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The following is a synopsis of the 1951 story, "Baberu no tô no tanuki," or "The Badger of the Tower of Babel"

All page numbers refer to the version appearing in volume 2 of the Abe Kôbô zensakuhin shû,Tokyo: Shinchôsha, 1973. All translations are my own.

This synopsis, along with all other materials appearing on this website, is copyrighted. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.





The protagonist of this story is an impoverished poet, and the story opens with him daydreaming one morning on a park bench. He jots down his dreams and ideas in a notebook which he has called "toranu tanuki no kawa," literally translated to "untaken badger skins," which is part of a Japanese saying roughly equivalent to "counting one's chickens before they hatch" in English. While he is following the ideas that come from watching the shape of women's legs, he notices a strange beast, unlike anything he had ever seen before, slowly and cautiously approach. Suddenly and furiously it attacks the ground in front of the man, and peels the man's shadow from the ground. The shadow screams for help, but the poet is too slow, and the beast escapes with the shadow.
The man thinks, at first, that not having a shadow is no particular loss, but he soon realizes that, upon losing his shadow, his body has lost its substance and he has become, with the exception of his eyeballs, completely invisible. His floating eyeballs arouse considerable alarm as he makes a hazardous journey back to his home, and soon the apartment building is surrounded by police searching for the invisible man. The police see something that they think is the invisible man, and shoot without delay, vividly demonstrating the impossibility of going to the police for help.

Late at night he is staring out of his window with his telescope, trying to forget the misfortune of having lost his shadow and, with it, his body. While he is looking at the stars, he sees something moving, not a comet or a shooting star, which heads directly for him. He soon realizes that it is the beast riding a large wooden box. On the box are letters, at first he thinks it reads "K. Anten's Coffee," with K. Anten being his name. Perhaps it is in payment for his shadow, but he decides that no matter how much coffee is offered him, it is not worth the price of his body. Then he realizes that it reads, "K. Anten's Coffin".

The beast speaks to him from the box, thanking Anten for bringing him to life, and giving him his shadow so that he can become an independent, individual being. He says that he has come to help him do whatever he wants. Anten quite naturally asks for his shadow back, whereupon the beast replies that Anten does not truly want that. What he wants, according to the badger, is to go with him to the Tower of Babel. The badger says:

My words and actions are all the solidification of your heart's desires... You may not know it now, but all of the events that have befallen you, one and all, are meticulous realizations of your ideas. You might say that they are the crystallization of your efforts. You gave birth to me, and raised me. You put my name on your daily planner, and that became a chart of my growth. Now I have arrived at the point where I have become an individual, independent, with my own will and actions. I ate your shadow, you disappeared, I have become more you than you. Now I exist here. I have a body, I have a shadow. I am your will, your actions, your hopes, your reason to exist. (99)

In the end Anten allows himself to be persuaded, mainly because it has already been decided that he would go, as the records from the "time-shaping machine" (one of Anten's ideas that has become a reality in the Tower of Babel) has shown that that will be the case.

They arrive at the base of the Tower, but there is no entrance. The badger says that the entrance is accessible only by means of the road of Surrealism. Anten leans into the wall, which allows his head entrance, and the badger shoves him the rest of the way through. He falls through the wall and hits his head on the other side. When he wakes up a welcoming ceremony has been organized for him, with two of the most prestigious members of the Tower speaking. The master of ceremonies is Dante, and the speaker of honor is none other than André Breton himself who, as a result of his special status as the one who made the Tower accessible in the first place (by founding surrealism), is the only one allowed to enter and exit the tower freely.

Following the ceremony, Anten is conducted to the eye bank where he is to deposit his eyes, his last tie to the world below. All of the other residents have given up their eyes, as it is painful for the badgers to endure the gazes of humans. Anten refuses to do so and is shown to the Tower invention room to soothe him and convince him of the necessity of giving up his eyes. There he is shown the time-shaping machine, and it occurs to him that he might use it to take him back in time to before his shadow was stolen. After escaping from hordes of badgers with the time-shaping machine, he manages to return himself to that moment in the park before his shadow was stolen. This time he throws the notebook at the beast to scare it off, and continues throwing everything in reach at it until it has vanished. The story ends with the following lines, "Suddenly I realized that I felt so hungry I thought I might die. As I was no longer a poet, it was only natural that I should get hungry" (126).