Leap Before You Look

By Oe Kenzaburo

Translated by William Wetherall

A version of this translation was published in January 1973 as a
72-page paper submitted and distributed to a graduate seminar on the
literature of Ōe Kenzaburō taught by Francis T. Motofuji in the
Department of Oriental Languages, University of California at Berkeley,
where I completed an MA program in Asian Studies that spring.

See also Buffer Zones


Oe Kenzaburo, born in 1935, received the Akutagawa Prize for "Shiiku" in 1958, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994.

"Leap Before You Look" first appeared as "Miru mae ni tobe" (見るまえに跳べ) in the June 1958 issue of Bungakukai (文学界). It was immediately anthologized as the title story of Miru mae ni tobe (見るまえに跳べ), Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 31 October 1958, pages 5-75, and my translation is based on this version.

Miru mae ni tobe
1958 Shinchosha anthology edition
Leap Before You Look
January 1973 Wetherall translation

Leap Before You Look

Ōe Kenzaburō

As I pass between the cold, damp, stone walls, a dawn-like dimness is spilling into the garden enclosed by the seminar buildings. This will not change for the rest of winter. But once spring comes, the garden will be instantly flooded with festive, glorious light, light that will continue in brilliance, dazzling the eyes, until the buds of the tall trees in the groves open and become clusters of firm leaves, more and more closing off the sky.

The arrival of spring was late this year, however, and crossing the garden i felt a bitter calm securely settling within and without me. It was not at all a bad feeling. Just that for a twenty-year-old student it was slightly lacking in cheerfulness, slightly not youthful. It was nothing more than that.

A few steps up the stairs, i caught in the corner of my eye a faucet, jutting towards the cloudy sky from the stone landing of a Baroque structure in the corner of the garden, glistening softly like a finger wetted with water. Sensing that my throat was dry, I stopped. I had been keeping myself thirsty all through the winter. I went back down.

[ Pages 2-71, omitted here, will be posted when scanned. ]

After than, in shallow sleep, I dreamt of foreign soldiers tossing an ugly, miserly Japanese in a dark, smelly pool of sewage. Then the trapped me at the precipice. I vacillated, staring down at the stench. I had no choice but to leap in it if I wished to flee the soldiers pressing in on me. A silent throng of Japanese were crowding tightly around us, but they didn't even try to help me. Always visible directly below me as I looked down was the victim of this outrageous act, exhausted in that filthy water, floundering around helplessly. Dark and flesh-colored, he resembled my wretched organ. Then a young looking soldier the others called Gabriel began to sing.

Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

I was trapped, trembling, at the end of my rope. You may look as closely as you please, but eventually you're going to have to leap! I was terror stricken. It got to looky-one years. Nor does it seem that I will ever leap. In the morning, while Yoshie was sleeping, I put on my trousers as though I could never resolve to leap. Then finally it occurred to me that I had never once leapt in all my twent and shirt, carefully so as not to make any noise. Yoshie was submerged in the dark, heavy air, breathing regularly, sound asleep. I stopped before the door and looked back. She hadn't awakened. I opened the door and went outside.