by Kenji Miyazawa, translated by Allen Zhang
Two young men walked along a small path deep in the mountains. Their rifles gleamed bright against their crisply ironed coats as the thick blanket of leaves crunched under their boots. The heavy footfalls of a pair of white hounds followed behind. As they walked, they made conversation.
“Sorry excuse for mountains, these are,” began one. “Neither bird nor beast anywhere to be seen. At this point, I’d settle for even a squirrel if it meant something to shoot.”
“I’d certainly like to put a few shots into the golden flank of a deer myself, watch it reel and spin around before it finally crumples.”
The pair were quite deep in the mountains, indeed. So obscure were these trails that the veteran huntsman that had shown them the way thus far had himself wandered off somewhere, never to be seen again.
And so terrible were these mountains that the two great white hounds suddenly slumped over in unison and whined piteously for a few minutes before frothing at the mouth and laying dead on the ground.
“Damn, that’s twenty-four hundred yen I’ve lost on this trip,” mused one of the gentlemen as he peeled back the eyelid of his dead dog.
“It’s twenty-eight for me,” the other replied, shaking his head ruefully.
The first man’s expression soured somewhat as he looked at his companion.
“I’m thinking of turning back.”
“It’s just as well. It is growing cold out here, and I am feeling quite hungry.”
“Then let’s call an end to this expedition here. It’s no matter. We can just purchase ten yen worth of pheasant from the inn we stayed at yesterday on the way back.”
“I recall they had rabbit as well. That should cover the difference. Let’s be on our way, then.”
There was a problem, though. No matter how they tried, the two could not seem to remember the way back.
The wind whistled through the trees. The grass rustled and the leaves shook as the trees echoed back.
“But I am so hungry, and this pain in my side is unbearable.”
“I feel the same. I can’t bear to walk any longer.”
“I couldn’t walk any longer if I tried. If only we had something to eat!”
The two gentlemen grumbled among the whispering eulalias.
By chance, they turned around, and there they saw a magnificent house with a tiled roof standing right behind them. Above the entrance hung a sign that read:
“Well, this is a stroke of good luck. Let’s head inside.”
“It’s an odd place for a restaurant, to be sure, but if there’s a chance for food, I’ll take it.”
“Of course there’s food. It says so right on the sign.”
“Then let’s not delay any longer. I could faint for want of food.”
The two stood in the doorway. The entrance way was laid with white porcelain tiles that shined in the faint light. Inlaid in gold lettering above the door were the following words:
One and all, please enter. Nothing will be spared.
At this sight, the two men became very excited.
“Look at this! Ask and ye shall receive. Today has been quite the trial, but I daresay our troubles are behind us now. We shall eat until we are stuffed.”
“I think you’re right. It says so right there, after all. Nothing will be spared.”
The pair quickly pushed the door open and stepped into the building. Just beyond the door was a hallway. On the other side of the door was another golden message:
The fat and the youthful are especially welcome.
The two saw this greeting and became even more overjoyed.
“See there? It says we are especially welcome.”
“Yes indeed, for we fit both categories, in fact.”
As they proceeded down the hallway, another door quickly came into view. This one was painted a light blue color.
“What a strange house this is. Why have they got so many doors?”
“This is how they build houses in Russia. It helps keep the cold out.”
Above this door was yet another message in the same golden font.
This restaurant has many requests. We hope for your cooperation.
“It seems this place is quite popular despite the location.”
“Well, that’s hardly strange. Almost none of the largest restaurants in Tokyo are on the main street, after all.”
As they spoke, they swung the door open. And on the other side of the door, they saw the words:
You may have many requests, but please be patient with each one.
“Now what is that supposed to mean,” wondered one of the gentlemen, furrowing his brow.
“I suppose it means the restaurant receives so many requests that they are slow to fill them, or something to that effect.”
“I see. In any case, I would very much like to find a room soon.”
“And sit down at a table.”
Contrary to their hopes, however, yet another door stood before them. Next to the door stood a table with a mirror, and at the foot of the mirror lay a long-handled brush. Above the door in red letters were the words:
Dear guests: Please fix your hair here and clean any dirt from your clothing.
“Well, this is starting to look rather proper indeed. I had hardly expected this when I saw the entrance up here in the mountains.”
“With how strict their rules are, I imagine their clients include many of the upper class.”
And so, the two combed their hair and cleaned the mud from their shoes.
Then, the strangest thing happened. Before the pair could place the brush back on its desk, its outline turned hazy before vanishing entirely. The wind suddenly rushed into the room where the two men stood.
The men were startled by these events and clung to each other in panic as they shoved the door open and stumbled inside. Their only thought was to quickly find something hot to eat and recover their spirits before things truly got out of hand.
Yet another strange message awaited them on the other side of the door.
Leave your rifles and your ammunition here.
They looked and saw a black stand next to the door.
“I see, so they don’t allow weapons while eating.”
“They must serve some people of very high stature.”
The two took off their rifles and their holsters and laid them on the stand.
As they turned, they saw a black door before them.
Remove your hats, coats, and shoes.
“I suppose we have no choice. The people inside must be fabulously rich.”
The men doffed their hats and overcoats, hanging them on the hooks, before pulling off their boots and passing through the door. The other side read:
Leave all necktie pins, cuff links, glasses, wallets, metal objects, and all sharp or pointed objects here.
Next to the door stood an ornate safe painted in black, its door hanging open and waiting. There was even a key left on top of it.
“Aha, so they must use some sort of electricity in the food. They must want us to leave any metallic or sharp objects here for safety.”
“That makes sense. They must have people pay the check here on the way out.”
“I believe so.”
“It must be.”
The two proceeded to remove their eyeglasses and cuff links and set them in the safe before closing the sturdy lock with a loud click. A short way down the hallway stood another door with a glass jar in front of it. The door read thus:
Apply the cream in this jar to your face, hands, and feet.
The two men peered into the jar and saw that it was indeed filled with cream made from milk.
“Now why would they want us to smear cream on ourselves?”
“You see, when it’s so cold outside, and warm indoors, your skin can crack from the sudden difference. This must be to prevent that. I’m telling you; we might be about to meet some serious aristocrats in there.”
The pair dipped their hands into the jar of cream and applied it onto their hands and faces. Then they took off their socks and put cream on their feet as well. At the end of this, there was still some cream left in the jar, so they each pretended to smear the remainder on their faces as they greedily licked it up instead. Hurrying through the door, they saw on the other side of the door:
Did you apply the cream thoroughly? Even on your ears?
A small jar of cream stood in front of the door.
“Come to think of it, I hadn’t put any on my ears. Wouldn’t like those to crack. The owner of this place is very thorough.”
“Yes, they certainly know to keep track of the small things. By the way, I am getting terribly hungry. How far will these hallways continue?”
Before long, the next door appeared in front of them.
The food is almost ready.
We will not keep you waiting for fifteen minutes.
Soon the eating can begin.
Quickly and carefully apply the perfume in the bottle to your heads.
Placed in front of the door was a glittering bottle of perfume.
The two took the bottle and splashed its contents onto their heads.
It was quite an odd scent, and it reminded them both of vinegar.
“How odd, this perfume stinks of vinegar.”
“This must be a mistake. I’m sure one of the attendants had a cold and got it mixed up.”
The men opened the door and entered.
Written in large letters on the other side of the door was the following message:
It must have been difficult to keep up with all these requests. We apologize.
This is the last one. Apply the salt in the jar to your entire body.
Be sure to use plenty and rub it in very well.
Sure enough, there was a beautiful turquoise lacquer pot of white salt sitting in the doorway. At last, the two froze and stared at each other’s cream-smeared faces.
“I think so, too.”
“When they said requests, they meant requests from them to us.”
“This restaurant… I’m thinking they don’t serve food to the people that come here. They turn the people that come here into the food and serve them. And that means… we’re… we… we’re…” He started shivering so furiously that he could no longer speak.
“We’re… that means we’re… we… oh God.” His body shook so hard that he could no longer speak.
“We have to…” One of the trembling gentlemen pushed on the door behind them, but the door did not budge an inch.
There was still one more door within the hallway. On the door were two large keyholes and the engraved images of a silver fork and knife.
Well then, thanks for going through all the trouble to reach this point.
You did very well.
Now, please come on in.
The message on the door read. As if that were not enough, two large blue eyes were peering into the hallway from the keyholes.
“Oh, god.” One man shivered.
“Oh, god.” The other shivered.
The two began to cry.
As they did, they heard a voice from the other side of the door.
“It’s no good. They’re onto us. It looks like they won’t put the salt on.”
“Of course not. The boss shouldn’t have written it like that. ‘Sorry for all the requests,’ my foot.”
“What difference does it make? He never even shares the bones with us.”
“I guess you’re right. Still, if they don’t enter this door, that’s on our heads.”
“Let’s call them over, then…Excuse me, dear customers, please come quickly! Quickly. Quickly! We’ve washed the dishes nice and clean. The fresh greens are all salted. All that’s left is to take you, garnish you with the greens, and place you on the nice, clean plates. Please, come quickly!”
“Come on in, come on, come on. Or maybe you don’t like salad? In that case shall we fry you instead? In any case, please, come on in!”
The two were petrified by this point, their minds crumpled like paper in a bin. They looked at each other and shook pathetically, unable to even make a sound as they cried.
From beyond the door came muffled sounds of laughter and the occasional shout.
“Come on in, come in. If you keep crying, all that cream will wash out. We’ll be with you shortly. Now, come on, quickly.”
“Quickly, come on in. The boss has already laid out his napkin, and he’s waiting with his fork in his hand and licking his lips, waiting for you.”
The two cried, and cried, and cried, and cried, and cried.
At that very moment, they heard a noise behind them. It was the sound of barking.
The two great white hounds had broken down the door and rushed into the room. The eyes quickly vanished from the keyholes as the dogs growled and paced around the center of the room. Then they gave one great bark in unison and charged into the next door. The door burst open, and the dogs disappeared into the next room as if swallowed up.
From the pitch-black darkness beyond the open door came more sounds. Snarling, yowling, purring, and scratching.
Suddenly, the room faded like smoke, and the two men found themselves standing in the grass, shivering from the cold.
As they looked around, they saw their coats, shoes, wallets, and necktie pins dangling from branches or lying on roots here and there. The wind whistled through, the grass rustled, and the leaves swayed as the trees creaked.
The dogs returned, panting.
And behind them, “Hey, hey,” a voice called out.
The two men felt life immediately return to their limbs as they shouted.
“Here, here, we’re over here! Come quickly!”
They watched as the familiar thick straw hat of their hunting guide approached through the rustling grass.
And at last, the two felt relief.
They ate the rice cakes the hunter brought them, bought ten yen of pheasant on the way, and returned to Tokyo.
The above is a translation of 注文の多い料理店 (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
Allen Zhang is an electrical engineering student at Georgia Tech who enjoys reading fiction from around the world. He appreciates a variety of genres from Greco-Roman classical literature to contemporary Japanese smartphone applications. He previously published a translation of “The Human Chair” by Edogawa Ranpo in PseudoPod.