Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Monk’s Nose. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Nose. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Nose. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So you may notice today that I sound quite a bit clearer and nicer than before. This is because I have bought a new microphone. The microphone I was using before was called the Blue Snowball, and the microphone I’m using now is the Blue Yeti.
They’re both very popular microphones, especially for podcasting. The Snowball is what we call an “entry-level” microphone. So it’s designed for beginners, for people who aren’t sure if they want to spend a lot of money, but the Yeti microphone is more professional. It’s not the level that actual radio professionals use, but for podcasting it is very good.
I read online, a lot of people say that, ‘Oh, you can just use the Blue Snowball and, if you are careful and you edit the sound well, then it will still sound pretty good.’
But I have to say, the difference between the Snowball and the Yeti just feels huge for me. I really noticed it the first time I recorded something with it. My voice sounds much richer, much clearer, and I think also less nasal. By “nasal” I mean when you talk like this, is when you sound very nasal. And I found I just sounded very nasal with the Snowball. Or something, there was something with my voice that I just couldn’t quite pick up on that I didn’t like.
It’s even things like, so I like singing, but, you know, you always think you sound really good in your head, but then when you record yourself you often find you don’t sound as good as you thought. And whenever I recorded myself singing with my old microphone, I found, ‘Oh, actually I sound really nasally, and just not very good.’ But with the new one, I think I sound pretty damn good. I sound very good, actually, and it’s kind of frustrating that for so long I thought I was worse at singing than I am just because of the quality of the microphone.
I also had to be really careful with the last microphone about knocking the table where I sit, anything like that, because it picked up on all of those sounds really loudly. But this microphone is much better for that.
So, some people say that, ‘Oh, you know, audio quality doesn’t matter that much.’ I disagree. I think it really makes a difference. And, hopefully, you will appreciate the increase in audio quality for the rest of the podcast. I think, especially for reading fiction, having nice, good-sounding audio just makes such a difference. It makes it so much more enjoyable.
So, today’s story is the last in our series of three stories by Ryuunosuke Akutagawa, the Japanese short story writer, also known as “the father of the Japanese short story”. This will be the last for now. I really like his stories. I think he has a really interesting style. I feel like his stories are very accessible, even if you don’t know much about Japanese culture, it’s still very relevant today, especially this story that we’re doing today.
So if you like these stories and would like to hear more stories by Ryuunosuke Akutagawa, please do let me know. Or maybe there’s another Japanese author that you like, that you would like to hear on the podcast. Whatever the case, you can always leave a comment at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Nose. Or you can email me at Ariel@EasyStoriesInEnglish.com.
So, I actually speak Japanese. I think I mentioned that before, but I might’ve forgotten. Today’s story, the original title is Hana, which means “nose” in Japanese. And I actually read this story for A-level.
So, A-level is an exam that you do in the United Kingdom when you’re usually eighteen. So it’s a two-year course from sixteen to eighteen, and Japanese is one of the A-levels that I studied.
Part of the course was that we had to write an essay about a literary text, so I decided to choose this story, “The Nose”, or “Nose”, because I really enjoyed it. The version I read at the time was simplified, similar to the way I’m simplifying it for you here, but I was just really surprised at how relatable the story was. It was written, you know, maybe eighty or ninety years ago, and from a completely different cultural background, but I still found it really relevant to modern life.
So the story is all about vanity. When someone is vain or has vanity, it means that they are really obsessed with how they look. So they spend a lot of time looking in the mirror. They spend a lot of time worrying about how they appear, whether other people think they’re attractive or not. It’s all focussed on themselves.
And I think this is a problem that’s so relevant to modern society. You know, we have social media, we have Instagram. People can present an image of themselves that’s super “curated”, I guess I could say? So they have a lot of control over their image. So vanity is really a current topic.
I’d like to make it clear that I don’t think it’s wrong to think you’re attractive. I think we all need that confidence. I think it’s fantastic that there is more body positivity and such now, but I think there’s a limit… Well, it’s not that there’s a limit, it’s just, there’s a difference between being confident and knowing that you’re attractive, and thinking that your appearance is the most important thing in the world.
So I’ll just explain some words that appear in the text. So again this text has some references to Buddhism, and in particular it talks about sutras.
So sutras are kind of like Buddhist poetry, Buddhist poems. They’re a kind of religious text. And they are chanted by monks. So when I say “chant”, it’s like sung, but in a very repetitive fashion. Here is an example of a traditional Japanese Buddhist sutra:
Personally, I think they’re quite beautiful, and, I don’t know, I’m not very religious, but I always think, if I was going to get into a religion, it would probably be Buddhism, ’cause I would love to chant some sutras.
Nowadays in Japan, the whole practice of chanting sutras has acquired a modern twist. So it’s becoming more popular, it seems to me, to put sutras to music and basically turn them into a kind of musical genre. So here’s an example of that:
There are even musical sutras sung by Hatsune Miku, who you may know. She is a singing robot, basically, from Japan. Here is a sample of how that sounds:
So, sutras have become quite interesting in recent years.
Another word I’d like to explain, which is a very unpleasant word, is “itchy”. So itchy, when you feel itchy, when you have an itch, it’s that feeling when you really need to scratch yourself. It’s like, almost painful, maybe on your nose or your arm, and you just think, ‘Oh, I really need to scratch.’ And the more you think about it, the more you want to do it. But you can’t always do it in public, you know, you can’t always scratch your butt in public. So itches can be very, very frustrating.
So, listen and enjoy!
The Monk’s Nose
Once upon a time, in old Japan, there was a Buddhist monk named Zenchi. Zenchi was well-known at the temple where he lived because of his nose. It was about five or six inches long, and it hung down his face, from his upper lip to the bottom of his chin. It was fat at the top and fat at the bottom, and looked like a long sausage, which hung off his face and swung from side to side.
Zenchi was over fifty years old, and throughout his time at the temple, he had suffered constantly because of his nose. This made it very difficult to focus on meditation and chanting sutras, which were the roles of a Buddhist monk like him.
There were two reasons Zenchi found his nose so hard to bear. Firstly, its length bothered him in everyday life. For example, he could never eat dinner alone. If he ate alone, his nose would fall into his bowl of porridge. So he had to have an apprentice sit across from him, and as he ate, hold up his nose with a small piece of wood. Naturally, this was very bothersome for both Zenchi and the apprentice who held his nose. One time, one of the younger boys was holding his nose, and sneezed. This caused him to drop Zenchi’s nose into the bowl, sending porridge all over his face and the floor. This incident was so funny to all the monks that it spread far and wide, and people even talked about it in the capital.
However, this was not the main reason why Zenchi hated his nose. The main reason was that he was vain, and his nose was terribly ugly. People in the temple said that he was so ugly that no woman would ever want to be his wife. Some even thought that he became a monk because he knew he would never find a wife. This was not true, but it hurt Zenchi to hear it, anyway. He had a delicate personality, and a huge vanity.
Zenchi tried and tried to find a solution to his problem. When he was alone, he sat in front of a mirror, and looked at himself from many angles. He tried desperately to find an angle which made his nose look smaller, but this just made him more anxious. So he tried pushing and pulling at his nose, but if anything, it made his nose look bigger. Every now and then, he would repeat this activity, until eventually he got sick of it and hid the mirror inside a box, so that he could go back to chanting sutras.
Another thing he tried was to look for someone else with the same problem. Next to the temple there was a bathhouse, and every day many monks went there to bathe. Zenchi would sit outside the bathhouse, watching people come and go, looking especially at their noses. There were big noses, there were small noses. There were short noses, there were long noses. There were flat noses, there were hooked noses. But there were no noses as big, as long, or as fat as Zenchi’s.
Zenchi even searched in Buddhist texts and history books for someone with a similar nose, but there were none there, either. The longer Zenchi looked for a nose like his, the sadder he became. He was sometimes so anxious, that in the middle of a conversation with another monk, he would stop to touch his nose, as he thought the other person was judging him for it.
One day in Autumn, Zenchi heard from an apprentice about a monk in China who had managed to make his nose smaller. His operation had been so successful that he was now a monk at the biggest temple in the country. Naturally, Zenchi pretended to be disinterested, but secretly he decided he would try out this method. After dinner, he casually asked the apprentice what the precise steps of the method were. The apprentice told him, and said Zenchi should try it, and that he would be happy to help him with the operation. Zenchi was overjoyed, and said yes.
The operation was simple: boil the nose in water, and have somebody else crush it with their feet. So Zenchi went to the bathhouse and collected a bucket of boiling water. He was worried that if he dipped his nose in, the steam would burn his face. So he cut a hole in a plate, and put it on top of the bucket, so that only his nose would be dipped inside the water.
‘Ready, Zenchi?’ said the apprentice.
‘Ready,’ said Zenchi.
He took a deep breath and put his nose inside the bucket. It was very hot, but it did not hurt. Instead, his nose felt itchy, like many small insects had bitten it. Zenchi moved away from the bucket and lay down on the floor, his nose still steaming. The apprentice stamped on the nose with all his strength. Once again, it did not hurt. In fact, because his nose was itchy, it was a pleasant sensation. The apprentice looked very sorry for what he was doing, however. He kept stamping and stamping, crushing the nose beneath his feet.
Zenchi’s nose started to crack open, and small lumps fell out that looked like pieces of grain. The apprentice said that they were supposed to collect these, so he took a bag and collected up the pieces of Zenchi’s nose. Zenchi felt anxious, because a part of his body was being treated like a common object, but he said nothing.
For the final step, the apprentice took a wooden spoon and scooped the fat out of Zenchi’s nose. This part was the strangest, and he felt a bit sick as he watched the fat be taken out of his nose. Four big spoonfuls came out, and were placed into a small bowl.
After being boiled, crushed, and emptied, Zenchi’s nose was indeed smaller. The apprentice brought him a mirror, and he spent a long time examining his new nose. It was still hooked, but only two inches long. It had bright red scars from where it had been crushed by the apprentice, but already they were fading. Zenchi was confident that nobody could laugh at it, because it was now a normal-sized nose.
What he did worry was that the change would not be permanent. As he was chanting sutras, reading texts, and eating his meals that day, he would from time to time feel his nose. Each time he found that it was as before, well above his upper lip and not hanging down to his chin. When he went to bed, he worried that he would wake up and find it was all a dream. But when the sun rose the next day, he felt his nose and it was still small. He was overjoyed. He had never been so happy in his entire life.
A few days later, though, his joy began to fade. It was strange. As he walked around the temple, people looked at him with judging eyes, and while before they had made an effort to avoid looking at his nose, now they stared openly at it. When he walked into the dining hall, the other monks, including the apprentice who dropped his nose in the porridge, looked down suddenly. They had clearly been talking about him, and were trying not to laugh. Everywhere he went, people laughed behind his back.
At first, Zenchi tried to convince himself that this was an unrelated issue, but eventually he had to admit that it was related to his change in appearance. Of course, many people had laughed behind his back before, but the way they laughed now was much crueller. Apparently, his short nose was much funnier than his long nose had ever been.
Zenchi fell into a deep depression. He regretted changing his nose, and wished he could have his old, long nose back. Of course, he could share his troubles with nobody, because nobody understood his problem. He started to wonder if he should trick someone else into changing their nose, just so he could have a companion in misery.
Zenchi’s vanity was now obvious to all the other monks in the temple. He became bitter, and made mean comments to those around him. The apprentice who had helped him shorten his nose told him that he would be punished for his sin of treating people badly instead of spreading the word of Buddha. This made Zenchi feel even worse, and as a result he became even crueller.
One day, Zenchi heard shouting, and went outside to see what was happening. One of the apprentices was chasing a dog with a piece of wood, shouting, ‘I’ll hit you with my nose! I’ll hit you with my nose!’ Zenchi grabbed the piece of wood from him and hit him in the face. Then he realised it was the wood that was used to hold up his nose when he ate porridge, before his operation. He dropped it, feeling sick, and ran away.
That night, Zenchi felt so awful about his nose that he could hardly sleep. It was a cold night, and his nose itched. When he touched it, it was wet and swollen. He thought he had a fever, and tried to go to sleep.
The next morning, it was a beautiful, bright day. Zenchi got up and went to sniff the flowers. That was when he noticed something different. He felt something… familiar.
He lifted his hand up to his nose. It was about five or six inches long, and it hung down his face, from his upper lip to the bottom of his chin.
His old nose was back! Zenchi felt a great relief. He felt just as happy as he had when his nose was shortened before. As the wind blew his nose from side to side, he felt sure that nobody would laugh at him anymore.
I hope you enjoyed the story. You can support the podcast by leaving a review on iTunes. Search for Easy Stories in English, give us a star rating, and say what you like about the show. It would really help us grow. Thank you for listening, and until next week.