translation, the differences between human and AI translation, and why AI translators make mistakes in this interactive article here: Human vs. Machine Translation. This interactive translation was translated, illustrated, coded, and designed by Natalie Mueller, who won 2nd Place in the “People and Environment Track” at the 2021 VIP Innovation Competition for her design.
Meet the Author and Translators!
A Japanese author considered a “pioneer of sci-fi” due to his highly speculative and imaginative writing. His best known piece, Kaitei Gunkan, (lit. Undersea Warship) was later adapted into a film named Atragon.
A Taiwanese-American undergraduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology majoring in Computer Science and minoring in Japanese. This is her first foray into literary translation.
An American translation application which boasts instant translation for over 100 languages. It uses Neural Machine Translation and is best known for its highly accurate translations of individual words and short phrases.
A German translation application created by Linguee that markets itself as sounding more humanlike than the competition. It also uses Neural Machine Translation and is known for its ability to translate large bodies of comprehensible text.
As you read, there will be highlighted text with a cycle symbol . Click on text or symbol multiple times to cycle through my translation, then Google Translate, DeepL, the original Japanese, and back to mine!
There will also be sliders like the one below. Drag the arrow back and forth to compare the four versions! The top one will display my translation (left) and the Japanese original text (right). The bottom one will display the Google Translate version (left) and the DeepL version (right).
Enjoy the story!
The Search Party for the Doctor Departs
Upon merely glancing at the October 10th, 1907 issue of the Tokyo newspaper, readers found their eyes instantly drawn to the large print title and then the unprecedented article that followed:
RACE TO THE LUNAR WORLD – A COMPETITION FOR LOVE
Readers might remember that approximately half a year ago today on the first of May, Tokyo University professor Dr. Sasayama and one of his assistants departed from our Earth in an airship he invented, embarking on an expedition to the moon. Since then, not even a fragment of news from the doctor or any implication that the airship did not arrive at its destination has been discovered. The confusion has generated varying opinions, which would surely persist even if there had been evidence implying he had been forced to the ultimate sacrifice for his research.
While his acquaintances have been in a state of constant anxiety, the most miserable is his beloved daughter Tsukiko, who lost her mother at a young age. Raised only by her widowed father and with no other living relatives, Tsukiko had no one to confide in during this misfortune; the days and nights dragged on as thoughts of her father found her weeping through each evening. Despite her flower-like ethereality, those midnight storms were not capable of completely dissipating her hope. Unable to endure silently watching over her, two young gentlemen interested in courting her resolved to risk their lives to investigate the doctor’s condition, with the promise of obtaining Tsukiko herself as reward for whoever accomplished this mission.
One is a Baron Akiyama and the other is the doctor’s distant relative, a young gentleman named Fumihiko Kumoi, both doctors themselves. Prior to their departure, they opened their hearts to the doctor’s daughter, who was moved by their kindness and eventually answered their request. After considering the conditions of the reward, Tsukiko, who thought only of her parents, finally accepted the terms. The two men, who would beyond a doubt be facing their deaths, at last set the date for today at noon at Hibiya Park, where they would henceforth take advantage of their individual airships and depart on their journey. And so they set forth…………..
When they read this melodramatic article, everyone in Tokyo was overcome with extraordinary curiosity and sympathy. Seeing the two brave heroes brought crowds pushing together like an avalanche from all directions, and by nine o’clock that morning, the huge park was overcrowded with people.
In the eleventh hour, both Baron Akiyama and Fumihiko Kumoi and their attendants slowly entered as they urged forward their accompanying carriages. They briefly inspected each corner of their airships, bowed to all, entered their ships, then quietly lay in wait for the sound of the signal gun.
Before long, the hour and minute hands on the clock became one, indicating that it was twelve o’clock, and from atop the concert hall, the bursting sound of a gun roared. Like an eagle, the airships spread both wings and gradually began to ascend.
“Congratulations to Baron Akiyama on his success!”
“Young Fumihiko Kumoi, banzai!!!”
At first, the airships steadily ascended while quietly flapping their wings, and gradually, their speed accelerated. Baron Akiyama headed to the east while Fumihiko Kumoi headed to the west.
Moment by moment, the people on the ground gradually became smaller and at last, after the summit of the tallest mountain was imperceptible, everything was obscured. No matter how the masters and attendants looked around, they could only see clouds surrounding them. As both airships progressed, neither shape nor form of any kind was visible.
Diving under the expanse of clouds and relying on a compass placed on the bow of the ships, they continued to climb.
Arrival at the Lunar World
It had been one week since Fumihiko Kumoi’s airship departed from Earth, but not even a trace of a shape resembling the moon could be seen. Every day, the view was the same as ever. It was nothing but pure white clouds. His attendant Tōsuke began to worry.
“That’s impossible. Surely, as long as we head in this direction, we can’t go wrong by any means.”
“Nevertheless, however Lord Akiyama fares, I have complete faith in your success, Young Master. Besides, according to rumor, Lord Akiyama seems to be an awfully ill-mannered gentleman. Your father has been constantly anxious, hoping that nothing unexpected befalls you.”
“There’s no need to worry about that. The other party holds a noble rank, so…..”
Mid-sentence, Fumihiko suddenly recognized something among the clouds.
He quickly took out his binoculars and looked through them.
“The moon! ….. It’s the moon!”
“Excuse me? The moon, sir?”
“Precisely. We shall be arriving in a few hours.”
“Indeed. My sincerest hope is that Master Sasayama is still safe.”
Shortly thereafter, the airship’s speed gradually increased. They began to descend as they approached the moon. Then:
Before long, the ship gradually grew nearer, and the two stepped down onto the lunar world without incident.
“Young Master, could this perchance be the lunar world?”
“Indeed, it is.”
“At last, if the Master Sasayama is also here and he has not yet been found by that Lord Akiyama, then we’d best hurry…..”
“Of course, as you’ve said, we should hurry, but most importantly, we must first find a place to ready ourselves.”
“I see. That is also logical, sir.”
The two then boarded their airship once more, this time skimming the ground as they advanced. They looked down here and there and saw the foot of a mountain, a lush forest, and in that same space, a straight river flowing.
“Over there is best.”
The Lunar Palace Disaster
Fumihiko Kumoi and his attendant Tōsuke, with their rifles on their shoulders, set out in search of Dr. Sasayama.
They searched everywhere, passing through fields and mountains, but there was no clue to be found. Five days, then one week passed, and they still had absolutely no idea of which direction to go.
Dejected, the two of them sat in the shade of a tree.
“I wonder what happened,” Fumihiko pondered. “Did he go the wrong way halfway through and end up on another star?”
Tōsuke agreed. “It seems that way. Given the situation, it’s very probable that that occurred. However, we have already gone to the trouble of coming, so shall we patiently endure a little further…?”
“Of course. Our resolution is to search even if we die,” he answered decisively. “I’m shivering a little; do we not have anything to start a fire?”
“I shall gather some materials.”
Tōsuke departed and before long returned with an armful of fuel. He chatted aimlessly while using it to slowly kindle some warmth as Fumihiko, still not quite familiar with this lunar world, casually gazed at a tree.
Suddenly, Fumihiko noticed something that resembled a carving. Upon taking a closer look, he saw that it was an ornament from an airship’s room, a quasi-appurtenance from Dr. Sasayama’s airship, Lunar Castle.
“Ah! A clue.”
“Then we know beyond a doubt that the Master Sasayama arrived here. Well, let us find his whereabouts as soon as possible…..”
“All things considered, because we do not know the way, if we first search the vicinity beneath this tree, there could be a clue that makes the situation clearer.”
Tōsuke stood and headed to where the kindling had been gathered, but there was nothing else out of the ordinary. Passing through that wide forest, he emerged into a wide and vacant field.
“Oh, the airship!!!”
The two cried out without a thought to the excessiveness of their astonishment. They saw the airship named Lunar Castle, which once belonged to Dr. Sasayama. He had mercilessly gathered the best of Japanese technology for this airship, which had now been shattered into particles and scattered about.
Tōsuke summoned his voice, crying, “Young Master, Master Sasayama must be beyond saving in this state! If we tell his daughter about this circumstance, she will surely be so frightened as to faint and perish. Young Master, whatever shall we do?”
“There is no need to despair. The airship has indeed been destroyed as we can see, but because we can’t see his body here, there is no doubt that he has moved to some other safe place. Furthermore, his assistant Sugita is not here. Surely they escaped to somewhere nearby,” Fumihiko said reassuringly. “Even if we have only this one reliable clue, it can’t be long until we can find Dr. Sasayama.” With that, he walked forward, and Tōsuke, eyes wet with tears, followed after him.
The Mysterious Noise of the Cavern
By the time they had advanced around 15 kilometers, their surroundings had darkened.
“We can’t search at night, so why don’t we camp somewhere and begin again early tomorrow morning?” Fumihiko suggested.
They surveyed the area for an appropriate place, but their whereabouts—a bald mountain and a field—could not sufficiently keep out the dew.
Abruptly, Tōsuke exclaimed, “Young Master, there is a cavern up ahead!”
Following Tōsuke’s pointing finger, Fumihiko saw a cavern just one kilometer ahead at the base of the mountain.
“Let’s stop for the night over there,” Fumihiko decided.
When they arrived at the cave, they found it to be larger than they thought and profoundly deep.
They set down their luggage, took out biscuits from a leather satchel, and ate.
A sound like a groaning voice erupted from the depths of the cavern!!! The two stared at each other’s faces in shock. Tōsuke whispered:
“What was that voice?”
“No idea,” said Fumihiko.
At first, they thought they had misheard, but straining their ears, the groaning voice still echoed through the cavern: quiet, melancholy, frail, heartrending. The two shuddered instinctively.
Fumihiko instantly picked up his rifle, reloading it as he stood. He beckoned Tōsuke to do the same.
Two or three moments passed, and the path was turning to the right.
The groaning voice was undoubtedly coming from there. It seemed to be quite far away, but that was due to the voice being excessively indistinct and frail.
As they rounded a massive protruding boulder, that voice became more and more vivid.
Undoubtedly, that was the groaning voice of a person.
Hastily moving around the boulder, they found themselves in the middle of a spacious room with a fragment of a candle flickering as if about to extinguish. The candle illuminated the dim white surroundings, and they could see two black silhouettes sprawled out on the cavern floor. The groaning voice was coming from one of the two, the dark silhouette moaning in agony and moving feebly.
Fumihiko threw down his gun and dashed over to the figure’s side, lighting his electric lamp.
The surroundings lit up at once. The two collapsed figures were men in western clothing.
Fumihiko saw their faces with the light of his lamp.
“Ah—” he said, accidentally dropping the lamp. Tōsuke rushed over in astonishment.
“Excuse me, Young Master, what happened? Young Master?”
Upon being asked, Fumihiko came to his senses, controlled his overwhelming feelings, and embraced that person once again.
“Dr. Sasayama! Uncle!1 It’s me, it’s Fumihiko. Hang in there. It’s Fumihiko. It’s Fumihiko,” he said while helping the doctor sit up.
“Oh, is it Master Sasayama?” cried Tōsuke. “Please stay with us. The Young Master and Tōsuke have come to rescue you. Excuse me—” he spoke close to the doctor’s ear.
“Medicine. Water, hurry!!!” yelled Fumihiko.
“Dr. Sasayama, are you conscious? It’s Fumihiko. It’s me.”
“Master Sasayama! Have you recovered consciousness?”
“Thank you for coming for me.”
Dr. Sasayama said those short words and felt relief at once, finally relaxing his emotions which had been strained until now. Suddenly, he appeared to be on the verge of collapse again.
“Dr. Sasayama, please stay strong.”
After pouring some brandy into his own mouth, Dr. Sasayama began to recover some sanity again.
“Okay. I’m good now. Sugita, Sugita,” he said, pointing to his assistant.
Despite this, Fumihiko tried to give Sugita medicine, attempting to miraculously nurse him back to life, but there was nothing left that could be done.
“Dr. Sasayama,” said Fumihiko. “Sugita is gone. He simply can’t be saved.”
“Oh no,” said the doctor. In spite of himself, tears flowed down Dr. Sasayama’s face.
The Doctor’s Whereabouts
After a little while, Fumihiko, as if having remembered something said:
“Uncle. Right now, our supplies are about 60 kilometers from here. I would like to accompany you there, but with this situation, we can’t move you. First, I’m thinking we can move our luggage here and look after you here for a while. I’m going to fetch our supplies. Until then, Tōsuke will stay by your side, so please endure for two or three more days.” Fumihiko murmured into the doctor’s ear, who quietly nodded.
Fumihiko faced the standing Tōsuke.
“I’ll be going now. Take care of him in my absence.”
“Of course, and I wish you well. Thank you for your hard work.”
“Well, I’m leaving the rest up to you.”
With that, he left the cave and once again turned back onto the path from whence they came.
The moment he landed the airship, he called out, “Tōsuke, Tōsuke,” with no response.
“I wonder what happened,” he said to himself. As Fumihiko entered the recesses of the cave, his lamp extinguished, and the surroundings fell into such a pitch-darkness that he could not tell the difference between black and white.
“Uncle, I have returned. It’s Fumihiko. Tōsuke. Is Tōsuke not here?” He raised his calls to a yell, but the only response was the staggering echo of his own voice.
Fumihiko grew anxious at once and hurriedly lit his pocket lamp in order to see—
No one was there!!!
The cavern was empty!!!
All that was left were the remains of Sugita.
Fumihiko forgot himself for a while and stood at the center of the empty cavern in a shocked daze.
“Focus!!!” He shouted suddenly, recovering his senses in an instant. He picked up his gun, which had been left discarded to the side, and broke into a run. As he began to move, he tripped over something and fell over with a thud.
Taken aback by this, he lit the fire again and looked down.
It was Tōsuke!!! Tōsuke, still holding his gun, prostrated on the ground!!!
Fumihiko instantly picked Tōsuke up into his arms.
“Tōsuke!!! What happened? Stay strong—”
As Fumihiko called out to his assistant he tried to give him medicine. Tōsuke’s breath slowly returned and he spoke:
“Damn it, did he get away?” Tōsuke tried to stand, but was firmly held back by Fumihiko.
“Here, Tōsuke. It’s me, it’s Fumihiko. What exactly happened here?” He asked. The moment that Tōsuke heard this voice, he clung to Fumihiko.
“Young Master!!! It’s such a shame.”
“What happened? What happened to Uncle?”
Tōsuke lamented. “There’s no excuse, but after you departed, as I was looking after the Master on the second night, there was something like the sound of footsteps from the entrance. I thought it would certainly be your return, so I quickly left to welcome you back, but it wasn’t you.”
“What? Baron Akiyama?”
“Yes. He broke in along with his manservant.”
“Oh no. And then what happened?”
“They were saying ‘It’s here, it’s here’, but because they couldn’t see much due to the darkness, they also couldn’t see me. They rapidly went into the depths of the cavern, and I didn’t know what to do. I followed behind them, but the Baron saw the Master very quickly and said: ‘Dear me! Is that Dr. Sasayama? I, Akiyama, have come to pick you up at the behest of Miss Tsukiko.’ Then, I instantly burst in, saying that the Master had already met my Young Master two days ago, that you were out to collect and bring back our supplies, and that you were on your way back…..”
“Okay. And then what happened?”
“That son of a bitch Akiyama. He took one look at thoughtless old me and seemed surprised, but when he ordered his assistant Heizou to ‘do something’, Heizou threw the weakened Master over his shoulders and attempted to escape, so…..”
“What? Heizou did?”
“Yes. It seemed like he would get away, so I tried my best to stop them, but sadly it was two against one. They got further and further out of the cavern. I thought I could at least use my gun to shoot and kill him while in pursuit, but Baron Akiyama punched a vital point in my chest and I lost consciousness. It wasn’t until I heard your voice just now that I woke up.” Tōsuke recalled his story with teary eyes.
Fumihiko seemed dejected.
“After all that trouble, it still ended up a disappointment.” As if ready to give up, he looked sorrowfully up at the heavens with a deep sigh. Then, Fumihiko decisively stood once again.
“Tōsuke, we have to get Uncle back, even if it means using brute force. If it were only a matter of bringing Uncle back safely, then it would be fine no matter who did it. However, in the current situation, we’re up against the wily and cunning Baron Akiyama, who clearly not only has some sort of evil scheme meant to afflict us, but he could also hurt poor Miss Tsukiko. Well, I’m leaving now, so you should come too.”
“Please take down this villain. I’ll put that Akiyama in his place even if it costs me my life.”
The two hurriedly headed outside. They rushed to board their airship, ascending at full speed. They had to find out whether Akiyama had already forced the doctor aboard his airship departing for Earth.
Battle at the Lunar World
Keeping an eye out for Akiyama as they surveyed the surroundings, Fumihiko and Tōsuke saw no evidence that the Baron or his assistant had departed. Relieved, this time they used binoculars to survey the surroundings of the cave in front of them.
“What do you know, they’re still here!!!”
Only four kilometers from the cave, there was an airship, and to the side, there were two people constantly pacing about.
It was Baron Akiyama without a doubt.
But, there wasn’t a moment to lose. They were surely preparing for departure.
Fumihiko approached rapidly but the other party sensed him. The Baron and his assistant jumped into their airship at once, preparing to fly away. The airship’s large wings began to gently move.
There were still at least 4 kilometers between the two parties.
For Fumihiko, ten million years of time and memories wouldn’t be enough to replace this single moment. He set the airship’s laser to the absolute maximum electric current and while charging forward, he fired a blank.
Baron Akiyama gripped the handle with the intention of going full speed ahead, involuntarily releasing it at the sound of the gunshot; the handle rotated the opposite way and the airship steadily fell.
Ha! Fumihiko thought as his airship recovered and was drawing near a distance within arm’s reach.
“Baron Akiyama!!!” Fumihiko called out with a vigorous and pointed voice. “Haven’t seen you in a while!” He made a point of nodding politely.
“Indeed,” Baron Akiyama responded arrogantly.
Baron Akiyama abruptly roughened his words.
“Don’t say such idiotic things. Don’t phrase it such that this all becomes more convenient for you. Why do you think I came all this way, knowing that I could die? It was just to search for the doctor. To that end, I obtained the doctor, so how could I possibly just readily hand him over to you? Idiot!!! If I were the type to do that, why would I even bother searching for him?” He brazenly retorted, “I am a doctor who gambled my life for this prize and won. If you want Dr. Sasayama, then you too should gamble your life to snatch him away from me.”
“Alright. A duel. Make your preparations.”
“You are an eloquent and impudent upstart. Well then, let us fight.”
The two men prepared for the duel. Just at the moment that they stood ready with their guns, there was the sound of a gunshot.
“Shit!!!” shouted Baron Akiyama in anguish as his head fell back. “Kumoi, you coward! You shot me!”
Fumihiko stared in astonishment.
Tōsuke immediately stood. “The one who shot you wasn’t Young Master. One with a disposition like Young Master’s wouldn’t be so twisted. The one who shot you was me. This is revenge for what I received from you a short while ago in the cavern and so that you cannot take the Young Master’s life,” he retorted loathsomely.
Baron Akiyama heard these words as if from a distance. “What a waste!” he thought he cried as he quickly passed away from the blow to his vital organs.
Despite being the opposition, Fumihiko mourned the death of the Baron and buried him alongside Sugita. He constructed a monument and remained there for a week to await the doctor’s slow recovery. The doctor, Tōsuke, as well as the Master Fumihiko expressed regret over the deaths, and along with the resigned Heizou, split into two groups to ride the two airships back to Earth.
¹ Note that Dr. Sasayama is not Fumihiko’s actual uncle. In the original work, Fumihiko calls him 叔父さん (ojisan), which can mean “old man”, “mister”, “uncle”, etc. “Uncle” was chosen to indicate the implied closeness that the two characters have in the original work.
Public Domain. Originally published in Japanese magazine Tanken Sekai (World of Exploration) in October 1907.
Translation © 2021 Natalie Mueller
About the Author
Shunrō Oshikawa (1876 – 1914) was a Japanese author commonly considered a “pioneer of science fiction” due to the highly speculative, futuristic, and imaginative technologies featured in his writing. His work is said to be influenced by Jules Verne, and his best known piece, 海底軍艦 (Kaitei Gunkan, lit. Undersea Warship) became the first work in a popular series of novels about war on the ocean. This series was later adapted into a 1963 Adventure/Sci-Fi film named after the aforementioned Kaitei Gunkan and translated into English as Atragon.
About the Translator
Natalie Mueller is an undergraduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she’s majoring in Computer Science and minoring in Japanese. Her concentration is in Artificial Intelligence, and she is currently studying topics like Natural Language Processing and Computer Vision. She was inspired to work in the intersection of interactive media and speculative fiction by her love of tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, World Wide Wrestling, Paranoia, and Blades in the Dark.