It was February, and the rays of the winter sun glittered brightly on the snow that covered everything in sight. In other years, every animal living in these hills would still be fast asleep in winter hibernation, but this year there was one who was wide awake.
Although the first warm breeze of spring was yet far off, Konkichi the fox crawled up and out of the deep hole that he had dug to pass the winter in sleep. Young Konkichi was deep in thought. Now, before you say that this fox, an animal, could not possibly be deep in thought, remember that a fox, too, has feelings, and cries out ‘Kon’ whenever he is especially happy or sad. A fox these days has many things to be concerned about.
Through a winter so long that it seemed like forever, Konkichi had been thinking and thinking, not closing his eyes to sleep even once. It is no wonder, then, that when he came out of his hole, his eyes were tired and bloodshot, his fur coat was mussed up, and his tail, of which he was so proud, had lost its silvery sheen.
This matter that had Konkichi so deep in thought was — well, something about a golf course! A golf course? Just what could a fox have to do with golf?
Since spring of the previous year, when the hill had been dug up and carved into a golf course, Konkichi had watched with envy the figures of humans swinging golf clubs as they strolled around the course. These people, called ‘businessmen’, wore smart neckties as they went back and forth to offices Monday through Friday, and when the weekend came it seemed that their job was to come out onto the green hills and have fun hitting little white balls into the air and then into little round holes.
Konkichi would hide in the high grass around the golf course and secretly watch these smartly dressed people enjoying golf, and think to himself, ‘It sure is a hard and boring life we foxes live, chasing rabbits and field mice, and being chased by the farmer when we go after his chickens.’
‘Ah, I want to be a human being! I’d like to try living the life of a businessman. Oh, what can I do? Why don’t I just become a person once and for all! Oh, but if I did. . .’ This is the problem that had kept Konkichi awake and confused all winter long.
Just now, as we were learning about Konkichi’s winter thoughts, he came up to the entrance to his hole and sat motionless, thinking over these questions until, suddenly, he stood and shook himself from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. ‘I quit being a fox!’ he yelled, his voice carrying over the fields and mountains, loud enough to reach the ocean and fly over the waves to echo around the world. ‘From now on I’m going to be a person, a person I will become,’ muttered Konkichi to himself. Konkichi decided to use ken-pon-tan magic. This ken-pon-tan magic, known only to foxes, is a way for foxes to change into human form. By placing an oak leaf on the head and saying ‘ken’, one would become able to speak exactly like a person. Then, saying ‘pon’ would change the body of the fox into whatever kind of person he wanted to be. Only the tail of the fox would still remain. Finally—yes, truly, finally — by saying ‘tan’ the tail would disappear, and the fox who used this magic would then be completely human, and could never again become a fox. Konkichi’s mother had many times warned him not to say these three words, but now he was determined to ignore her advice.
The young fox picked up an old, dried oak leaf that lay just inside his winter hole, and placed it on top of his head.
‘Konkichi! Just what do you think you are doing?!’ his mother called to him from where she sat at the entrance to their home in the side of the hill. ‘My son, I know what you have been thinking about through this winter, but life as a human may not be as enjoyable as it appears to others who can only see it from the outside.’
Konkichi replied, ‘Mother, I’ve already made up my mind. No matter what, I will become a person. Being stuck here in the hills with no food in the winter, and then being chased around by men with guns — I’ve had enough of that! I’m going to be a businessman in town. With the salary I’ll be earning, I’ll buy many tasty rabbits and bring them to you.’ Hurriedly ending his short speech, the young fox turned his pointed nose toward the sky to begin the magic chant.
‘Konkichi!’ his mother again cried out, ‘I never told you before, but many hundreds of our fox friends have used the ken-pon-tan magic to become human, and then left these hills. Nobody knows what became of them after that. I beg of you to think it over again, my dear son. . . .’
Before his loving mother could finish speaking, Konkichi shouted, ‘Mother, here I go!’ and with that he firmly held the oak leaf on his head with his right forepaw and barked out ‘ken-pan-ta—n.’
Right then and there, where Konkichi the fox had been, stood a young man with his right hand on his head, a tall young man smartly dressed in a dark blue suit and a red necktie. Konkichi in his new human form slowly lowered his hand from the top of his head and hesitatingly touched the necktie on his chest. Then he slowly stretched his hand behind him and felt — no tail! He could even speak with the sounds and words of the humans. Thinking ahead to his glorious future as a person, never to be a fox again, Konkichi was really delighted.
While Konkichi beamed happily, his mother stared blankly at him, and from her unblinking eyes the tears came and rolled down her face. Her transformed son, seeing her in her grief, said, ‘I’ll be back soon, so...’ and swiftly disappeared down the side of the hill.
Running down from the hills, Konkichi soon found himself on the streets of the city. Of course, he was at first worried that someone there might suddenly shout out something like ‘Hey, it’s a fox! Here, walking around in a suit, a real fox!’ so he nervously avoided looking directly at anyone. However, as he continued walking through the city and not a single person seemed to suspect him, Konkichi’s confidence gradually grew until he was striding about with chest thrust forward and shoulders drawn back so far as to nearly fall over backwards, certain that he was now indeed one hundred percent human.
Then he stopped and stood at an intersection, looking around him at the shiny buildings towering high above him. As his eyes travelled up one of these skyscrapers, they came upon a large poster pasted to the wall.
One (1) company employee urgently needed.
We are looking for someone who likes animals.
Age 25 or below.
High salary. Inquire inside.
Mountain Fashions Company, Ltd.
‘That’s for me!’ said Konkichi to himself, and he briskly walked up to the huge front door, pushed it open, and entered the building.
Heading straight for the reception desk, Konkichi in a loud voice said to the young lady seated there, ‘Good afternoon! About that poster on the front of the building that says “company employee needed” — does that mean businessman needed?’
‘Eh, er, well, yes, I guess it does. Pardon me, but . . .’
‘Oh, good! I’ve come here to become a businessman,’ said Konkichi. ‘I think this is the company for me. Excuse me, young lady! Where is the president of this company? I would like to meet the company president right now.’
Blinking with surprise, the young receptionist said without thinking, ‘The president is in his office on the third floor, Room 33, but . . . ,’ and then she couldn’t keep from giggling at the serious expression on Konkichi’s face, for it made him look just like a fox. Konkichi left the reception desk in a hurry.
Passing a mirror in the corridor on his way to the company president’s office, Konkichi casually looked at his reflection. Well, well, that face was surely the face of a person, but somehow something fox-like was mixed in with the human features. His eyes glittered slyly, his face was a bit pointed, with a mouth that turned upward at the corners, and his ears seemed to stand up sharply.
‘Good afternoon, President, sir! Kon. I certainly hope you will let me be a businessman in this company. I want to become a businessman. Being a fox is just no’— Konkichi quickly closed his mouth, then began again. ‘No, really, even though I may look somewhat like a fox, at heart I’m really reliable and honest as a saint.’
As Konkichi spoke, the fat, red-faced president raised his face from the papers on his desk and, with his cigar held between his teeth, spoke in a weary, bored manner, ‘All right, you, first let’s see your résumé.’
He was quite tired, for he had since that morning interviewed so many people.
Now, Konkichi had never even once in his life heard the word résumé, so he blinked in confusion and asked the president, ‘Uh, pardon me, but what is a résumé? Really, I’ve brought nothing with me today.’
‘What? You don’t know what a résumé is? Oh, I guess that was a joke.’ The president opened his eyes wide and glared at Konkichi, all the while rolling with his tongue the cigar in his mouth.
‘No, sir, it wasn’t,’ said Konkichi. ‘I really don’t know what this thing you call a résumé is, but is it absolutely necessary to have one to become a businessman?’
The company president glared at Konkichi so sharply that his eyes seemed to burn a hole in him. ‘Hmm. Well, just in case you really don’t know, a résumé is a sheet of paper on which you write who your parents are, where and when you were born, what kind of school you went to, and what work you have done so far. Indeed! Who could expect a character who doesn’t know about a résumé to be able to work in a company! My company has no use for you. Go on, get out! There’ll be no interview!’ he roared.
‘Finished!’ thought Konkichi to himself. ‘Even if I did tell him about my past, living up there in the hills and chasing rabbits and such, sometimes sneaking down to the village to steal chickens . . . and, of course, I’ve never been to school.’
The president, sitting there watching the nervous Konkichi, roared out again, ‘I say, you must be a nameless bozo! How about at least saying your name when you enter a room! Have you no common sense, even?’
The confused Konkichi stuttered, ‘Uh, er, well, my name is not Bozo, but Konkichi. I live up in those hills . . . my home is in the hills . . . home hill, Konkichi Homehill is my name.’ Konkichi said the first thing that he thought of, and was pleased with how it came out.
‘Uh, then, my address, yes . . . uh, uh, over the hill, a hole in the hillside . . . that’s it, yes, Overhill City, on Wholehill Street, that’s where I live.’
(to be continued)
(C) Written by Tajima Shinji
Translated from the Japanese by T. M. Hoffman
Published by Oxford University Press, 1999