Nao-cola Yamazaki trans. by Polly Barton
An Imaginary Band History
1977 Matsumoto, the guitarist, is born in Osaka.
1978 Kunimura the bassist, is born in Tokyo.
1979 Iwamoto, the drummer, is born in Fukuoka.
1980 Kato, the singer, is born in Wakayama. In the same year, tambourine player Miyata is born in a coin-operated locker.
1985 There is a big craze for chocolate wafers with the anime character Bikkuriman on the wrappers.
1990 Matsumoto’s first encounter with a guitar. The first song he learns to play is Forbidden Games. He masters the basics, but can’t yet manage barre chords. “If only my fingers were longer, I’d be able to push down properly on the strings,” he says to himself. Thinking that water resistance might help, he takes up swimming, but finds that only the skin between his fingers grows. The fingers themselves remain exactly the same length.
1993 Kunimura’s sister sends his picture to Johnny & Associates, a talent agency devoted to scouting new male pop stars, but Kunimura is not selected. Kunimura, who had already planned to explain his success by telling people with great embarrassment that his sister had applied on his behalf without telling him, revises his stance, now declaring, “I wasn’t meant to compete with my face—I compete with my bass!”
1995 There is a spate of terrible teen murders. Iwamoto spends his high school days in fear, as he knows himself to be short-tempered and worries he may become a perpetrator himself. While thumping his desk to try and dissipate some of the mounting stress, he finds his rhythm, and takes up the drums.
1998 Kato begins writing lyrics and making songs, carrying a keyboard out onto the street and performing. Her lyrics are bad enough, but her melodies are truly awful. She is fully aware of her lack of talent, so she begins giving out free tangerine juice to anybody kind enough to listen to her. After a while, she grows sick of only playing in Wakayama, and takes her keyboard to the streets of Osaka. In the same year, Miyata begins university in Tokyo. He struggles to make friends, and takes to playing the tambourine, solo, in his university lodgings. His tambourine at this time is star-shaped.
1999 Believe it or not, just when everybody thought that the world was going come to an end as Nostradamus had predicted, it carries on existing. Matsumoto, who is studying economics at university in Osaka, hears Kato singing on a street corner, and his inner guitarist let our a wail. “If I play guitar, will you sing with me?” he asks Kato. Kato nods. The same year, Kunimura and Iwamoto, who are in separate bands, end up playing at a venue in Tokyo on the same night by total coincidence. The two nod at one another, and feel an instant connection. After leaving the venue, they both skip the post-concert drinks with their respective bands, and stand talking on the street instead.
“So shall we team up, then?” one suggests. “What can you do with just bass and drums though, man?” says the other. Just then, Miyata, who had watched the gig, comes striding up to them and says, “I’ll sing for you.”
The three of them go to a karaoke box. Both Kunimura and Iwamoto are disappointed by Miyata’s singing. They keep their hands over their ears throughout, except when Miyata stops singing and plays the tambourine. Despite their feelings of disappointment, though, they somehow don’t feel like they can cut Miyata loose.
2000 Matsumoto and Kato move to Tokyo, with the intention of taking the musical universe by storm. A friend of theirs introduces them to Kunimura, Iwamoto and Miyata. The five form a band and find an agency to represent them.
2001 Release of debut single “Let’s Go Dutch!”
Kato is the band’s only woman. Like a set of sharp knives, the five scream the world to shreds.
2002 Release of debut album Next Time’s It’s On Me!, Miyata starts using a circular tambourine.
2004 Release of second album, She Wasn’t Drinking, So Splitting the Check Just Ain’t Cool!
2005 The band’s first national tour, entitled “The After Dinner Tour.” They travel all over Japan.
During a rehearsal in a concert hall in Sendai, Iwamoto, who is feeling very anxious about the upcoming performance, becomes infuriated with how the crewmembers are doing their jobs and destroys his drum kit. He promptly regrets it. The actual performance features no drums. Iwamoto beats his knees instead. With the gig out of the way, Iwamoto takes a shower and notices that his thighs are bright red.
2006 Kato becomes depressed and finds herself unable to write songs. She travels alone to the beautiful Shirahama Beach, in her native Wakayama Prefecture. Sitting cross-legged on the beach, she notices that there are lyrics hiding in the spaces between the grains of sand. She picks them up. She discovers that when she drops grains of sand onto a musical score, they transform into lyrics.
2007 Release of single, “Treat Your Superiors at Work Well and Buy Them Dinner During Your Thirties, and Your Career Will Flourish in Your Forties!” It sells over a million copies.
2008 The band’s diary is full of black scribbles. The members don’t have a moment to themselves. Forced to spend all their time in each other’s company, they begin to feel increasingly irritated with one another.
2010 While making their third album, the band members have a big fight. Kunimura punches Iwamoto. The band splits up, their album still unfinished, causing distress to its fans and a terrific nuisance to all the crew.
2025 At Matsumoto’s suggestion, the band gets together for dinner for the first time in ages. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are all a lot more mature than they were, and conversation flows. Everyone is friends again.
2026 The band reforms and releases their third album, The Last Supper.
2027 On a sunny summer’s day, Kato has a barbeque at her house, and invites all the band members along. They have skewers with green peppers, onions and meat. Everyone’s cups are brimming with tangerine juice. All the guests bring their other halves, apart from Miyata. There are big dogs, and lots of grass.
Then Miyata says, “It feels kinda hypocritical for us to be doing this, y’know. Everyone’s grown up, and got kinda round and fuzzy at the edges.”
Matsumoto replies with a jibe at Miyata. “Round!? Look who’s talking! You used to use a pointy star-shaped tambourine, but now you use a circular one.”
Hearing this, Miyata beats his tambourine on the grass until it breaks.
Polly Barton's translations of Nao-cola Yamazaki's "Fossil Candy" and "An Imaginary Band History" as well as "Let People Buy You Lunch," "A Totally New Kind of Umbrella" and "Logic and Sensitivity Are Not Incompatible" can be read in the print edition of The Arkansas International 2.
Nao-Cola Yamazaki debuted in 2004 with the Bungei Award-winning novella Don't Laugh At Other People's Sex. She has published over ten novels, essay collections, and a children's book, and has been nominated for the Akutagawa Prize five times. Her latest release is Utsukushii Kyori (A Beautiful Distance), published in July 2016.
Polly Barton was raised in London and lives in Osaka. Aside from Nao-Cola Yamazaki, she has translated a variety of Japanese literary fiction and non-fiction, including Aoko Matsuda and Misumi Kubo. She is a 2017 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant recipient. Her translation of Tomoka Shibasaki's Spring Garden came out from Pushkin Press in 2017.