Translation:The Acorns and Wildcat
One Saturday evening, a strange note arrived at Ichiro’s house.
Dear Mister Ichiro Kaneta September 19
I hope yur doin well. Tomorow, we will be having a very troblesum trial, and request yur attendenc. No weppins pleez.
The handwriting was surprisingly bad, and the ink looked like it was smeared on with a finger. But Ichiro was very happy to get a note all the same. He secretly stuck the note in his backpack and bounced all over the house.
Even after diving into bed, all Ichiro could think about was the wildcat’s meowing face and the troublesome trial, and didn’t fall asleep until very late.
By the time Ichiro woke up, it was already light outside. When he got out of bed and looked out, he saw the mountains damp and rising up under a clear blue sky. Ichiro quickly ate his breakfast, and started on the trail that ran along a mountain stream.
When Ichiro passed by a chestnut tree, a strong gust of invisible wind blew its nuts all over the place. Ichiro looked up at the chestnut trees and called, “Chestnut tree, chestnut tree! Did Wildcat pass by here?”
The chestnut tree quieted down a little, and replied, “Wildcat? This morning he flew past here in a carriage. He was headed east.”
“East? That’s the direction I’m already headed. Isn’t that funny? Thanks, chestnut tree.”
The chestnut tree went on dropping its nuts.
Ichiro went a little further to find the flute-playing waterfall. In the middle of a white cliff there was a little hole that water poured out of, making a waterfall. The water going through the hole made a whistling noise like a flute, so it was called the flute-playing waterfall.
Ichiro yelled to the waterfall, “Flute player, did Wildcat pass by here?”
“Just a little while ago he flew past here in a carriage. He was headed west,” the waterfall whistled in reply.
“That’s strange, that’s back towards my house. But I guess I’ll keep going a little bit. Thanks, flute-player.”
The waterfall went on playing its flute.
Going a little further, Ichiro found a single beech tree, with white mushrooms around its trunk. The mushrooms had formed a band and were playing a funny little song.
Ichiro bowed down and asked, “Mushrooms, did Wildcat pass by here?”
The mushrooms replied, “Wildcat? This morning he flew by here in his carriage. He was headed south.”
“South, that's towards the mountains. Weird. I guess I can go a little further, though. Thank you, mushrooms.”
The mushrooms quickly returned to their strange song.
Ichiro went a little further, and saw a walnut tree, with a squirrel jumping around its top. Ichiro quickly waved to it and called, “Hey, squirrel, did Wildcat pass by here?”
“Wildcat you say? He flew by in his carriage this morning, before the sun was even up. He was headed south.”
“That's two in a row saying he was headed south. I guess I’ll go a little further. Thank you, squirrel.”
But the squirrel was already gone. There was only the gentle swaying of the walnut tree’s highest branches and the brief glittering of the leaves on a nearby beech tree.
As Ichiro followed the river, the path became narrower and narrower, until it finally disappeared. But he could see to the south a little path leading into a black nutmeg forest. Ichiro followed this new path into the forest where the nutmeg trees’ black branches were so thick Ichiro couldn’t see even a sliver of the sky. The path itself went up a very steep hill. Climbing that hill, his face turned red and started to drip sweat. As he reached the top of the hill, it was suddenly bright. Ichiro saw through his squinting eyes that he had entered a beautiful, yellow meadow. The grass hummed softly in the breeze. The meadow itself was surrounded by tall, proud trees.
Kneeling in the middle of the field was a short, strange-looking man holding a whip. He sat silently, staring in Ichiro’s direction.
Ichiro slowly approached the man, and stopped surprised. One of the man’s eyes was white and twitching. He wore something that looked like a jacket or overcoat. His legs were bent like a goats, and his feet were flat like a spatula. Ichiro thought this was very strange, but he stayed calm and asked the man a question.
“Do you know Wildcat?”
The man gave a wry smile and chuckled his reply, “Wildcat is on his way here right now. You’re Ichiro, aren’t you?”
Ichiro was startled, and took a step back.
“Umm, yes. I’m Ichiro, but how do you know me?”
The man’s smirk grew wider, “You got the letter, right.”
“Yes, I got it. That’s why I’m here.”
“It wasn’t written very well, was it,” the man said sadly, looking at the ground. Ichiro suddenly felt bad for him.
“Oh no, it was quite well-written.”
Hearing that, the man perked up. He started to pant, and his face turned red.
“How about the handwriting, was it good,” he asked, loosening his jacket to let the wind cool his body.
“That was great too,” Ichiro replied, a smile growing on his face. “A fifth-grader couldn’t write that nicely.”
The man’s face suddenly drooped again. He asked with a sad voice so soft Ichiro could barely hear it, “You mean like a fifth grader in elementary school?”
Ichiro hurriedly corrected himself, “No, like a fifth-grader in college.”
Once again, the man cheered up, letting out an unsettling laugh.
“I wrote that letter!”
Ichiro held in his own laughter and asked, “Who are you, anyway?”
The man became suddenly serious, “I am one of Wildcat’s servants. I take care of his carriage.
Then a strong gust of wind blew through the meadow, making the grass rise and fall like a wave. The servant suddenly dropped into a formal bow.
Ichiro, thinking this was strange, turned around to see Wildcat wearing a yellow warrior’s vest, his green eyes open extra wide. As Ichiro considered Wildcat's ears and how they came to a sharp point, Wildcat gave a slight bow.
Ichiro politely replied, “Good afternoon. Thank you for the letter.”
Wildcat pulled his beard tight and stuck out his belly, “Welcome. Thank you for coming. Over the last few days, we’ve been dealing with a terrible argument. We have been having trouble with a trial and wanted to hear your thoughts on it. But rest for now, the acorns will be here soon. Every year I have to deal with this trial. . .”
Wildcat trailed off, taking a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and putting one in his mouth.
“Cigarette?” he asked Ichiro.
“Uhhh, no,” Ichiro replied, surprised by the offer.
Wildcat let out a big belly laugh, “You’re too young, aren’t you,” casually throwing aside his match as he breathed in the blue smoke.
Wildcat’s servant stood perfectly at attention, but was no longer able to hide his own desire for one of his master’s cigarettes and began to cry.
Ichiro then heard a faint clicking, like salt skittering on rocks. Surprised, he leaned over to look at the ground and found in the grass sparkling, golden-yellow balls. Looking even closer, he saw they were acorns, over three hundred of them, and they were all wearing red pants and wailing something at him.
Wildcat spat out his cigarette and called hurriedly to his servant, “Hey, they’re here. They’re like ants. Quick, ring the bell. It looks like we’ll get good sun over there. Cut down the grass.”
In a haste, the servant whipped a big sickle out of his belt and with a few quick crunches cut down the grass in front of Wildcat. The sparkling acorns lept into the clearing from all directions and continued their wailing.
Then there was a loud clang as the the servant rang his bell. As the clanging echoed through the nutmeg trees, the golden acorns quieted down a little. Wildcat had somehow changed into flowing black satin robes and with an air of great importance sat before the acorns. It reminded Ichiro of the paintings of pilgrims standing in front of the giant Buddha statue in Nara. And with a quick snap, the servant cracked his whip 2 or 3 times.
The sky became clear and blue, and the acorns' golden shine was truly beautiful.
“Alright, this is the third day of the trial. Let’s say we all just make up and move on,” Wildcat announced with a little bit of worry and a whole lot of pride in his voice. The acorns clamored in reply:
“No, no, absolutely not. After all, pointy heads are the best. And my head has the pointiest point.”
“No way. Round acorns are the best, and I am the roundest.”
“No, bigger is better, and I’m the biggest.”
“You’re wrong. I’m so much bigger than you. The judge said so yesterday.”
“Uh-uh. It’s height that’s important. It’s who’s tallest.”
“It’s wrestling that makes you best. We should wrestle to decide!”
All of the acorns chattered until they buzzed like a poked beehive with no way to tell what they were saying. So Wildcat yelled,
“Shut up! Do you know where you are? Order! Order!”
CRACK. The servant snapped his whip, and the acorns finally fell silent. Wildcat, twisting his whiskers, called out again, “This is the third day of the trial. Let’s say we just all make up and move on.”
And again, the acorns clamored:
“No, no, absolutely not. After all, pointy heads are the best.”
“No way, round acorns are the best”
“No! Bigger is better!”
They buzzed on again, with no way to tell what they were saying.
“Silence! Shut up! Do you know where you are? Order! Order!” yelled Wildcat.
CRACK. The servant snapped his whip, and Wildcat, twisting his whiskers, called out again, “This is the third day of the trial, let’s say we just all make up and move on.”
“No, no, absolutely not. After all, pointy heads are . . “ buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
So Wildcat yelled, “Shut up! Do you know where you are? Order! Order!”
CRACK. The servant snapped his whip. Wildcat turned to Ichiro, “This is what I have to deal with. What do you think I should do?”
“All right, in this case, I think you should give this judgement: declare that the dumbest, weakest, absolutely worst acorn is the best. I heard that once in a sermon.”
Wildcat nodded his understanding. With great pride, he opened the chest of his black satin robes just enough to reveal the yellow fighter’s vest below and pronounced to the gathered acorns, “Very well then. Order! This is my decision. Amongst you, the least good, dumbest, weakest, absolutely worst, cracked-headed acorn will be the best.”
The acorns became completely silent and completely still.
Wildcat took off his black satin robes and wiping the sweat from his forehead with one hand took Ichiro’s hand with the other. The servant, overjoyed, cracked his whip five or six times.
“Thank you so much,” Wildcat said to Ichiro. “Such a difficult case, and you wrapped it up in a minute and a half. I beg of you, please become an honorary judge in my court. Please come whenever you get a note. In return, I will give you a token of my gratitude.”
“I accept, but I don’t need any gifts.”
“No, I must insist. It’s who I am. From now on, I will address my notes “Sir Ichiro Kaneta” and this place here will be my court, if it pleases you.”
“Sure, I don’t mind,” replied Ichiro.
Wildcat looked as if he had something more to say. He twisted his whiskers and blinked his eyes. Then, with great resolution, he blurted out, “So, about the notes again. What if I wrote in it, “We humbly request your presence on the morrow.”
Ichiro laughed and replied, “Come on, that’s a little too much. You ought to knock it off.”
Wildcat, feeling that it really might have been too much, looked down regretfully, still pulling on his whiskers. But he quickly changed his mind, and said, “All right, then we will keep the notes the way they are. Now, for today’s gift, would you prefer a box of golden acorns or a salted salmon head?”
“I’d prefer the box of golden acorns.”
Wildcat, seeming pleased that he didn’t chose the salmon head, called quickly to his servant, “Bring out a box of golden acorns. If you can’t fill a box, then throw in some painted ones. Quickly!”
The servant gathered up all of the acorns from before and put them in a box.
“Just enough!” he called back.
Wildcat’s vest flapped in the wind. He stretched out as big as he could, closed his eyes, and said mid-yawn, “Great, now prepare the carriage, quickly.”
A carriage, made from a big white mushroom, was pulled out by strange-looking grey horses.
“All right, we’ll take you home.”
Wildcat and Ichiro climbed into the carriage and the servant put the box of acorns in the carriage as well.
The carriage cut across the meadow. Trees and brush floated past them like smoke. Ichiro looked down at his acorns while Wildcat stared blanky into the distance.
As the carriage sped on, the acorns' shine slowly dimmed, and by the time the carriage stopped, the acorns were plain brown acorns. Wildcat’s yellow vest, the servant, and the mushroom carriage had all disappeared. Ichiro was by himself, in front of his house, holding his box of acorns.
Never again did Ichiro get a note from Wildcat. From time to time he thought, “Maybe I should have let him write ‘We humbly request your presence.’”