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(A SHORT STORY)
A New Translation by Hayato Tokugawa SHISEI-DŌ PUBLICATIONS TAJIMI, JAPAN
“The Cat Office,” by Miyazawa Kenji, a new translation by Hayato Tokugawa. Copyright © 2013 by Haytato Tokugawa and Shisei-Dō Publications. All rights reserved. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States and Japan by Shisei-Dō Publications. No part of this publication may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photo- copying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without prior written permission of the author or publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. “The Cat Office” by Miyazawa Kenji, first published in 1926, is in the public domain.
THE CAT OFFICE
A New Translation by Hayato Tokugawa
The following short story, “Neko no Jimusho,” first appeared in an amateur literary publication, Getsuyou, in 1926; however, it was not formally published until 1986, when it was included in a complete collection of Miyazawa’s works. The tale center on the daily operations of a small office run by of all things, cats, and was a commentary on workplace bullying and bureaucracy. While “Neko no Jimusho” is not one of the author’s best known stories, it has been illustrated as a children’s picture book several times, has been adapted in manga form, and there is also an anime adaptation of the story.
Near a certain railroad station was the 6th Office of the Ministry of Feline Affairs, which dealt primarily with inquiries into feline history and geography. The clerks in the office all wore short coats made of black satin, and were very well respected by everyone. As it happened, any time that one of the clerks left his employment or had to retire for some reason, every single one of the young cats in the area clamored to take his position. Be that as it may, the number of clerks at the 6th Office of the Ministry of Feline Affairs was always limited to four; so, of those many cats who sought the position, the only one who would get it was the most literate among them and who had the neatest handwriting. Now, the manager of the office was a rather large black cat, a touch senile perhaps, but otherwise as sharp as a tack — quite respectable. The workers beneath him were: First Clerk: a white cat Second Clerk; a tabby cat Third Clerk, a tortoiseshell cat Fourth Clerk, a “sooty” sort of cat. The “sooty” sort of cat (everyone simply referred to him as “Soot Cat,” was not actually born that way; rather, he was born with some sort of regular, natural coloring (no one however was quite certain what that was). No, his coloring came from his habit of sleeping inside an oven at night; and as a result, his fur always ended up filthy with soot. His nose and ears in particular were stained a deep black, so one might even venture to say that he somewhat resembled a tanuki. It was because of this that Soot Cat was somewhat scorned by the others; that, and because the head of the office was a black cat, this sooty cat, who normally would never ever have been given a chance to become a clerk, no matter how much he studied, when a position became available, was chosen over forty applicants.
Manager Black Cat sat behind a red felt-covered table in the middle of the large office, with White Cat the First Clerk and the Third Clerk, Tortoiseshell, on his right, and Tabby Cat, the Second Clerk, and Soot Cat, the Fourth cat on his left; each clerk properly seated in their own little chair in front of their own little table. Now you may well ask, “How did the 6th Office of the Ministry of Feline Affairs operate?” Well, it’s rather like this for example: There was a knock on the office door. “Enter!” Manager Black Cat shouted, leaning back in his chair with his hands in his pockets. The four clerks kept their heads down, flipping busily through their various notebooks. A well-off cat entered. “How may we help you?” asked Black Cat. “I would like to visit the Bering region in order to eat some arctic mice. Would you tell me the best place to go? “Yes, of course,” replied Manger Cat. “First Clerk, tell us where arctic mice live.” The First Clerk opened up a thick notebook with a blue cover and replied, “Usteragominya, Novaskaya, and the Husa River Basin.” The manger addressed the well-off cat, “Usteragominya, Nova…what was it called?” “Novaskaya,” replied the First Clerk and the well-off cat in unison. “Oh yes, Novaskaya, and then what?” “The Husa River Basin,” the well-off cat and First Clerk said again in unison, embarrassing Manger Black Cat. “Right then! The Husa River. Well, I suppose that’s the place to go then.” “So,” continued the well-off cat, “would you give me any advisories about travelling there?” “Certainly. Second Clerk, tell me if there are any advisories about travelling in the Bering region.” “Yes sir,” replied the Second Clerk, already flipping through his own notebook. “Summer cats must not travel there.” As he said this, for some reason, everyone glanced at Soot Cat. Second clerk continued, “There is also a dire warning for winter cats. There is a danger of being lured in by the use of horse meat and trapped, near Hakodate. Furthermore, when black cats in particular travel there without properly distinguishing themselves as cats, they are often mistaken for black foxes and hunted down.” “Ah, very well then,” said Manger Black Cat. “It’s quite as he said. You are not a black cat such as me, so you shouldn’t have any real trouble. Just be certain to keep clear of horse meat near Hakodate.” “Well, then,” asked the well-off cat, “Are there any persons of note in that area?” “Third Clerk, give me the names of any persons of note in the Bering area,” ordered Manger Cat. “Yess…well…in the Bering area…yes…Tovaski, Gansoski…there are those names.” “Tovaski and Gansoski? What sort of fellows are they” inquired the well-off cat.
“Fourth Clerk, tell me about Tovaski and Gansoski,” directed Manger Cat. “Yes sir.” The Fourth Clerk, Soot Cat, had already placed one slender paw at the entries there for Tovaski and Gansoski. Both the manger and the well-off cat seemed to be very impressed by that; while the other three clerks glared at Soot Cat as if they had been slighted, and just sneered. Soot Cat read from his notebook the best he could. “Chief Tovaski has great moral influence. He has a piercing gaze, but he is slow to speak. Wealthy Gansoski is a bit slow to speak, but he as a piercing gaze.” “Well then, that’s all I need to know,” said the well-off cat, and he left. And that’s the way things work — rather well for cats; however, only a year after the incident I am about to describe for you, the 6th Office was shut down. Be that as it may, you no doubt realize by now that the Fourth Clerk, Soot Cat, was greatly disliked by the other three. The Third Clerk, Tortoiseshell, was just itching to take over Soot’s work and be rid of him; and Soot simply wanted the others to think well of him. So, he worked very hard at everything he did; but no matter what he did, he couldn’t seem to change things. For example, one day when Tabby Cat, who was seated beside Soot, placed his lunch on his desk and began to eat, he was suddenly struck by a case of the “yawns.” Taby stretched out his stubby arms as high as he could, and gave a great yawn. Now, since they were all cats, this wasn ’t seen as any sign of disrespect — had he been a human, it would have been the sort of offense that would have gotten his whiskers pulled. What was rude however was that when he pushed his table away, trying to stretch his legs as well, his lunch box slid off, clattering onto the floor, right in front of Manager Black Cat. The lunch box was a little beat up, but since it was made of aluminum, it didn’t break. Tabby hurriedly finished his stretch, and then leaned across the table, stretching out his arms, attempting to pick it back up. “It’s no use! You’ll never reach it,” laughed Manger Black Cat, noisily chewing on a piece of bread. At that moment, Soot Cat had just opened the lid of his own lunch box; but seeing the situation, he stood up at once, picked up the lunch box from the floor, and handed it to Tabby Cat. Tabby suddenly became quite angry, threw his hands up, refusing to take the box which Soot had gone out of his way to pick up, and shouted, his body shaking. “What’s this? Are you saying I should eat this? Are you saying I should eat something that fell on the floor?” “No sir,” replied Soot. “I was merely picking it up for you, since you were trying to pick it up yourself.” “And just when was I trying to pick it up? Hmmmm….I just thought it quite rude to drop something in front of the manger, so I as trying to push it under my desk.” “Oh, I see,” replied Soot. Still, the lunch box was sliding all over the place so…” “What impertinence!” snapped Tabby. “Are you trying to start someth…” The manger gave a loud growl, interrupting so as not to allow Tabby Cat to start a fight. “Please stop your quarreling. Soot didn’t pick up the lunch box with the intention of making you eat from it.
And perhaps you have forgotten, Tabby…but I told you this morning you were getting a 10-cent raise.” At first, Tabby Cat appeared frightened, but listened with his head bent down. Soon he began to smile. “Please forgive my rudeness sir.” He glanced sideways at Soot Cat and took his seat. One has to feel sorry for Soot Cat. Once again, fifty-six days after that incident, a similar event occurred. This very sort of thing often happened because, for one thing, cats are naturally lazy, and also their front legs — that is, their arms — are rather short. On this particular day, it was the Third Clerk, Tortoiseshell Cat, sitting on the other side of the room, who, before he could start his work for the morning, let his pen slip and sent it rolling onto the floor. Tortoiseshell decided to spare himself the trouble of standing, so right then, as had Tabby, he leaned forward across the desk, stretched out his arms, and tried to pick up the pen. And, just as before, there was no way that he could reach it. As a matter of fact, Tortoiseshell was particularly short, so as he leaned further forward, his legs left his seat. Soot wasn’t sure whether he should pick up the pen, given what had happened before, so he hesitated a bit, blinking, but soon he could no longer just ignore it and stood. This time however, Tortoiseshell leaned too far forward and toppled over the desk, banging his head. It made a dreadful sound, so much so that even Manger Black Cat stood up in surprise and took a bottle of ammonia from the shelf behind him, so that he could bring Tortoiseshell to. However, Tortoiseshell soon awoke on his own, and abruptly, in a fit of confusion shouted, “Soot! You are a rat! How dare you shove me!” This time, the manger was quick to calm Tortoiseshell. “No, Tortoiseshell, that was your fault. Soot merely stood to do you a favor, not to do you any harm. Still, it ’s not that big a deal. Anyway…ummmm…Santontan’s change of address…yes…” and he quickly returned to his work. Left with no alternative, Tortoiseshell also went back to his work, now and then glancing at Soot with a sinister gaze. So, this was the way of things — quite distressing for Soot Cat. Soot, trying so hard to become and “ordinary cat”, took to sleeping outside the window of his shack, but the night was much too cold and he couldn’t stop sneezing; so there was no choice but back to the oven. Why did he get so cold? Well, it was because his skin was rather thin, the reason being that he was born in midsummer. When Soot thought about all this, how hopeless it was and that there was nothing he could do about it, his round eyes filled with tears. Despite all this, the manager was quite kind to him, and he was happy to think that his colleagues at the office held such prestige in the community; so even as he cried, Soot clenched his fists and thought to himself, “No matter how hard it gets, I won’t quit! I can make it through this!” Be that as it may, even Manager Black Cat could not always be counted on. By virtue of being a cat, although he seemed wise, he really was a fool. Once, Soot Cat caught a bad cold and the joints in his legs swelled up to the size of softballs, so that he couldn’t even walk and had to take a day off from work. He didn’t even try to put up a fight; he just lay in his bed and cried and cried and cried. While watching the yellow light that streamed in through a little window in his shed, he rubbed his eyes and cried the whole day through. Meanwhile, back at the office: “My goodness! Soot still hasn’t come in today. He’s terribly late,” said the manger between tasks.
“Oh! He must have goon off to the beach to play or something,” said White Cat. “No, I’ll bet someone called him off to a party somewhere,” said Tabby Cat. “There’s a party going on today?” the manager asked with a start. He didn’t think that there was any cat in the town who would throw a party and not invite him. “I heard there was a school opening ceremony or something going on up north.” “Oh, I see.” Black Cat grew silent and began to brood. “Why on earth,” said Tortoiseshell, “is Soot Cat being invited to so many places these days? I hear he’s been saying that no matter what, he’s going to be the next manager. So some worldly fools are trying their hardest to curry favor with him.” “Is this true?” shouted Black Cat. “It is indeed true. Go see for yourself,” Tortoiseshell said with a frown. “Inexcusable…that cat has been eyeing me a lot. Alright, I have a thought of my own!” The office was deathly silent for some time after that. The next day, the swelling in Soot Cat’s legs had finally gone down, so he woke up bright and early, and walked to the office through a howling wind. When he arrived, his beloved notebook, the cover of which he would stroke each morning, was no longer on top of his desk; but instead, its contents had been divided up between the desks of his three colleagues. “Ah, they must have been busy yesterday,” he said to himself in a hoarse voice, his heart pounding. Click! The door opened and in came Tortoiseshell. “Good morning,” Soot stood and greeted him, but Tortoiseshell just took his seat quietly, and then leafed through his notebook as if he was incredibly busy. Click! Slam! In came Tabby Cat. “Good Moring” greeted Soot as before, but Tabby wouldn’t even look his way. “Good morning,” said Tortoiseshell. “Morning. Some wind out there, huh?” said Tabby as he began leafing through his notebook without delay. Click! Slam! White Cat entered the office. “Good morning, “Tabby and Tortoiseshell greeted in unison. “Oh! Morning! It’s quite windy out today.” White also took up his work. Soot stood languidly and silently bowed, but White Cat acted as if he didn’t even know him. Clack! Smack! “Whew! My goodness it’s windy.” In came Manger Black. “Good morning.” The three other cats quickly stood and bowed while Soot stood in a daze and bowed, averting his gaze. “Seems to be a storm, yes,” said Black Cat, not looking at Soot. Soon afterward, he began his work.
“Well, we should continue yesterday’s inquiry of the Anmognac brothers. Second Clerk, which of the Anmognac brothers went to the south pole?” And so began the day’s work. Soot watched them quietly. He had no notebook to work with. Even if he wanted to say something, he could not bring himself to speak. “It was Pan and Polaris,” replied Tabby. “Alright, tell me more about Pan and Polaris,” said Black. “Oh, but that’s my job! The details…the details!” thought Soot, now on the verge of tears. “Pan and Polaris perished on Yap Island, while returning from an expedition to the South Pole. Their frozen remains were buried at sea,” the First Clerk, White Cat, read from Soot’s own notes. Soot was sad, very sad, and his cheeks began to droop; but he watched them and endured it, holding back the tears. The office steadily became busier and busier, and the work rolled along. Once in a while, each of them glanced Soot’s way, but they never said a word. Noon came along. Soot didn’t even eat the lunch he had brought with him, he just sat patiently and watched; his hands in his lap. About an hour later, Soot began to sob. He cried on and off for the next three hours, until the sun began to set. Still, the others continued their apparently interesting work, as if they did not notice him at all. About that same time, although the cats were not aware of it, a lion’s austere golden face was watching them through the window behind the manger. The lion had watched them suspiciously for some time; and then without warning, pounded on the door and came into the room. I probably don’t have to tell you how very surprised the cats were. The lion sauntered around the office lazily. Only Soot stood to greet him, drying his tears. The lion spoke in a loud, stern voice, “Just what do you think you’re doing? You cats have no need for geography and history! Cease this at once. Humph! I’m closing this place down!” As it turns out, and as you might suspect, the lion was from the very highest levels of government; and thus, the office was disbanded. I half-agree with the lion. *Oh, by the way. In case you are worried about whatever happened to Soot Cat, you needn ’t worry. As was the custom, when one government office was closed, its personnel were placed with some other office that needed their talents — of which Soot Cat had many.
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