Games of Chance

The conversation turning to games of chance, one of my friends told us the following story.

“From the time I was a small child I was always severely warned against anything faintly resembling a game of chance. Never once was I allowed to have anything to do with flip-cardstick-pinor tops, games that everyone plays invariably at some stage in his infancy.

“ ‘Games of chance spell sure ruin,’ my father was fond of warning me over and over again. ‘You must never take part, even in play.’

“Such assiduous admonitions must in time have fostered an abhorrence of gambling somewhere deep in my heart; at primary school, my frame of mind was so admirable that my friends had only to start a game of flip-card for me to slip away, unobtrusively, home.

   “I was thirteen or fourteen before I finally understood why my father, from among all his various aversions, should have singled out games of chance as the subject of such special warnings.

“Ever since I could remember, my family had been poor; the four of us, parents and children, eked out a living on the meager income from a tenant farm of some two and a half acres.

“I was, I believe, in my first year at middle school. For the first time, we were to go on a school excursion and to spend two nights away from home. Most people, I suppose, have experienced at least once the peculiar charm that the word 'school excursion' holds for the middle schoolboy. The day our teacher told us about it, I was leaping with delight as I came home from school. When I got home and told my parents, though, nothing would make them give their permission for me to go.

“I realize now that, for my family, traveling expense amounting to five yen would have been a considerable strain, a sum representing, in all likelihood, a full half of the home’s total monthly outlay. Unaware of such things, though, I tried every means in my power to appeal to my father and mother. But it was all in vain.

 “On the last evening before the departure, my desire to go had become almost unbearableeven though I had already let my teacher know it would probably be impossible. Hoping I might still persuade them somehowI nagged at my parents obstinately. In the endmy persistence got too much for them, and, leaving me to weep and rage, the two of them went to bed.

  “I was so obsessed with the shame of not being able to accompany the others that I was almost unable to look my friends in the face. I went on complaining querulously by my father’s bedside, therefore, determined if need be to weep the night out.

 “Though both my father and mother had drawn the quilts over their heads, my voice of course, must have reached deep into their hearts.

   “I had probably spent close on an hour in lengthy reproaches of my parents for not letting me go on the trip when suddenly my father, who had remained silent as if already asleep, started up in bed and, putting his face out of the quilts, gave me a long, hard stare.

   “I cowered in my heart, thinking that I had gone too far and that my turn had come to be shouted at by my father. But the expression on his face was

more sad than angry. The look in his eyes, in fact, suggested he was almost in tears.

   “ ‘I only wish I could let you go,’ he said. ‘I only wish I could let you do the same things as other people. But we’re too poor for anything like that. Don’t blame me. If you want to blame someone, blame your grandfather. It’s all your grandfather’s fault that the family once said to be the biggest landowner in Mikawaya has come to this pass. Your grandfather lost every penny he had gambling.

   “And as if this explained away everything, he swung over to face the other way again, and pulled the quilt over his head.

  “One way or another, I had already gleaned the vague information that ours was an old-established family, one which, before the Restoration, had for long years been the leading family in the village; but my father’s words had been the first hint that its property had been squandered away by my grandfather. That day, of course, having heard what my father had said, I was at a loss for further words and could only cry myself to sleep.

“Later, as I grew up, I was to hear about my grandfather from my father and mother. Originally adopted from another family, he had been a man of unwavering virtue until around the age of thirty, when chance had acquainted him with the pleasures of gambling. From that day on, he had abandoned himself to it utterly, casting everything to the winds and neglecting his own family for its sake. Night and day alike, he would haunt the house of one ‘Chogoro of Mikawaya,’ the leading gambler in the neighborhood. What was more, if he heard there was a good place for gambling, he would go ten or twenty miles to find it.

   In this way, he became more and more engrossed, body and soul alike, in gambling. I suppose he was a case of the “born gambler.” Win or lose, they say, he would still go on playing, a happy smile on his face. And since he was the head of a wealthy family, he would be treated with deference and shown to the best place in any gambling den he visited. It must have been a taste for such things that made him throw home and lands away with a toss of the dice. Of course, there must have been times when he won, too, but since he was basically an amateur, his losses piled up over a long period. Acre by acre he sold his land, till finally his fields, the field that had yielded him close on five thousand bushels of grain a year, had all gone.

“Eventually he even ran short of funds for gambling, and took to selling my grandmother’ s valuable combs and hair-ornaments. Then, in the end, he was obliged to sell to strangers the family home in which they and their ancestors had always lived.

“Yet though I have often heard talk of, and anecdotes about, my grandfather’s folly, I have forgotten most of it. The part that I still cannot forget, however, concerns the last years of his life.

“My grandfather was past sixty when he really realized the error of his ways and gave up gambling once and for all. Till then, even after he had frittered away all his property, he had been unable to give up his indulgencethough, since he could not frequent the larger gambling dens, he had been driven to playing for small stakes with drivers and laborers. Nothing would make him stop, though my grandmother and my father, who was then twenty-five or six, pleaded with him in tears.

   “What finally had its effect, it seems, was the deathbed entreaties, made with palms joined in supplication, of my grandmother, who for so many years had suffered through my grandfather’ s indulgences.

   “ ‘In your generation the old Katsushima family were reduced to peasants without a penny to their names. But I accepted it as fate, and never complained. Before I die, though, there is one last vow I want to hear you make: that you will give up gambling completely. I myself, for so long, had to put up with so much because of your ways that I do not want Shutaro and Omine (my mother and father) to suffer after I am gone. Honor my last request, and give it up once and for all, I beg you.’

   “At last, remorse at having laid low the house to which he was indebted for adopting him seems to have awoken somewhere deep in his heart; his age, too, must have made him more thoughtful, for from that day on he became a different man and never gambled again.

“And for all his more than sixty years and his lack of experience, he started work as a farmer, working with his son as a tenant farmer on what he had once been his own land. Such hard labor, though, seems to have been too much for his health after all his previous dissipations, and in no more than two years a cold or some other trifling complaint snapped him off as a rotten bough snaps from the tree.

“My grandfather was never the same after he gave up gambling, perhaps because

he was cut off from a vice that he had indulged in all his life, a vice that had seeped into his whole being, body and soul alike. He grew doting and forgetful, they say, and he would often, as he worked the fields, stop plying his hoe and stand gazing thoughtfully into space. At such moments he was surely recalling those times in his youth, as he played for five hundred or a thousand pieces, when the full of the dice had favored him. Even so, once he had reformed he never again played a game of chance. If he did, then it was just once, in the way I shall now describe.

“It happened, apparently, about three months before my grandfather died.  One sunny, spring-like day in autumn, my mother went to take him his afternoon tea as he worked in the fields. But he was not where he should have been ploughing over the earth in the paddy fields after the harvest had been garnered. Assuming he was napping in the sun behind the straw-stack on the other side of the paddy, she went to look. Sure enough, she heard his voice as she approached.

“ ‘This time, I win,’ he said, and laughed heartily.

“Hearing him, my mother was thunderstruck. One of Grandfather’ s old gambling friends must have come and enticed him into a game: at the thought, the memory came back to her of his old, incorrigible ways, and she shuddered at the pity of it. Indignant that someone should have led him astray after he had been so careful, she stole up softly to see who the miscreant could be.

“There, behind the sun-warmed straw-stack, my grandfather and his five-year old grandson squatted facing each other. As she watched and wondered, Grandfather drew a single straw from the closely-packed stack. Then the child pulled out another straw in the same fashion. They compared the lengths. The straw Grandfather had taken was a fraction longer.

   “ ‘There, I’ ve won again!’ And the old man laughed still louder than before.

   “As she watched, my mother forget her resentment at all the pain my grandfather’ s ways had caused them, and her heart was touched by him as he was at that moment.

   “The grandchild she shared Grandfather’ s last game of chance with him was, I need scarcely tell you, myself.”

                                            Translated by John Bester.



   “Games of Chance” is a full translation of Shobu-goto by Kikuchi Kan (18881948). Having made his literary debut at the age of twenty, he became the most popular living writer in Japan, producing short stories, novels and plays. His work was not confined to imaginative writing alone; in 1923 he started Bungei-Shunjyu, a literary magazine, and proved himself to be a successful editor and publisher as well. His contribution to Japanese literature as the founder of the Akutagawa Literary Prize and one of the initial members of the Japan Writers’ Association must also be mentioned.






The short story appearing here, Games of Chance (Syobu Goto) sets in a story of the author’s friend telling, but it contains dark autobiographical elements. It first appeared in the January 1920 issue of Shinshosetsu (New Novels). The story of a grandfather whose gambling addiction led to the destitute life of his son, who in turn in his will strictly prohibited games of chance to his own son, is told from the viewpoint of the grandchild, reflecting or projecting the view of life of the author, himself a gambling enthusiast and owner of a racehorse.

Games of Chance was published in English translation in 1960 by the Pen Club of Japan. (From The Japan P.E.N. News No.6 1960)




The Japan P.E.N. Club, in order to preserve them in an archive of modern Japanese culture, is digitizing the English translations of literary works as they appeared in The Japan P.E.N. News (irregular publication dates, July 1958-September 1971) and will publish them at irregular dates online in the Digital Library - International Edition.

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Novelist, dramatist, and journalist. December 26, 1888 – March 6, 1948. Born in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture. His real name is KIKUCHI Hiroshi. He graduated from the English Literature Department of Kyoto Imperial University. He knew AKUTAGAWA Ryunosuke in the Dai-ichi Senior High School, and participated in the new literary magazine ‘Shinshichou’, in which appeared his dramas such as Father comes back (published in The Digital Library of Literature). Afterwards he began to write novels and published The Diary of the Nameless Writer (Mumei Sakka no Nikki) and Beyond the Love and Hate (Onshu no Kanata), thus establishing his writing credentials. He was president at Bungeishunju (founded in 1923) and Daiei Motion Pictures(started as Dai Nippon Eiga Seisaku). He obtained success not only in the creation of literary works but in theatrical / film and editor / publisher activities.Aiming at the improvement of the social status of literary people and their well-being, he established the Association of Literary Persons (Bungeika Kyoukai) and became the first chairperson. He was also a literary-arts journalist rich in producer-like ideas such as founding of the Akutagawa Prize / the Naoki Prize, a still highly-regarded honor for new and up-coming writers. However, he was purged from public service because of his wartime literary administration activities, and after the war died a disappointed man.


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