Bump of Chicken’s excellent new album Orbital Period comes with a charming illustrated book that tells the tale of a lonely king.
Here is that tale in its entirety – translated by yours truly. Click more to read.
The Star Bird
The reason that the king was a king was because he had decided that it would be so.
He wore regal clothes.
He placed a regal crown upon his head.
He lived in a regal castle.
He governed his subjects as a king.
He was haughty as a king is.
And comported himself like a king.
Naturally this was because he was a king.
The king was a greedy one,
and each time he would come across something pretty or rare
he would immediately want it as his own.
The diamond apple he saw in a book.
The fortune telling hand mirror he saw in a book.
The talking bugle he saw in a book.
The rainbow colored rose he saw in a book.
The dworfen soldier he saw in a book.
The unmelting snowman he saw in a book.
The Ice Giant he saw in a book.
The drum which called forth the rain he saw in a book.
He wanted it all.
Every night he would read until he got sleepy,
marking the pages where he found something to his liking
by folding in the corners.
He had folded so many he had lost count.
And then eventually he’d fall asleep.
When he awoke the next day, he would go out in search of
those things which he had marked the night before.
He never shared the treasures he brought back with anyone.
He never even showed them to another living soul.
And that is why no one ever greeted the king with a “good morning”.
So he would read his book until he got sleepy.
For if he only closed his eyes and waited until he got sleepy,
it would make him think of so many things…
and that made his heart ache.
When reading didn’t do the trick,
the king would head for the castle’s veranda
for some night air.
One deeply foggy night, he went to get some air
when, in the pitch dark world, he saw something unbelievable.
In that far off, distant starless night sky there was something hovering, shining brightly.
It was impossible to tell how high up it was, or how big it was because it was so far away.
It may have been very quick, but it was hovering there very slowly.
The king named it “The Star Bird”
And he wanted it for his own.
The next morning
there was a great ruckus up at the castle.
The king gathered all his subjects
and ordered to them, “Capture the Star Bird!”
Whether it was the impossible nature of the task,
or out of fear of the Star Bird,
the subjects did not move, some remained standing with their heads hung
while others silently took a seat.
“You guys are always like that. Take this!”
yelled the angered king to his useless subjects.
“Star Bird, you bastard”
the king decided to check the royal library
for some way to catch it.
Ten books, twenty books, higher and higher the mountain of books became.
The king was concentrating so hard, he forgot to take his afternoon nap.
In one book he came across an intriguing picture.
In it a monkey was using a platform to reach some bananas hanging from the ceiling.
This must be the way.
The next day the king gathered all the different boxes he could from all around the castle.
Boxes with diningware in them.
Boxes with pipes, nails, and metal junk in them.
Whatever they were he emptied them of their contents, and gathered them.
Then on a big paper he wrote out some calculations,
and for sometime sat in concern, “Hmmm”
Finally with all he could muster, he muttered, “I’ve got no choice.”
and made his way for the forest.
Now in the forest, the king gathered everyone and began to speak.
“Listen up, we are going to gather boxes like this one and make a tower.
and we must do it before sun fall. For tonight, we capture the Star Bird,
get to it at once!”
The lion responded in his deep voice,
“We don’t mind helping you out.
but you are no king of ours,
and we refuse to play along.
For starters, how about removing that crown of yours.”
Everyone joined in noisilly,
“Yes, what he said!”
The king was enraged.
“What a foolish notion,
to think that you can tell a king
to remove his crown.
Your king has come all the way out here to see you
so hurry up and get to work.”
That enraged the forest dwellers.
“Is that how you ask for a favor?”
And there were those that derided the king,
“What a fine crown you wear, it must lay heavy on your head,
don’t drop it now.”
“Hmph, I shant ask you again.”
The king decided to take care of it himself.
“I don’t get them, I went out of my way to invite them to help, and this is the thanks I get.
It doesn’t matter, I had originally intended to do it on my own anyway.”
The work progressed smoothly, as planned.
As the night gradually drew darker,
the Star Bird gradually came into sight.
It seemed like it was closer than just the night prior.
“Ha, so you’ve come again, Star Bird.
Looks like you’re coming closer.
Tonight this king is going to catch you.”
It was then that the ladder began to creak.
The king fell from a great height,
and crashed to the earth below.
And there he lay, motionless.
“Star Bird, you bastard.”
The next night the king lay a trap on the veranda and waited for nightfall.
This was the only way.
“Star Bird, you bastard.”
The next day, as the king waited for nightfall on a hill near the castle,
his expression was sterner than usual.
He didn’t want to hurt the Star Bird, but he had no other choice.
The king was the best marksman in the castle.
He had napped plenty today so there would be no mistakes.
“Come forth, Star Bird.”
All of a sudden, The Star Bird was hovering directly above the king.
The king took aim straight at it and without pause, let fly an arrow
Up it flew, with great speed straight into the air, nearly past the moon.
But how high up was the Star Bird?
The king’s arrow truly flew to a great height but
Despite the strenuous effort,
it eventually began to come back down again.
And then it fell.
“Star Bird, you bastard.”
With things as they were,
the king figured this was the only way.
He would replace the cannon ball in the cannon
and fire himself high into the air where he would grab the Star Bird
with his own two hands.
It was a life or death plan.
The king’s resolve was for real.
As the sky gradually grew dark,
so did the beating of the king’s heart grow louder.
“Come forth, Star Bird.”
“Star Bird, you bastard.”
The king ran back and forth in circles everyday from morning till night.
Through rain and storm, he chased after the Star Bird.
“Well would you look at that, it’s the king.”
“It’s sad how he just gets crazier and crazier.”
No matter how you looked at it, the king had lost his marbles.
No one else could see the Star Bird.
Eventually the king started to see a little piece of himself in the Star Bird.
The king was all by himself.
So was the Star Bird.
So maybe when the king felt his heart ache,
the Star Bird’s did too?
Soon he began talking to the Star Bird over and over.
“I’m here. Someone who knows you’re there, is right here.
You’re not alone.”
Soon the king began to fret.
“Flying up so high in the sky,
you probably don’t even know I’m a king,
I’m probably indistinguishable from a grain of sand.”
And that’s when the king
began to think that he wished the Star Bird,
knew he was there.
Every night the Star Bird, drew further away.
One hundred books, two hundred books, he raised a wall of books,
once again locked away in his study.
He was concentrating so hard, that he forgot to eat his cake.
His subjects kept careful watch over him.
The books and the hours piled up.
In one book there was an intriguing picture.
It was a picture of the words “HELP” writ large in sand
on a beach.
A message to the sky.
This is the only way.
The king dug up mounds of dirt from the mountain,
and brought it back down, then again.
He put all the dirt he gathered in the same place,
and the dirt was reborn as a little mountain
which gradually grew larger.
“I’ll let the Star Bird know, that there’s someone down here who knows about it.”
The king’s mountain grew in size but it was the king’s heart which was truly large.
“The king is up to something again!”
All the forest dwellers gathered.
No one knew just what the king was doing.
No one could make fun of the king, as he ran back and forth with purpose.
they simply, stood there watching silently.
The king was perfectly exhausted and took a seat.
He was covered in mud, dripping with sweat, his shoes were worn
and his hands bore blisters.
He had not been home to the castle and had not eaten cake in days
but still, he did not give up.
He looked to the sky, he saw the Star Bird had gotten even farther away.
“Ah, please wait for me. I’m here for you!”
And that’s when the king noticed everyone watching him from a distance.
He stood up and for awhile everyone just stared at each other.
The king removed his crown.
And then, he put his hands to the ground,
and with teary red eyes, and a trembling voice
“Everyone, I beg of you.
I have something I must say to the Star Bird.
Please lend me your strength.”
They were all so shocked, they couldn’t say a word.
When the king saw this, he ran off in a hurray.
He returned waddling with a big treasure chest in his hands.
I will give you all my treasure.
You need not even think of me as a king.
With that he opened the chest and began to remove the items.
“This is a rare nut I found in the Eastern woods.”
-“Isn’t that just an acorn?” said the little squirrel.
“This is a dragon scale I found in the Northern mountains. I give it to you.”
-“Give it or take it, it’s one of mine anyway.” said the peacock.
“This is a fragment of black crystal I found by the Western river. It is no doubt enchanted.”
-“It’s just an ordinary stone.” said the little monkey.
“And this is the legendary shield that’s been passed down through the generations in the castle.”
-It was clearly just the lid to a pot.
The king removed his other treasures but they were all marbles, and snake skin and shells.
None of them could be called treasure, they were ordinary items.
“I wanted to see the unmelting snowman that you went searching for!”
“I would have liked to see the rainbow colored rose.”
“There’s nothing lovely like that here.”
“You’re a liar.”
“You’re the king of liars.”
The monkey tossed the stone he held at the king.
“You’ve got me wrong! I did go in search of these things,
but they weren’t there. I don’t know why but I never found
any of the things that were written about in those books.
But look aren’t these treasures I did find nice?”
“What do you mean nice? You can find these things lying around anywhere.
There’s nothing in that box, but junk.”
“Why do you say so? Aren’t they pretty?”
“We’ve never seen this Star Bird either,
it’s probably more of your hokum.
You’re the king of liars.”
“No, the Star Bird, is real. If nothing else, please believe that.”
And at last the king began to cry.
The king had collected the acorn because he truly believed it was rare.
He had collected the stone because he truly believed it was a black crystal.
What everyone called junk, the king had gathered because he truly believed it was treasure.
The reason he was now crying wasn’t because of that.
The king spoke in a trembling voice once more,
“Please, everyone. Lend me a hand. The Star Bird is going to go away.”
Again, no one could say anything. This time it wasn’t because they were shocked.
The Old Orangutan spoke softly,
“They are all wonderful treasures. We will accept them with our gratitude and divide them amongst ourselves.”
The lion spoke up,
“How can we help you? Please tell us, your majesty.”
Even more tears fell from the king’s eyes.
That night, the king took a bath and went to sleep in his own bed
for the first time in days.
He boasted that he would work without rest,
but everyone knew he was exhausted and they sent him home to the castle for the night.
The king did not read a book before bedtime.
But even without reading a book,
he was able to fall asleep without the ache in his heart
for the first time ever.
The king and the others began their work.
Those good at digging,
those good at carrying,
those big bodies to pat down the earth,
and those who weren’t particularly good at anything,
together, with all their might
First the king showed everyone a drawing of what he planned to build
and told them to make it as large as they possibly could.
“What is this a picture of, your majesty?
“This is the Star Bird, which everyone claims they have not seen.”
The king was making a large Star Bird out of dirt.
“So this is a Star Bird, you know, all of a sudden I really want to see one.”
“As do I”
Everyone wanted to see one.
So together and with all their might
They continued through the rain, wind and snow.
“Let’s make this as tall as those clouds up there.”
“Let’s make this big enough to reach the sea.”
The king worked with all his might too.
He looked good but it was too hard to move.
So off came his shoes and his cape.
And in their place,
a pair of long sturdy boots, and a muffler
that could withstand the cold and rain,
covered in mud, the king worked.
and he became good friends with everyone.
The work went on for days, months, years.
The Star Bird, had long since vanished into the distant sky.
The king hadn’t even noticed because his head was more concerned with
digging, carrying and patting down.
One night the king found himself floating in the sky higher than a cloud.
There was something glimmering, flying towards him.
“Now, what was that thing again?”
The king reached his hands out.
“I remember, it’s the Star Bird!”
“A little more now.”
“I’ve almost got you.”
And then he awoke, and realized it had been a dream.
“I remember you now, Star Bird,” he whispered.
He had a laugh, and then with a yawn, fell asleep again.
Even when morning came,
the king no longer moved.
Unlike the time long ago when he’d fallen from the tower of boxes,
the king would not move again.
After much discussion,
everyone decided to put the king in his treasure chest.
It seemed awfully cramped, but they also put in his two loyal subjects
who had been by his side to the end.
And then they carried the chest to the place where they were making the dirt Star Bird,
and buried him in a hole right in the center.
No one shed a tear.
The king would live on until the Star Bird was finished.
The ordinary stone, and peacock’s own feather that the king had once given them
now became real treasures to those who had them.
In turn, everyone returned to their work.
The last one to remain behind with the king was the lion.
“When it’s done, I will return. I have some business with you still.”
with that said, the lion returned to work.
In the sky above them, for the first time in 28 years the Star Bird had returned but,
as these things go, not one of them could see it.
The work continued, for dozens of years, for hundreds of years, for thousands of years.
Their children’s children’s children’s and still yet further children’s distant children continued the work.
They just assumed it was their charge.
By this time, no one knew what they were making, or to what purpose.
They merely relied on a mysterious drawing
that had been passed down through the generations.
and continued their work.
One night, when a load of dirt was secured
a black crow whose job it was to survey the overall image
shouted out with the loudest voice it had since it was born,
“It’s finished everyone! It looks exactly like the picture!”
It had truly taken forever, and something enormous had truly been built.
What in the world is it that we have completed?
I want someone to see this.
I want someone to know about it.
I want to tell something to someone.
Everyone felt odd.
They felt something aching in their hearts.
A wolf howled. And everyone cried out.
The lion heard their voices
from a place a little out of the way
where he sat by himself before the grave
of someone he didn’t know.
The lions had their own legend.
Something different from everyone else,
that had been told to them since long long ago.
This is yours, I take it. I came to return it to you.
The lion didn’t know anything about it
yet still for some reason his heart ached.
It was an empty but full feeling
that he couldnt’ understand.
He thought he might just
keep walking and go away somewhere.
Unexpectedly from behind someone spoke to him.
“Are you crying?”
Next to the grave was a cat.
The lion was so caught off guard he thought his heart would stop
but he put on his strongest voice and answered,
“I’m sorry, it looked like you were.”
said the cat nervously.
The lion asked the cat,
“What are you, how long have you been there?”
The cat took a moment to think and answered,
“I don’t know.”
The lion asked again,
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
The cat said, “I’m sorry” and fell silent.
Just as the lion was about to say something
after being embarassed by this cat which had already apologized twice
to the lion in the short time he’d known him,
the cat yelled out,
“What’s that, there’s something flying up there.”
“Where? I don’t see anything.”
“What do you mean you don’t see anything!
It’s glowing so brightly, but it’s so sad looking!”
“What, you mean the moon?”
“No! Where are you looking? Not the moon!”
What was that called… I know it.
What was it… Oh yeah!”
The cat took off running.
“Where are you going?”
“I remember now, it’s the Star Bird.”
——original text by Fujiwara Moto
——translated by Brian Stewart
Note: I chose to translate “minna” as forest dwellers on several occassions just to establish who exactly the story is referring to.