The Sea Lion Festival

The Sea Lion Festival

by MURAKAMI Haruki

Translated by Kiki

I am smoking a cigarette after a simple lunch when a sea lion comes to my apartment. I hear a knock, so I answer the door. At my front door there is a sea lion. There isn’t really anything special about him. It is just an ordinary sea lion. I mean he isn’t wearing sunglasses or a three-piece Brooks Brothers suit. Actually he looks old- fashioned and almost Chinese.

”Good afternoon. Nice to meet you,” says the Sea Lion. “I trust that I’m not disturbing you. Is this a good time?”

“It’s ok, I’m not really that busy,” I say, a bit flustered.

Sea lions are relatively harmless animals. There is nothing fierce or threatening about them. It doesn’t matter what kind of sea lion you have at your front door, there is really no reason for concern. And this one didn’t look any different.

That realization is almost more disturbing.

“If you could just give me ten minutes, I’d be really grateful.” Out of habit I glance at my watch. But that is unnecessary. I have time.

“But it might not even take that long,” the Sea Lion adds, practically reading my thoughts. Without even thinking about it I lead him into my apartment. I even offer him a glass of barley tea.

“You shouldn’t have. You really didn’t need to go to such trouble.” He downs half of the tea in one gulp. Then he takes a cigarette from his jacket pocket and lights it with his lighter. “It’s still really hot, isn’t it?”

“That’s for sure.”

“But at least the mornings and evenings are not so bad.

“Yeah, but it is September after all.”

“Hmm. The high school baseball tournament is already finished. And the Giants have all but clinched the pennant. Nothing much to get worked up about, is there? Summer’s practically finished.”

“I guess you’re right.”

The Sea Lion nods in agreement and looks around my apartment. “Forgive me for prying, but do you live here alone?”

“No, I live with my wife, but she’s away on a trip at the moment.”

“Really? Taking separate vacations sounds like fun.” The Sea Lion gives a knowing slightly cynical laugh.

It was completely my fault, and I take full responsibility. I don’t care how drunk one gets at some bar in Shinjuku, one should never offer a business card to the sea lion sitting on the next stool. I think everybody recognizes that. What else can I say but since I am a thoughtful person, I offered it to him. I didn’t have any choice. It’s what I had to do. The sea lion took it.

Misunderstandings cause problems. It isn’t that I dislike sea lions. There isn’t anything that I hate about them. I admit that I’d be torn if suddenly one day my sister announces that she wants to marry a sea lion. Assuming they love each other I would not vigorously protest such a marriage. Falling in love with a sea lion might happen.

However giving a business card to a sea lion is a completely different kettle of fish. As you all know sea lions are symbols of the vast ocean. A is the symbol of B, and B is the symbol of C. So C is the symbol for both A and B. Sea lions have established their community on such a pyramid structure. Maybe it contains a high risk of chaos. At the core of this pyramid is the business card. That’s why the sea lion always carries a thick bunch of business cards in his briefcase. For the sea lion those cards represent his place in the community. It’s the same as those birds that collect beads.

“A few days ago an associate of mine received your business card, I believe.”

“Really?” I pretend to have no idea what he is talking about. “I was pretty drunk so I don’t really remember that well.”

“But my friend was delighted.”

I drink my tea, politely feigning interest.

“I apologize again for dropping in unannounced, but I wanted to take this opportunity to visit you. And since I have this card. . . .”

“You want something from me?”

“It’s just a little thing. We just need some symbolic assistance, Teacher.” Apparently the animals called sea lions describe humans as “teacher.”

“Symbolic assistance?”

“Oh pardon me.” He reaches into his briefcase, takes out a business card, and hands it to me. “This should help explain matters.”

“Sea Lion Festival Executive Committee Chairperson,” I read from the card.

“I trust that you have heard of our organization.”

“Well, I can’t really say that I have,” I say. “Maybe I’ve heard something about it.”

“For us sea lions, our festival is an extremely important event. It’s full of symbolic import. But this event is also beneficial for the rest of the world”.


“At the moment our existence is pretty marginal. But, at this time …” Suddenly he cuts himself off and stamps his cigarette out in the ashtray. “The world is comprised of many diverse factors. We sea lions are shouldering the responsibility for the spiritual factor.”

“Oh sorry, but really, I’m just not interested in that kind of talk….”

“We are aiming for a renaissance of sea lions. For this to occur there must be a corresponding renaissance all over the world. In the past our festival has been closed to you humans because of our own close-mindedness. But today our message to the world is this: we have fundamentally changed our festival. We hope that our festival can serve as a springboard to achieve such a renaissance. That is our message for the world.”

“I guess I follow what you are saying.”

“Up to now we have approached our festivals as simply festivals. Of course they are beautiful and exciting spectacles. But we sea lions believe that life is preparation for the festival because festivals help us discern the true nature of our sea lion identity. Festivals confirm our identity: our sea lion-ness, if you will. Self-discovery is located in such continuous action. Self-discovery is the culmination of the final action.”

“Confirmation of the what?”

“The grand deja vu.”

I keep nodding my head even though I have no idea what he is babbling about. That’s just how they talk. They say what is on their minds. I usually just stand back and let them get it out of their system. By the time the Sea Lion finishes it is past 2:30 and I am dead tired.

“That’s all I have,” the Sea Lion says, calmly finishing his warm tea.” Do you basically understand what I have been talking about?”

“You are looking for a handout.”

“No, no, we are seeking spiritual assistance,” the Sea Lion corrects.

I reach into my billfold and remove two one thousand yen bills and place them in front of him. “Sorry, this isn’t much, but tomorrow I have to pay my insurance and my newspaper subscription is also due.”

“Thank you very much. Every little bit helps, as you know. It’s the thought that counts,” the Sea Lion says, waving off my excuses with his hand.

The Sea Lion leaves behind a thin pamphlet entitled “The Sea Lion Report” and a sticker on which “Are sea lions metaphorical?” is printed. Finding the proper location for the sticker is a problem until I remember an illegally parked red Selica in the neighborhood. I place it firmly in the middle of the windshield. It looks like one of those really adhesive stickers so he might have some trouble removing it.