Translation of a scene from Morimi Tomihiko’s “The Night is Short, Walk on Girl”

夜は短し歩けよ乙女 by 森見登美彦 has been popular for a long time, and has recently gained in popularity based on its rankings in I think this is because an animated movie based on the book came out in theaters this month in Japan.

I have read a couple of novels from Morimi Tomihiko, and his writing style is my favorite I’ve encountered so far. The extensive and out of the ordinary vocabulary he uses, and his roundabout ways of expressing things makes his writing very interesting to read. His books are also a treasure trove of new (to me) and interesting, but not necessarily common, vocabulary to learn.

I haven’t been too drawn to the plots and settings of the Morimi books I have read so far. It’s not that they’re bad, but they’re just not quite my taste. I find that the writing style is so interesting, that I’m not too worried if the plot and setting are not my favorite and look forward to reading more of his books.

I will translate a strange scene from the middle of this novel. I’m not able to do the writing style justice in translation, but I try to get the meaning across. The section I translated was not actually too dense with challenging vocabulary.

This book could be categorized as fantasy. Most of what happens is not physically impossible or supernatural, with some exceptions. However, a lot of what happens is highly unlikely. The story is quite a bit like a dream.

The story is about a college boy trying to catch the attention of a college girl, who’s oblivious to his intentions. This scene is in the middle of a university festival, which is described throughout the third out of four chapters of the book, where all kinds of strange things happen.

When I came out of the bathroom, I could see a strange person walking down the hall as if he were dancing. I could tell from his shape from behind that he was the upperclassman that I often run into around town. He’s always such a laid back person, but he seemed mad about something, the way he was stamping and kicking the floor. He was pulling at his hair as he disappeared down the stairs.

When I looked to the back of the hall, there was a big sign with the words “Elephant’s Backside” painted on it. What a cute name, and it’s quite intriguing as well. I was wrought with curiosity, and I stepped right in.

At the reception desk a beautiful girl with a melancholy aura was sitting by herself. Past her, hung a dark curtain. I had no idea what kind of exhibit this was. The receptionist was staring at her moving hands with  full concentration as she was threading several daruma dolls onto a string. As I called out to her, she looked up and said “yes?”.

“What kind of exhibit is this?”

“This is an exhibit where you can pet an elephant’s backside”

“It couldn’t possibly be real, could it?”

She slowly made a soft smile, just like the spring breeze petting the bank of the Kamo River. “It’s not real, but I recreated it to feel as much like the real thing as possible.”

“Well then… I’ll try petting it.”

As I went into the classroom with the windows blocked by dark curtains, an unthinkably large and round object, illuminated by the light of a lamp, was swelling out from the wall. It looked just like an elephant in the next classroom over had rammed it’s backside through the wall and gotten stuck. Giving that thing a little pet, even if it’s not real, is delightful yet embarrassing. As I touched it with a bright face, I was surprised by the the sandpaper-like and prickly texture, which made me feel like blood would start coming out of my hand. As I said, “Ouch!” without thinking, the receptionist said, “Are you okay?” from the other side of the dark curtain.

“Sorry. I’m fine”

I thought about whether an elephant’s backside could really be this severe. At first glance it’s humorous, but it tears down any half-baked ideals; it’s a backside that violently bears its fangs and bites. I tried to burn the true severity into my mind as I pet the elephant’s backside several times.

The receptionist peeked in from behind the dark curtain. “You’re really into it, aren’t you?” she said. “You’re the first one that’s been this into touching it.”

“It’s a wonderful idea, isn’t it? Now I know the true severity.”

“That’s right. It’s so prickly. You really don’t get that from just seeing it one TV.”

“Did you make this?”

“Yeah. It took a while.”

“Because it’s such a big piece, right?”

After that, the two of us looked up at the elephant’s backside. “But you know, no matter how prickly, there’s something nice about an elephant’s backside, right?” she said.

“I hear you. It’s because it’s round, and it’s really big. Big and round things are good things.”

“The Earth is big and round too, you know.”

The two of us laughed.

Nevertheless, I guess making people understand the true severity of an elephant’s backside by having them pet an ultra-realistic reproduction, is an avant garde and profound idea. Leaving the elephant’s backside behind as I walked down the hall, I was overwhelmed with admiration. It seems like everyone thinks of the most interesting ideas. Compared with them, I’m quite a boring human, aren’t I? From here on out, I’m going to build up some deep experiences, keep my eyes and ears wide open, touch a real elephant’s backside in the near future, and become a grownup woman of even greater caliber than a red koi! And while I’m at it, “Keep getting taller!” I thought to myself.

Featured image by masaki ikeda (talk) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

6 thoughts on “Translation of a scene from Morimi Tomihiko’s “The Night is Short, Walk on Girl””

  1. Thanks for this. I didn’t know about this book or author, but his stuff seems like I would enjoy it. What is your favorite book of Morimi Tomihiko? Just from what you are saying, his style sounds a little like Murakami.

    What was the original word for ‘severe’? I didn’t quite catch the meaning.

    Sounds a like a fun author to do a practice translation for. Definitely a challenge!

    1. Thanks for reading my translation. I’ve only read two books by Morimi, and I think 有頂天の家族 was my favorite out of those two. It had more of a plot and the characters had more personality. There is a sequel for that one, and I hear there will be third.

      I think the passage I chose was actually a lot like Murakami Haruki’s style, but overall it feels a lot different to me. Murakami explains (strange) things in a very matter of fact way using plain language, while Morimi goes out of his way to use rare vocabulary and round-about expressions. I would definitely suggest giving one of his books a try.

      “Severe” was “厳しい”. I had to find a good word that worked for the noun “厳しさ” as well as the adjective, because it was used a lot in this passage. I had a hard time trying to think if it was a physical description or emotional description. I usually don’t resort to looking up single word translations, but chose “severe” out of a list of possible translations for “厳しい”. Partly because the noun form “severity” sounds better than “harshness” or other options, to be honest.

  2. The writing style seems to be really unique, thank you for the translation! I have seen this book recommended a lot but it’s probably still too difficult for me.

    You mention in your “About”/self-introduction that you listen to Japanese podcasts. Do you have any recommendations, are there any interesting ones that are relatively easy to understand?

    1. I do think that Morimi’s writing style is quite unique, and it really appeals to me. This book is a bit harder to read than the other modern books I have read, but you’ll get there eventually. It doesn’t hurt to try a sample on a ebook site to see whether you would like to keep going.

      Here are the podcasts I listen to from easiest to hardest to understand:

      NHK News – The announcers speak very clearly, and they are basically reading articles that are available online if you want to check your comprehension.

      Nikkei Trendy – This is marketing for a magazine of the same name. They cover new products and services. It gives you an idea of what Japan is like on the consumer side of things. – Talks about the latest phones, drones, camera’s and things like that. The hosts are very active on Youtube. They speak more naturally, so it’s harder to make out words if you don’t understand something. It gets easier if you listen to it often, because they will talk about the same people and things over and over, such as gimbals.

  3. thank you soooooo much!!!i’ve been looking forward for translation of Morimi Tomihiko’s novels, cause i don’t know japanese тт.тт and here i could experience reading his work even a little and all this is only thanks to you!

    1. I’m really glad you enjoyed my translation. The world Morimi Creates on top of Kyoto is very imaginative and he uses prose that makes me think of junbungaku without the associated heaviness. I think the book would be great in translation, so hopefully someone will decide to publish it.

      May I ask where you heard about Morimi Tomihiko? Was it from the anime adaptations of his books?

Comments are closed.