The Death-Mask

   He did not know many other men she had loved before. It was obvious, however, that he was certainly her last lover, for her death was near.
       “If I had known that I would die so soon, I would rather have been killed that time,” she said lying in his arms and trying to smile gaily as if remembering her many lovers.
         She could not forget her beauty even in her last hour. She could not forget her many love affairs. She did not know that these memories made her look even more forlorn.
           “All men yearned to kill me. They didn’t say so, but at heart they wanted to…”
             Now that she was dying in his arms, he was probably happy with no worry of losing her compared to those poor men who had loved her and who had to tell themselves that the only way to hold her love was to kill her. The fact was that he was a little tired of holding her. She was no longer able to sleep peacefully without the feel of a masculine touch on her neck or breast even on her sickbed. She had always longed for passionate love.
               When she realized that her last hour was near, she said, “Please hold my feet tightly. I feel lonesome there .” he very often felt lonely at her feet, as if death were stealing up from them. He held her feet tightly as he sat at her bedside.
                 Her feet were as cold as death itself. Suddenly, his hands betrayed him and trembled strangely. Unexpectedly, his hands had felt her very womanhood in those tiny feet. Her cold feet gave him the same pleasure as he felt when his hands touched the warm, sweaty soles of a woman's feet. He was ashamed of himself thus almost to profane her departing soul. But wasn’t the entreaty to have him hold her feet a last demonstration of her coquettishness? He found himself becoming afraid of the woman in her which verged on shamelessness.
                   “You’ve been dissatisfied because there is no need any more to be jealous of our love, haven’t you? But when I die, you’ll be jealous of someone, I’ll bet.”
                     With these words, she breathed her last. S urely, she was right.
                       An actor of modern drama who came to the wake made up her face. He did it trying to revive her vivid beauty in the days when she was in love with him.
                         Then came an artist who covered her whole face with plaster. The actor’s make-up was very effective in bringing her face back to life again. It looked as if the artist were trying to stifle her to death out of jealousy toward the actor. Apparently, the artist was trying to make her death-mask for a keep­sake.
                           Since it was all too clear that the competition for her love would not end with her death, the man realized that it was merely a fleeting triumph on his part to have her die in his arms. So he went to the artist’s home to take the death-mask away from him.
                             The death-mask looked like a man and a woman at the same time. It also looked both like a little girl and an aged woman. Suddenly, he said in a low voice as if his passion were dying out, “That is she, and yet not she. Beyond that, I can’t tell the sex.”
                               “That's right,” said the artist sadly. “ Generally speaking, one cannot tell the sex of a death-mask unless he knows whose it is. Beethoven's stern face, for example, would seem somehow womanly when looked at closely. I thought, however, that her death-mask would turn out to be womanly because she was more like a woman than anyone else. But, after all, she could not overcome the force of death. Death puts an end to all distinction of sex.”
                                 “Her life was a life of tragic joy that she was born a woman. She was too womanly even at the time of her death. If she has now been entirely freed from the tragedy,” said the man,” we could go ahead and shake hands beside this death-mask. It bears no distinction of sex, does it?” H e extended his hand as if awakened, refreshed, from a nightmare.
                                                        Translated by George Saito

                                   Novelist Kawabata Yasunari was selected for the Nobel Prize in literature for 1968.
                                     Kawabata was born in Osaka in 1899. His father, a physician with a special taste for literature and art, died when Kawabata was three years old. His mother died in the following year. Kawabata was then brought up by his grandfather and grandmother. The latter died when he was eight years old and his grandfather died in 1914. K awabata was then put in the care of his mother’s family.
                                       In his primary school days he wanted to become a painter. When he was about fifteen, however he decided to become a novelist instead.
                                         His diary, written just before the death of his grandfather, was later published as Diary of a Sixteen-Year-Old. During the three years of his high school days, Kawabata devoted himself mostly to reading Scandinavian literature and works of Japanese authors belonging to the Shirakaba school, which was strongly opposed to the simple approach of naturalism and sought a style suited to sensual expression.
                                           Kawabata entered the English Literature Department Tokyo Imperial University in l 920 and in the next year he started publication of a literary magazine in collaboration with other students. His story A Memorial Day Scene, which was published in the second issue of the magazine, attracted the attention of Kikuchi Kan. At about the same time he also became a friend of Yokomitsu Riichi.
                                             In 1923 Kawabata joined the staff of a leading literary magazine, Bungei Shunju, and started writing book reviews. He was graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1924. In September of the same year he began the publication of the literary magazine Bungei Jidai, from which was started the new literature movement of neo-sensualism.
                                               In 1948, Kawabata was appointed chairman of the Japanese Chapter of the P. E. N. Club and remained in the same position until 1966. After the war he declared that he would write nothing except elegies; in keeping with this resolve he has written a number of novels, such as The Sound of the Mountain and Thousand Cranes, which are characterized by a deep sense of solitude and a consciousness of old age and approaching death.
                                                 The present story (Shimen in Japanese ) was first published in 1926, when the author was 2 7. (Written by George Saito)

                                                   The Death- Mask (Shimen) was first published in Fujin-Gaho magazine in April 1932. In March 1971 it was included in Tanagokoro (Palm-of-the-Hand Stories) published by Shincho Bunko, a collection of Kawabata’s short-short stories (shohen-shosetsu) ranging from a usual two to up to ten pages long. Kawabata wrote these narrative vignettes starting from his twenties for over forty years. Initially 111 stories were included and then 11 more were added to make it 122 in a revised anthology. Appearing here is a work exploring how death transcends gender differences. An artist creates the death mask of a woman who was previously his lover. Other men who were once attracted by her charm look at the death mask, but are confused that it may look like a man or a woman. With death, gender becomes ambiguous. This is an exquisite piece backed by Kawabata’s finely honed sense of beauty.
                                                     The Death-Mask was translated into English and published by The Japan P.E.N. Club in October, 1970. (From The Japan P.E.N. News No. 23)

                                                  KAWABATA Yasunari
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                                                  KAWABATA Yasunari

                                                  Novelist. June 14, 1899~April 16, 1972. Born in Osaka. He graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1924 and made his literary debut with The Izu Dancer(Izu no Odoriko)in 1926.Ever since he has been always a leading man of letter in Japan. He served as the 4th President of The Japan P.E.N. Club from 1948 to 1965, the Chairperson of the 29 th International PEN Tokyo/Kyoto Congress 1957 and the Vice-President of the International PEN in 1958. He was awarded Order of Culture in 1961 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968. A member of Japan Art Academy.

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