by Kenji Miyazawa, translated by Zhujun Wu
At the foothill of an extinct volcano, under an oak tree, there was a large black rock. His name was Bego.* He had been sitting there for a long time.
The other rocks, who were small and sharp-edged, had given Bego his name. Bego didn’t know it, but “Bego” was just a nickname. He didn’t know his real name.
Bego didn’t have sharp edges like the other rocks. His body was smooth, the ends rounded. He was shaped just like an egg with a ribbon-like pattern of two strings encircling his body. Also, Bego was good-natured. Never before had anyone seen him angry.
One day, as a dense fog fell down. The sky, mountain, and wilderness could no longer be seen. Other rocks nearby started teasing Bego.
“How’s your stomachache? Have you recovered?”
“Thank you. My stomach doesn’t hurt, though,” Bego calmly said in the fog.
“Ahahahahaha, ahahahahaha…” The rocks who had sharp edges laughed at him.
“Hey Bego, did the owl bring you chili pepper last night?”
“No, the owl didn’t come last night.”
“Ahahahahaha, ahahahahaha…” The other rocks laughed again.
“I remember last night in the fog, a horse peed on you. Poor Bego!”
“Thank you. But no such thing happened.”
“Ahahahahaha, ahahahahaha…” Everyone laughed.
“Have you heard about the new law? It says that starting today, round things must be cracked open like an egg. You’d better run for your life, Bego.”
“Thank you. I suppose I will be cracked open alongside the sun.”
“Ahahahahaha, ahahahahaha… He’s too stupid to understand our jokes!”
At that time, the fog began to clear. The sun started to shine. The blue sky could finally be seen. The sharp-edged rocks started considering other matters, such as how rain resembles wine and how snow resembles sweet dumplings made of rice flour. Bego the rock sat quietly, looked up at the sun and the blue sky.
On the next day, a dense fog shrouded them again. The stones with sharp edges started teasing Bego once more.
“Bego, we all have edges. Only you don’t. We were all ejected from the volcano at the same time, flew through the air, and fell to the ground. Why are you so round?”
“When I was born, the volcano spurted flames into the sky. I was whirling fast as I flew upwards. This made me round.”
“Hahaha! When the volcano erupted, we kept still even when we were launched into the sky. You were the only one rolling around.”
(Actually, in contrast to what they said, they had passed out while rising into the black, smoggy sky.)
“I didn’t want to be round. My body just whirled. I couldn’t help it.”
“Hahaha! Just like how humans shiver when they are afraid. You must have been terrified.”
“Perhaps. There were dazzling lights and huge sounds.”
“Sure enough, you were afraid. Hahahahaha, hahahahaha…”
As they laughed, the dense fog cleared up. The sharp-edged rocks started to think about other things.
Bego the rock quietly stared at the trembling leaves of the oak tree. For many years, the snow had fallen, the grass had grown, the leaves of the oak tree had withered, and new leaves had sprouted.
One day, the oak tree said, “Mr. Bego, we’ve been neighbors for a long time.”
“That’s true. You have grown so big since then.”
“When I was little, I actually thought you were a huge black mountain.”
“Ah. Now you are five times taller than me.”
“Yes, you are right.” The oak tree was quite flattered and shook his leaves.
At first it was just the rocks with sharp edges who teased Bego, but since Bego was never upset, everyone started to think that he was stupid.
The yellow honeysuckle said, “Look, Mr. Bego! I’m wearing a golden crown.”
“Congratulations, little honeysuckle,” said Bego.
“When will you wear a crown then?”
“Ah… I’m not going to wear one.”
“Oh really? What a pity. But I can see that you are wearing one,” the yellow honeysuckle said, looking at the moss that had grown on Bego’s top.
Bego smiled. “No, that’s just moss.”
“Ah. Well, it doesn’t look very flattering,” said the honeysuckle.
Ten days later, the yellow honeysuckle exclaimed in surprise, “Mr. Bego, you are really wearing a crown now. The moss growing on your head has turned red. Congratulations!”
Bego smiled, calmly said: “No, this red handkerchief is the moss’s crown, not mine. I will have a crown when the wilderness becomes silvery white.”
What Bego said scared the yellow honeysuckle. Suddenly, the little flower became depressed.
“That’s when the snow comes. How terrible! How terrible!”
Bego was sympathetic and immediately started to comfort him.
“I’m sorry little honeysuckle. You don’t like the snow, yet it shows up every year. That’s something we can’t change, but you will soon return after the snow melts.”
The yellow honeysuckle didn’t say anything and went silent from that point on. When another day had passed, a mosquito appeared with a buzz.
“How many useless things there are on this grassland! Like this rock named Bego, he can’t do a thing. He can’t make the air fresh like the plants. Nor can he make the dewdrop clean so that I can wash my eyes with it, like the grass does. Buzz, buzz,” finished the mosquito, who promptly flew away.
The moss growing on Bego heard the bad things the others said, as well as the mean words from the mosquito. They also started to think that Bego was stupid.
The little red handkerchief of moss started singing and dancing on Bego’s head.
“Bego the black egg, Bego the black egg,
Black egg, ding-dong!
After a thousand years he’s still a black egg, ding-dong!
After a million years he’s still a black egg, ding-dong!”
Bego smiled. “Not bad, not bad. I can’t say I quite care for it, however, and I am not sure if it is good for you, either. Shall I make a song? How about singing this from now on? Listen.”
Cold rain from the sky, pitter-patter
Raindrops roll down from the oak tree, plink, plink
Pure-white snow glittering, glint, glint
Sky, sky. Light from the sky
The sun blazing,
The moon shines.
The stars twinkle.”
“We won’t sing that song,” said the moss. “It doesn’t sound interesting.”
“It isn’t? Perhaps I am not good at it.” Bego the rock became quiet.
“Hey, what’s wrong with you Bego? You look discouraged, like a deflating balloon. We won’t talk to you anymore. Black egg, black egg, ding-dong!”
On the other side of the grassland, four people had arrived. They were wearing glasses and carrying instruments. They seemed professional. As they walk across the field, one of them saw Bego and said: “Here it is! What a beautiful specimen. It’s a distinctive volcanic rock. First time seeing such a neat one. You see the ribbon pattern? It’s nicely formed. This one rock makes this whole trip worth it!”
“Yeah, that is a neat one. A volcanic rock like that can’t even be found in the British Museum.”
They put their instruments around Bego and started rubbing and cleaning him.
“I’ve never seen a specimen with such perfect ribbon. Look at this pattern around its body! We will be able to predict how it rotated in the air. Amazing! Let’s go.”
Carrying Bego, they walked away. The rocks with sharp edges were speechless. The good-natured volcanic rock was also quiet.
The four researchers wearing shiny glasses came back with a carriage and more people from the village. They went under the oak tree.
“This is a precious specimen. Make sure to wrap it well and carry it here. And pull the moss off.”
The moss cried. The volcanic rock, now wrapped in straw, said: “Thanks for everything. Little moss, please sing my song at least one time. The place I’m going to may not be as bright and fun as here. But I will try to do what I can. Goodbye everyone, Goodbye.”
Wrapped up with a label saying “Tokyo Imperial University Geometry Lab,” Bego was transferred onto the carriage.
“Alright, let’s head back,” said one of the people.
The horse neighed and ran across the grassland towards the horizon.
*”Bego” is a reference to a famous toy in the Tohoku region, the akabeko (red cow). The akabeko is a red lacquered wooden doll that commemorates the legend of a cow who would not leave a Buddhist temple. According to legend, when the cow fully devoted himself to Buddha at the end of his life, he transformed into a stone. The akabeko thus often symbolizes pure religious devotion.
The above is a translation of 気のいい火山弾 (first published in 1924).
About the Author
Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) was a Japanese novelist and poet known for his popular children’s book Night on the Galactic Railroad. A devout humanist and naturalist, Miyazawa spoke Esperanza, practiced Nichiren Buddhism, and worked as an agricultural science teacher and farmer. Enamored of both the spiritual and natural world, Miyazawa’s interests in animals, plants, and geology were reflected throughout his stories and poems.
About the Translator
Zhujun Wu is currently an undergraduate student studying Biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Born in Tokyo, Zhujun grew up in Shanghai and came to Atlanta for college. She is interested in Japanese to English and English to Chinese science fiction translation.