an English translation of the novel

Page 187-188

“The Natural History of the New Japan Islands” writes that over the years, a number of historians, biologists, and linguists have puzzled over the etymology of the name “minoshiro”, and come up with a few interesting theories.

An old accepted explanation was that its name came from the fact that looked like it was wearing a raincoat.1 But the book doesn’t say what kind of raincoat, and I’ve never seen one before, so I have no idea whether this explanation is accurate or not.

Another reason came partly from the cape-clad appearance, and partly from its white color, combined with the belief that the souls of the dead lived within it.2 Also, the fact that the minoshiro is usually terrestrial, but returns to the sea to lay eggs was a plausible origin for its name.3 A later explanation was that the red and yellow eggs that it laid in clumps of seaweed or coral resembled ornaments in the palace of the Dragon King.

Another unofficial reason came from the fact that the when it faced an enemy, the minoshiro’s tail will bristle and stand straight up, like a shachihoko4 found on the roofs of castles in the ancient past. They named it after the castle in Mino, but later research showed that the it was Nagoya Castle that had shachihoko, which was in the neighboring province of Owari. After that discovery, the explanation lost its appeal.

There are also numerous stories saying that “shiro” is the name Shirou shortened. Since Shirou was just over a meter tall, he was called Minoshirou (“mino” is three times the length of a standard-width cloth, around 108 centimeters). A different story said that once he met a snake-like creature with numerous tentacles, which also gave him the name Minoshirou.5 The stories are varied and hard to get a grasp on.

Still on the topic of Shirou, one old folktale says that he was cursed by a white snake and turned into a minoshiro. Since other details of the story were lost, there is no way to prove its authenticity.

Personally, I think any of the stories are possible. At least it is much easier to understand compared to the etymology of the name of the toads that are everywhere on Mt. Tsukuba. In the book it says that “it uses powers to draw in and devour insects”. Who would believe the idea that toads have canti?

1 The kanji is 蓑代衣, read minoshirogoromo, meaning ‘a substitute for a straw cape’.
2 The kanji is 蓑白 (minoshiro), ‘straw cape’ plus ‘white’, which turned into 霊の代 (minoshiro) ‘soul’s substitute’.
3 The kanji is 海の社 (minoshiro), which I think means ‘shrine of the ocean’
4 Shachihoko
5 Snake can also be written 巳 (mi), so Minoshirou would mean ‘Shirou of the snake’. Also I think the snake it’s talking about is Orochi

Page 189-190

Another mystery surrounding minoshiro is that it’s not mentioned in most ancient texts. Even though many of the texts from over a thousand years ago are off-limits, the word “minoshiro” is still nowhere to be found in available texts. That means that minoshiro were discovered within the past couple hundred years, but an entirely new creature evolving within such a short timespan is unthinkable.

Actually it’s not just minoshiro. In the years between civilization from a thousand years ago and today, there was a mass extinction of fauna. That past species all went extinct is unusual but not completely unexpected, what was surprising was the sudden appearance of minoshiro and hundreds of other species as if they had come out of thin air.

One hypothesis that seeks to explain this phenomenon has been garnering attention lately. It says that their evolution was driven by the collective human unconscious.

But that seems a bit extreme. Just recently, it was determined that minoshiro descended directly from a species of sea slug called the indica nudibranch that lives around the Boso region. Although it’s hard to imagine a 30-centimeter long sea slug evolving into something as big as a minoshiro, when you look at the {raincoat-like protruding gills} you have to admit that there is a definite resemblance. If the sea slug is really the ancestor of the minoshiro, and they share the same name1, then that is supporting evidence for the first two theories that were mentioned earlier. But I think more research is still needed.

The reason I’m mentioning all this is that in order to understand what I’m talking about when I get to the part about meeting the false minoshiro during summer camp, you need to know what a real minoshiro is.

Since minoshiro didn’t exist a thousand years ago, it’s possible that they might not exist a thousand years from now. So even though there is already literature on minoshiro, I still want to explain it again here.

Their length ranges from tens of centimeters to one meter, the smallest are about the size of a hornworm, while the big ones are as long as a millipede. They have a big Y shaped antenna on their head, and two smaller pairs of feelers on the end of them. Their eyes are small and covered by skin, so it is assumed that they can only detect light and darkness. Minoshiro have short legs like a hornworm’s or millipede’s (this feature makes them unlike gastropods such as the sea slug), and can walk at a good speed. The movement of their numerous legs is reminiscent of a military march. There are colored, half-transparent quills on their back that glow at the tips.

1The sea slug has the same “mino” kanji as minoshiro, meaning ‘straw cape’
I think the straw raincoat/cape description is probably hard to understand, so this is what it looks like.

Page 191-192

Minoshiro are omnivores and mainly eat moss, lichen, fungus, various insects, and seeds. They are unaffected by poisons, separating it out of their food and storing it in their bodies. Because of this, minoshiro indirectly cleanse the soil. Their bodies also change colors depending on what they have recently eaten. This can be seen most obviously after a meal of mosses, when they turn bright green. This trait is also seen in sea slugs after eating sea anemones.

When a minoshiro is threatened, it will raise and rattle the quills on its back to intimidate predators. If the predator continues to advance, it will get hit with the quills, which are full of deadly venom. Something worth mentioning is that they never threaten humans in this way.

The minoshiro species includes giant minoshiro (a rare type with body length above two meters and covered in silver bristles), red minoshiro (with half-transparent red bodies), blue minoshiro (with blue-tipped feelers), rainbow minoshiro (covered in fine hairs similar to the powdery scales on a butterfly, and reflect light like jewel beetles), and various subspecies.

Their size and extremely unpleasant taste due to the poison in their bodies mean that minoshiro have almost no natural enemies. Their only predator is the tiger crab, which lurks under sandy beaches. Most cases of minoshiro being hunted by tiger crabs seem to occur around the time they make their annual migration to the beach in order to lay eggs.

Just to be completely clear, let me give a brief introduction about tiger crabs. They are ferocious carnivores descended from the swimming crab, with sharp, diamond-shaped shells forty-five to a hundred-twenty centimeters wide, colored to blend in with the sand, large pincers, three spikes on their heads, and serrated edges on the front of their shells. Their back legs are useful for swimming as well as for burrowing into the sand. Tiger crabs are capable of jumping up to two meters straight up out of the sand in order to catch their prey. They are common around Hasaki beach, but can also be found in meadows, forests, and mountains. They eat everything from frogs, lizards, snakes, and small mammals to sea birds, beached dolphins, whales and other sea creatures. Their heavy shells are nearly impenetrable, though when tiger crabs meet, they often fight to the death, and cannibalism is common. Despite their vicious nature, they are not considered a threat to humans.

It is said that minoshiro can autotomize parts of their bodies to escape from tiger crabs, as well as do other interesting things that I’ve not yet seen.

Page 193-194

As for the first part, I have seen it before, quite unexpectedly. It was during early summer the year before we graduated from Harmony School.

“Saki, look over there!” Maria called quietly.

“What is it?”

We were on a little clearing hidden by thickets overlooking the beach. The two of us often went there after class if the weather was good.

“A minoshiro got caught by a tiger crab…”

I stuck my head out over the bushes and caught a whiff of the salt air. The beach was deserted. Looking at where Maria was pointing, I saw a single minoshiro on the sand about twenty or thirty meters away from the ocean. It was writhing as if it wanted to go toward the water but was being rooted to the spot.

Looking carefully, we saw that its legs were clamped between dark green pincers.

“We have to help it,” I jumped up, but Maria pulled me back down.

“What are you doing, stupid! What if someone sees you?”

“There’s no one here.”

“You don’t know when someone will, right? That’s the spot where the boys go fishing.”

Admittedly, running naked across the beach wasn’t something you normally do, so we threw on our clothes and dashed down the hill. As we approached, the camouflaged body of the tiger crab revealed itself. It had the minoshiro’s legs in one pincer, quills in the other, and was looking at it as if contemplating how it should go about eating it.

I faltered. Even though it was just a crab, tiger crabs were known to take on grown bears and kill them. It was said that they don’t attack humans, but for a two kids without their canti yet, it was still impossible for us to do anything.

Until then, I hadn’t prayed that someone would show up to help us. Dear god, if not Shun, then at least Satoru…

“What now? We could try throwing sand at it?”

I was about to have a nervous breakdown, but Maria was appraising the situation calmly.

Page 195-196

“Wait. It’s okay, it’s fighting back now.”

The minoshiro started stroking the tiger crab’s claws with its feelers as if trying to soothe it. The tiger crab slowly stopped moving, bubbles frothing from its mouth.

All of  a sudden three feelers sprouted from the minoshiro’s back, and started waving as if gesturing to the tiger crab. The feelers autotomized and fell onto the sand, still wriggling.

The tiger crab remained motionless, still holding onto the minoshiro and foaming at the mouth.

Still writhing in pain, the minoshiro raised two more feelers, waved them jerkily in front of the tiger crab, and let them fall to the ground.

Now there were five feelers wriggling on the sand. The tiger crab made no response, and the minoshiro went still.

About half a minute later, the minoshiro started moving again, but this with hostility.

With its free quills it started hitting the tiger crab’s shell. Once, twice, three times. The fourth time, it lifted one single venomous quill, stiffened it with all its strength, and autotomized it. It hit the tiger crab’s pincers as it fell.

The tiger crab loosened its grip. The minoshiro extracted itself and made a beeline for the open water.

Ignoring the minoshiro, the tiger crab picked up two of the feelers on the sand and started eating them.

“Well, it looks like it succeeded,” Maria said.

She was smiling, but it looked more like a grimace. Maria didn’t really like animals, and in actuality probably didn’t care at all about the minoshiro, but pretended she did, for my sake.

“It lost six feelers though, poor thing.”

“It’s a cheap price to pay for its life though, isn’t it? Otherwise it would have been eaten.”