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The Ants and the Mushroom

by Kenji Miyazawa

translated by dunhamrc

Fog descended drippingly on a bed of moss, on which a sentry ant marched back and forth in front of a forest of large verdant ferns, scanning the area with his sharp eyes from beneath the visor of his steel helmet.

From the distance came a single ant soldier in a bouncing run.

"Stop! Who goes there?"

"Messenger from the one hundred and twenty-eight regiment!"

"Where are you going?"

"Fiftieth regiment regimental headquarters."

The soldier thrust his Snider rifle in a slant at the other's breast, and examined in detail, one by one, the way his eyes shone, and the shape of his chin, and then the pattern on his sleeves, and the condition of his shoes.

"All right, you may pass."

The messenger hurriedly entered into the midst of the fern forest.

The drops of fog were getting by degrees smaller and smaller, already now changing to a milky-white smoke, in which, from both near and far, could be heard the busy sound of the grass and trees sucking up water. This lulled even the sentry, at long last, into an unbidden sleep.

Two ant children came along, one leading the other by the hand, both laughing raucously at something. Then suddenly they saw something underneath an oak tree at some distance which surprised them enough that they stopped in their tracks.

"Whoah, what's that. Someone built a house over there. It's completely white."

"That's not a house, it's a mountain."

"Well it wasn't there yesterday."

"Let's ask the soldier."

"All right, let's go."

The two ants ran over to the sentry.

"Hey mister, what is that thing over there?"

"What's all this noise? Run along home, you two."

"Mister, are you sleeping on the job? What is that thing over there?"

"What a nuisance! Now what are you talking about - whoah!"

"That thing wasn't there yesterday."

"Oh man, this is bad. Oh man. Ok, listen up. Even though you guys are just kids, at a time like this you can provide a tremendous service to everyone. You ready? Go into the forest and check in with Lieutenant Colonel Alkil. After that, run as fast as you can to the land survey department. Then you both say the following: 'At 25 degrees north latitude, 6 hundredths east longitude, a structure of unknown purpose has been built.' Now you both repeat that back to make sure you've got it."

"At 25 degrees north latitude, 6 hundredths east longitude, a structure of unknown purpose has been built.”

“That’s right. Now then, hurry. In the meantime I won’t move an inch from this spot.”

The ant children ran off as fast as their legs could carry them.

The sentry held his bayonet at the ready and glared steadily at that completely white construction with the thick pillar and large roof.

It seemed to gradually get bigger. First its outline shone with a faint white light, then he could make out the flutter-flutter of its quivering.

Suddenly it went dark, the moss wobbled, and the sentry ant was struck into a daze. When he opened his eyes and looked again at that pure white building, its pillar had been snapped off and it was lying completely upside-down.

The ant children both returned.

"Mr. Soldier! Looks like it’s nothing to worry about. That thing is something called a ‘mushroom’. It’s nothing. Lieutenant Colonel Alkil really laughed. A lot. Then he told us what good kids we were."

"And then he said, it would go away in no time. We don’t have to put it on the map. In fact, he said if we tried to put those kinds of things on when they appeared, and then take them off again when they went away, we’d need more than a hundred land survey departments. Oh hey! It’s upside-down!"

“It just fell over,” said the sentry, a little embarrassed.

“What! Oh, now look at that stuff coming out."

In the distance the odd fish-bone shaped ash-colored mushroom, shining innocently, with its branches reaching out, gradually rose from the ground. The two ant children pointed their fingers and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Just then the large red sun rose from beyond the mist, the ferns and moss suddenly turned green, and the ant sentry once again held his Snider rifle sternly at the ready, pointing south.

Translated from the Japanese text at Aozora Bunko, a wonderful online library of Japanese literary works in the public domain. Kind of a Japanese Project Gutenberg. The Japanese text is here.

Text taken from "Gauche the Cellist”, Kadokawa Bunko, Kadokawa Shoten
  • November 15, 1957 (Showa 32) first edition
  • April 5, 1967 (Showa 42) 10th edition
  • May 20, 1993 (Heisei 5) revised 50th edition

originally published in the March 1933 (Showa 8) issue of “Genius", under the title “Fairy Tale-like Composition on The Morning”

Added to Aozora Bunko June 1, 2007
Input: Takashi Tsuchiya
Proofreading: Kiyotaka Sunaba