Back to the synopses page

The following is a synopsis of the 1951 short story, "Mahô no chôku" appearing as "The Magic Chalk" in English in The Showa Anthology : Modern Japanese Short Stories 1929-1984 (Japan's Modern Writers) by Van C. Gessel (Editor), Tomone Matsumoto (Editor) .

All page numbers refer to the Japanese original in volume 2 of the Abe Kôbô zensakuhin shû, Tokyo: Shinchôsha, 1972. All translations are my own.

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






Argon is an impoverished artist, who loves alone in an empty apartment. With the sole exception of a single chair, he has sold all of his belongings for food. He sits in his room, tortured by the smell of someone cooking nearby, when he finds a piece of chalk in his pocket and begins to draw, without thinking, pictures of food. Later that night he is awakened by the sound of smashing dishes and finds that all of his drawings have become real. He draws himself a bed upon which to sleep, and is awakened in the morning upon falling from his bed. Only he hasn't fallen from his bed, the bed has disappeared in the sunlight.

That evening he draws a purse full of money and goes to buy the necessary equipment to keep the sunlight out of his room, thus enabling his drawings to stay real. When he comes back he tries to draw a window as the closed off room seemed rather stuffy, but it doesn't materialize as he has not created anything behind the window. At this point he realizes that he has the power to create a new world, and after weeks of sketching and painting he fails to come up with anything that seems appropriate. At wits end, he draws a door on the wall, and declares that whatever lies beyond that door is the new world. He opens the door to find a barren wasteland, the bright sun painful to the eyes. He rapidly closes the door and sees that there is no easy escape, and that all of the details, from the very beginning, have to be planned out. At that moment he sees a newspaper, and on it a picture of Miss Nippon, he decides that she will be the Eve to his Adam, and draws her picture on the wall.

Eve materializes and is understandably confused, but upon seeing the magic of the chalk, she finds herself very much interested in the money-making opportunities of such an item. For her participation in Argon/Adam's scheme, she demands half of the chalk. When he gives it to her, she draws a pistol, and points it at Argon. When she draws a hammer with which to break down the door to the outside world, he jumps for her and is shot. She takes the hammer and breaks down the door, turning herself and everything else in the room made of chalk into pictures on the wall. With the sunlight Argon's bullet wound is healed, but he feels himself being sucked into the wall. After subsisting solely on food created via chalk drawings on the wall, he has been transformed into part of it. He becomes a picture on the wall, lying atop the drawing of Miss Nippon.

The neighbors rush in to see what the commotion is all about and see the drawings. After some disparaging remarks about Argon's ability as an artist they leave, and the story ends with the following lines.After the people had left, a muttering was heard from inside the wall. "It is not chalk that will remake the world." Then, from the wall, a single drop of moisture fell. It originated at the exact point of the picture of Argon's eye. (145)