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Authors: Yasunari Kawabata

Beauty and Sadness

BOOK: Beauty and Sadness

Yasunari Kawabata, winner of the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature, was one of Japan’s most distinguished novelists. Born in Osaka in 1899, he published his first stories while he was still in high school. He graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1924. His story “The Izu Dancer,” first published in 1925, appeared in
The Atlantic Monthly
in 1955. Among his major novels published in the United States are
Snow Country
Thousand Cranes
The Sound of the Mountain
The Master of Go
(1972), and
Beauty and Sadness
(1975). Kawabata was found dead, by his own hand, in 1972.

Also by

Snow Country

Thousand Cranes

The Sound of the Mountain

The Master of Go


Copyright © 1975 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in Japan in hardcover as
Utsukushisa To Kanashimi To
by Chuo koronsha, Tokyo.
Copyright © 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965 by Yasunari Kawabata. First published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1975.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:
Kawabata, Yasunari, Date.
Beauty and sadness.
Translation of Utsukushisa to kanashimi to.
I. Title.
PZ3.K1775Be3 [P1.832.A9] 895.6′3′4 74-21281
eISBN: 978-0-307-83363-1



ive swivel chairs were ranged along the other side of the observation car of the Kyoto express. Oki Toshio noticed that the one on the end was quietly revolving with the movement of the train. He could not take his eyes from it. The low armchairs on his side of the car did not swivel.

Oki was alone in the observation car. Slouched deep in his armchair, he watched the end chair turn. Not that it kept turning in the same direction, at the same speed: sometimes it went a little faster, or a little slower, or even stopped and began turning in the opposite direction. To look at that one revolving chair, wheeling before him in the empty car, made him feel lonely. Thoughts of the past began flickering through his mind.

It was the twenty-ninth of December. Oki was going to Kyoto to hear the New Year’s Eve bells.

For how many years had he heard the tolling of those
bells over the radio? How long ago had the broadcasts begun? Probably he had listened to them every year since then, and to the commentary by various announcers, as they picked up the sound of famous old bells from temples all around the country. During the broadcast the old year was giving way to the new, so the commentaries tended to be florid and emotional. The deep booming note of a huge Buddhist temple bell resounded at leisurely intervals, and the lingering reverberations held an awareness of the old Japan and of the flow of time. After the bells of the northern temples came the bells in Kyushu, but every New Year’s Eve ended with the Kyoto bells. Kyoto had so many temples that sometimes the mingled sounds of a host of different bells came over the radio.

At midnight his wife and daughter might still be bustling about, preparing holiday delicacies in the kitchen, straightening up the house, or perhaps getting their kimonos ready or arranging flowers. Oki would sit in the dining room and listen to the radio. As the bells rang he would look back at the departing year. He always found it a moving experience. Some years that emotion was violent or painful. Sometimes he was racked by sorrow and regret. Even when the sentimentality of the announcers repelled him, the tolling of the bells echoed in his heart. For a long time he had been tempted by the thought of being in Kyoto one New Year’s Eve to hear the living sound of those old temple bells.

That had come to mind again this year end, and he had impulsively decided to go to Kyoto. He had also been
stirred by a defiant wish to see Ueno Otoko again after all these years, and to listen to the bells with her. Otoko had not written to him since she had moved to Kyoto, but by now she had established herself there as a painter in the classical Japanese tradition. She was still unmarried.

Because it was on impulse, and he disliked making reservations, Oki had simply gone to Yokohama Station and boarded the observation car of the Kyoto express. Near the holidays the train might be crowded, but he knew the porter and counted on getting a seat from him.

Oki found the Kyoto express convenient, since it left Tokyo and Yokohama early in the afternoon, arriving at Kyoto in the evening, and also left in early afternoon on its way back. He always made his trips to Kyoto on this train. Most of the girl attendants in the first-class cars knew him by sight.

Once aboard, he was surprised to find the car empty. Perhaps there were never many passengers on the twenty-ninth of December. It might be crowded again by the thirty-first.

As he kept watching the end chair turn, Oki began to think of fate. Just then the porter brought tea.

“Am I all alone?” Oki asked.

“Only five or six passengers today, sir.”

“Will it be full on New Year’s Day?”

“No, sir, it usually isn’t. Is that when you’re coming back?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“I won’t be on duty myself, but I’ll see that you’re taken care of.”

“Thank you.”

After the porter left, Oki looked around the car and saw a pair of white leather valises at the foot of the last armchair. They were square and rather slender, in a new style. The white leather was flecked with pale brownish dots; it was a kind unobtainable in Japan. Also, there was a large leopard-skin handbag on the chair. The owners of the luggage must be Americans. Probably they were in the dining car.

Woods flowed by in a thick, warm-looking haze outside the window. Far above the haze, white clouds were bathed in a shimmering light that seemed to radiate up from the earth. But as the train went on, the whole sky cleared. The sunlight slanting in the windows reached all across the car. As they passed a pine-covered mountain he could see that the ground was strewn with dry pine needles. A clump of bamboo had yellowed leaves. On the ocean side sparkling waves surged in to shore against a black cape.

Two middle-aged American couples came back from the dining car and, as soon as they could see Mt. Fuji, past Numazu, stood at the windows eagerly taking photographs. By the time Fuji was completely visible, down to the fields at its base, they seemed tired of photographing and had turned their backs to it.

The winter day was already ending. Oki let his eyes follow the dull silver-gray line of a river, and then looked up into the setting sun. For a long while the last bright chilly rays streamed through an arc-shaped cleft in the black clouds, before disappearing. The lights were on in
the car, and suddenly all the swivel chairs wheeled halfway around. But only the one on the end kept turning.

When he arrived in Kyoto, Oki went directly to the Miyako Hotel. He asked for a quiet room, with the thought that Otoko might come to see him. The elevator seemed to rise six or seven floors; but since the hotel was built in steps upward along a steep slope of the Eastern Hills, the long corridor he followed led back to a ground-floor wing. The rooms along the corridor were as silent as if there were no other guests. A little after ten o’clock he began hearing clamorous foreign voices all around him. Oki asked the floor boy about it.

There were two families, he was told, with twelve children between them. The children not only shouted at each other within their rooms but romped up and down the corridor. Why, when the hotel seemed almost empty, had they sandwiched him in between such noisy guests? Oki restrained his annoyance, thinking the children would soon go to sleep. But the noise went on and on, perhaps because they were keyed up by the trip. What especially grated on his ears was the sound of their footsteps running along the corridor. Finally he got out of bed.

The loud chattering in a foreign language made Oki feel all the more lonely. That revolving chair in the observation car, turning by itself, came before him. It was as if he saw his own loneliness silently turning round and round within his heart.

Oki had come to Kyoto to hear the New Year’s Eve bells and to see Ueno Otoko, but he wondered once
again which had been his real reason. Of course he was not sure he could see her. Yet were not the bells merely a pretext, and the chance of seeing her something he had long desired? He had come to Kyoto hoping to listen to the temple bells with Otoko. It had seemed a not unreasonable hope. But a gulf of many years lay between them. Though she had remained unmarried, it was quite possible that she would refuse to see an old lover, to accept an invitation from him.

“No, she’s not like that,” Oki muttered to himself. Still, he did not know how she might have changed.

It seemed that Otoko was living in a guest house on the grounds of a certain temple, along with a girl who was her protégée. Oki had come across a photograph of her in an art magazine. It was not a cottage, but a sizable house, with a large sitting room that she used as a studio. There was even a fine old garden. The photograph showed Otoko with brush in hand, bending over to work on a painting, but the line of her profile was unmistakable. Her figure was as slender as ever. Even before his old memories were awakened, he felt a stab of guilt at having robbed her of the possibility of marriage and motherhood. Obviously no one else would feel as he did about that photograph. To people who glanced at it in the magazine it would be merely the portrait of a woman artist who had gone to live in Kyoto and had become a typical Kyoto beauty.

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