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Tác giả: Haruki Murakami
Thể loại: Tiểu Thuyết
Biên tập: Truong Ngoc Tuan
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Chapter 29: The Birth, Rise, And Fall Of Junitaki Township
A Wild Sheep Chase, III
It was an early morning train we took from Sapporo to Asahikawa. I opened a beer as I settled down to the voluminous, slip-cased Authoritative History of Junitaki Township. Junitaki was the township in which the Sheep Professor’s homestead was located. Reading up on its history probably had no practical value, but it couldn’t hurt.
The author was born in 1940 in Junitaki and, after graduating from the literature department of Hokkaido University, was active as a local historian, or so the cover copy said. For being so active, he had only one book to his name. Published in May 1970. First edition, probably the only edition.
According to the author, the first settlers arrived in what today is Junitaki early in the summer of 1881. Eighteen persons total, all poor dirt farmers from Tsugaru, meager farm tools, clothes, bedding, cook pots, and knives being the sum of their possessions.
They passed through an Ainu village near Sapporo, and with the little money they had, they engaged a lean, dark-eyed Ainu youth as a guide. The youth’s name in Ainu translated into “Full Moon on the Wane” (suggesting a tendency toward manic depression, the author hypothesized).
Perhaps the youth was not cut out to be a guide; still, he proved far better than he might have at first appeared. Hardly understanding any Japanese, he led these eighteen grim, suspicious farmers north, up along the Ishikari River. He had a clean picture in mind where to go to find fertile land.
On the fourth day, the entourage arrived at this destination. Endowed with vast waters, the whole landscape was alive with beautiful flowers.
“Here is good,” said the youth. “Few wild animals, fertile soil, plenty of salmon.”
“Nothing doing,” said the leader of the farmers. “We want farther in.”
The youth understood the farmers to believe they’d find better land the farther in they went. Fine. If that’s what they want, off into the interior.
So the entourage continued their march north for another two days. There the youth found a rise where, if the soil was not exactly as rich as the earlier spot, at least there was no fear of flooding.
“How about it?” asked the youth. “Here is also good.”
The farmers shook their heads.
This scene repeated itself any number of times until finally they arrived at the site of present-day Asahikawa. Seven days and one hundred miles from Sapporo.
“What about here?” asked the youth, more uncertain than ever.
“No go,” answered the farmers.
“But from here, we climb mountains,” said the youth.
“We don’t mind,” said the farmers gleefully.
And so they crossed the Shiokari Pass.
Needless to say, there was a reason why the farmers had passed up the rich bottomland and insisted on going deep into the wilderness. The fact was, they were on the lam. They had skipped town, walking out on sizable debts, and wanted to get as far away from civilization as possible.
Of course, the Ainu youth had no way of knowing this. And so naturally his initial surprise at the farmers’ rejection of fertile farmland soon turned to bewilderment, distress, and loss of self-confidence.
Nevertheless, the youth’s character was sufficiently complex that by the time the entourage crossed the Shiokari Pass, he had given himself over to his incomprehensible fate, leading them northward, ever northward. He took pains to choose the most rough trails, the most perilous bogs, to please his patrons.
Four days north of the Shiokari Pass, the entourage came on to a west-flowing river. By consensus, it was decided they should head east.
This tack sent them up horrible trails through horrible terrain. They fought through seas of brush bamboo, hacked their way across fields of shoulder-high grass a half-day at a time, waded through mud up to their chests, squirmed up crags, anything to get farther east. At night, they spread their tarps over the river-bank and kept an ear out for the howling of wolves while they slept. Their arms, scraped raw from the bush bamboo, were beset at every turn by gnats and mosquitoes that would burrow into their ears to suck blood.
Five days east, they found their way blocked by mountains and could go no further. What lay beyond was not fit for human settlement, the youth declared. Upon hearing this, the farmers halted in their tracks. This was July 8, 1881, 150 miles overland from Sapporo.
First thing, they surveyed the lay of the land, tested the water, checked the soil. It was reasonably good farmland. Then they divided the land among the group and erected a communal log cabin in the center.
The Ainu youth came upon a band of Ainu hunters passing through the area. “What is this area called?” he asked them.
“Do you really think this asshole of a terrain even deserves a name?” they replied.
So for the time being, this frontier was without a name. As another dwelling (or at least another dwelling that desired human contact) did not exist for forty miles, the settlement had no need for a name. In fact, when in 1889 an official census taker from the Territorial Government pressed the group for a name, the settlers remained steadfastly indifferent. Sickle and hoe in hand, they met in the communal hut and decided against naming the settlement. The official was literally up a creek. All he could do was to count the falls in the nearby river, twelve, and report the name of Junitaki-buraku, or Twelve Falls Settlement, to the Territorial Government. From then on, the settlement bore the formal appellation Junitaki-buraku (and later, Junitaki-mura, Twelve Falls Village).
The area fanned a sixty-degree arc between two mountains and was cut down the middle by a deep river gorge. An asshole of a terrain for sure. The ground was covered with brush bamboo while huge evergreens spread their roots far and wide. Wolves and elk and bears and muskrats and birds competed in the wilderness for the meager food available. Everywhere flies and mosquitoes swarmed.
“You all really want to live here?” asked the Ainu youth.
“You bet,” replied the farmers.
It is not obvious why the Ainu youth, instead of returning to his own home, chose to stay on with the settlers. Perhaps he was curious, hypothesized the author (who loved to hypothesize). Whatever the case, if he had not remained, it’s doubtful the settlers could have made it through the winter. The youth taught the settlers how to root for winter vegetables, how to survive the snow, how to fish in the frozen river, how to lay traps for the wolves, how to escape the attention of bears before hibernation, how to determine the weather from the direction of the wind, how to prevent chilblains, how to roast bush bamboo roots for food, how to fell evergreen trees in a set direction. Soon, everyone came to recognize the youth’s value, and the youth himself regained his confidence. He eventually took a Japanese name and married the daughter of one of the settlers, with whom he had three children. No more “Full Moon on the Wane.”
Yet, even with the practical knowledge of the Ainu youth, the settlers’ lot was miserable. By August, each family had built its own hut, which being a hurriedly thrown together affair of split logs did next to nothing to keep out the winter wind. It was not uncommon to awaken and find a foot of snow by one’s pillow. Most families had but one set of bedding besides, so the menfolk typically had to sleep curled up by the fire. When their store of food was used up, the settlers went out in search of fish and whatever shriveled-up wild plants they could find deep beneath the snow. It was an especially cold winter. No one died, however. There was no fighting, no tears. Their strength was their inbred poverty.
Spring came. Two children were born and the settlers’ number rose to twenty-one. Two hours before giving birth the mothers were working in the fields, and the morning after giving birth they were working in the fields.
The group planted corn and potatoes. The men felled trees and burned the roots to clear more land. New life came over the face of the earth, young plants bore fruit, but just when the settlers were sighing with relief, they were beset by swarm after swarm of locusts.
The locusts swept in over the mountains. At first, they looked like a giant black cloud. Then there came a rumbling. No one had any idea what was about to overtake them. Only the Ainu youth knew. He ordered the men to build fires in their fields. Dousing their last piece of furniture in their last drop of oil, the men burned everything they could lay their hands on. The womenfolk banged pots with pestles. They did everything in their power, but everything was not enough. Hundreds of thousands of locusts swooped down on their crops and laid them to waste. Nothing was left in their wake.
When the locusts departed, the youth went out into the fields and wept. Not one of the settlers shed a tear. They gathered up the dead locusts and burned them, and as soon as they were in ashes, the settlers continued to clear land.
They went back to eating fish and wild vegetables all through the next winter. In spring, another three children were born. People planted the fields. In summer, they were visited by locusts again. And again all the crops were chewed down to the roots. This time, however, the Ainu youth did not weep.
The onslaught of the locusts finally stopped the third year. A long spell of rain had gotten to the locust eggs. But the excessive rain damaged the crops. The following year saw an unusual infestation of beetles, and the summer after that was unusually cold.
Having read that far, I shut the book, opened another beer, and pulled a box lunch of salmon roe out of my pack.
She sat across from me with folded arms, fast asleep. The autumn morning sun, slanting in through the train window, spread a thin blanket of light over her lap. A tiny moth blew in from somewhere and fluttered about like a scrap of paper. The moth ended up on her breast and stayed there before flying off again. Once the moth had flown off, she looked the slightest bit older.
I smoked a cigarette, then resumed reading the Authoritative History of Junitaki Township.
By the sixth year, the settlement was at last holding its own. The crops were bearing, the cabins refurbished, and everyone had adjusted to life in a cold climate. Sawed-board houses took their place among the log cabins, hearths were built, lamps hung. People loaded up a boat with what little they had in the way of extra produce and dried fish and elk antlers, traveled two days to market in the nearest town, and bought salt and clothing and oil in exchange. Some learned how to make charcoal from the timber felled in clearing fields. A number of similar settlements sprang up downstream and trade was established.
As groundbreaking continued, it became apparent that the settlement was sorely short of hands, so the group convened the village council, and after two days decided to call in reinforcements from the old hometown. The question of the reneged loans arose, but from replies to inquiries carefully couched in their letters home, they learned that their creditors had long since given up on trying to collect. The eldest of the settlers then sent off notes to their old buddies, asking that they join the settlers in working the new land. In 1889, the census was conducted, the same year the settlement was officially named.
The following year, six new families, comprising nineteen new settlers, came to the settlement. They were greeted with upgraded log cabins. A tearful reunion was had by all. The new residents were given land, and with the help of the first settlers they planted crops and built their own houses.
By 1893, four more new families had arrived with sixteen people. By 1897, seven more new families had arrived with twenty-four people.
The number of settlers rose steadily. The communal hut was expanded into a more formal meeting hall, and next to it they built a small shrine. The settlement officially became a village. From Junitaki-buraku to Junitaki-mura. The postman began to make appearances, however infrequently. And while millet was the main diet of the villagers, they now occasionally mixed in real white rice.
Of course, they were not without their share of misfortune. Officials came through to levy taxes and enforce military service. The Ainu youth, by now in his mid-thirties, was particularly upset by these developments. He could not understand why such things as taxes and military service were at all necessary.
“It seems to me things were better off like they used to be,” he said.
Even so, the village kept on developing.
In 1903, they discovered higher ground near the village suitable for grazing, and the village set up a communal sheep pasture. An official from the Territorial Government instructed them in building fences, supplying irrigation, and constructing livestock shelter. Next, prison labor was called in to lay a road along the river, and as time went on, flocks of sheep, bought cheap from the government, were being herded up the road. The farmers had not the slightest idea why the government was being so generous. Well, why not? they thought. After so hard a struggle, this was welcome relief.
Of course, the government was not being generous for nothing, giving them these sheep. Prodded by the military’s goal of self-sufficiency in thermal wool for the upcoming campaign on the continent, the government had ordered the Ministry of Agriculture and Business to increase efforts in sheep raising, and the Ministry had forced these plans on the Territorial Government. The Russo-Japanese War was drawing near.
In all the village, it was again the Ainu man, no longer a youth, who showed the greatest interest in sheep. He learned methods of sheep raising from the territorial official and took on the responsibility of the village pasture. There is no knowing exactly why he became so devoted to the sheep. It may have been the complexities of life brought on by a village population suddenly growing by leaps and bounds.
The pasture became home to thirty-six head of Southdowns and twenty-one head of Shropshires in addition to two Border collies. The Ainu man became an able shepherd, and with each passing year the number of sheep and dogs increased. He came to love his sheep and his dogs with all his heart. The officials were most satisfied. Puppies were farmed out as top sheepdogs to similar sheep farms established nearby.
When the Russo-Japanese War broke out, five village youths were conscripted and sent to the front line in China. Two were killed and one lost his left arm when an enemy grenade exploded in a skirmish over a small hill. When the fighting ended three days later, the other two gathered up the scattered bones of their fellow village youths. All had been sons of first-and second-wave settlers. One of the dead was the eldest son of the Ainu youth-turned-shepherd. He died wearing an army-issue wool overcoat.
“Why send boys off to war in a foreign land?” the Ainu shepherd went around asking people. By then he was forty-five.
Nobody would answer him. The Ainu shepherd broke off from the village and stayed out at the pasture, spending his waking and sleeping hours with the sheep. His wife had died from bronchitis five years earlier, and his two remaining daughters had both married. For his services in minding the sheep, the village provided him with scant wages and food.
After losing his son, the Ainu shepherd grew embittered. He died at age sixty-two. One winter morning, the boy who was his helper found him sprawled out dead on the floor of the sheep-house. Frozen. Two sorry-eyed grandpuppies of the original two Border collies whined at his side. The sheep, oblivious, were grazing away at the hay in their enclosure. The low grinding rhythm of sheep teeth sounded like a chorus of castanets.
The history of Junitaki went on, but history for the Ainu youth ended there. I got up to go to the john and piss two beers’ worth. When I returned to my seat, she was awake and gazing distractedly out the window. Rice fields stretched far and wide. Occasionally there’d be a silo. Rivers drew near, then retreated. I smoked a cigarette, taking in the scenery together with her profile taking in the scenery. She spoke not a word. Once I finished my cigarette, I went back to the book. The shadow of a steel bridge flashed across the page.
After the unhappy tale of the Ainu youth who became a shepherd, got old, and died, the remaining history was rather boring fare. An outbreak of sheep bloat claimed ten head, severe cold dealt a temporary blow to crops, but other than that everything went smoothly with the village. In the Taisho era it was incorporated as a township and newly renamed Junitaki-cho. Junitaki-cho did well, building more facilities, a primary school, a town hall, a postal service outpost. By this time, the settling of Hokkaido was nearly complete.
With arable land reaching its limit, several young men left Junitaki-cho to seek their fortune in the new worlds of Manchuria and Sakhalin. In 1937, the Sheep Professor made his appearance in town.
Read the history: “Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry technical administrator much recognized for his studies in Korea and Manchuria, Dr. _____ (aged 32) took leave of his post due to special circumstances and established his own sheep ranch in a mountain valley north of Junitaki-cho.”
Nothing else about him was written.
The author himself seemed to have gotten bored by the events of the thirties on, his reportage becoming spotty and fragmentary. Even the writing style faltered, losing the clarity of his discussion of the Ainu youth.
I skipped the thirty-one years between 1938 and 1969 and jumped to the section entitled “Junitaki Today.” Of course, the book’s “today” being 1970, it was hardly today’s “today.” Still, writing the history of one town obviously imposed the necessity of bringing it up to a “today.” And even if such a today soon ceases to be today, no one can deny that it is in fact a today. For if a today ceased to be today, history could not exist as history.
According to my Authoritative History of Junitaki Township, in 1969 the population had dropped to 15,000, a decrease of 6,000 from ten years prior, due almost entirely to a decline in farming. The unusually high rate of agrarian disenfranchisement came about in reaction, it stated, to changes within the national infrastructure in a period of rapid industrial growth, as well as to the peculiar nature of cold-climate farming in Hokkaido.
What became of their abandoned farmlands? They were reforested. The land that their forefathers had sweated blood clearing, the descendants now planted with trees. Strange how that worked.
Which was to say that the primary industry in Junitaki today was forestry and lumber milling. The town now boasted several small mills where they made television cabinets, vanities, and tourist-trade figurines of bears and Ainus. The former communal hut was converted into the Pioneer Museum, where the farming tools and eating utensils from early settlement days were kept on display. There were also keepsakes of the village youths who had died in the Russo-Japanese War. Also a lunch box bearing the teeth marks of a brown bear. And even the letter to the old hometown inquiring about the debt collectors.
But if the truth be known, Junitaki today was a dreadfully dull town. The townsfolk, when they came home from work, watched an average of four hours of television before going to bed each night. Balloting ran high, but it was never any surprise who won the election. The town slogan was “Bountiful Humanity in Bountiful Nature.” Or so the sign in front of the station read.
I closed the book, yawned, and fell asleep.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel