The Izu Dancer is said to be the story healing  the pain of lost love of the author. This version was published by Tuttle Publishing in 2004. Even now this is one of the representative Japanese youth literature.













A SHOWER swept toward me from the foot of the mountain, touching the cedar forests white, as the road began to wind up into the pass. I was nineteen and traveling alone through the Izu Peninsula. My clothes were of the sort students wear, dark kimono, high wooden sandals, a school cap, a book sack over my shoulder. I had spent three nights at hot springs near the center of the peninsula, and now, my fourth day out of Tokyo, I was climbing toward Amagi Pass and South Izu. The autumn scenery was pleasant enough, mountains rising one on another, open forests, deep valleys, but I was excited less by the scenery than by a certain hope. Large drops of rain began to fall. I ran on up the road, now steep and winding, and at the mouth of the pass I came to a tea-house. I stopped short in the door way. It was almost too lucky: the dancers were resting inside.

        The little dancing girl turned over the cushion she had been sitting on and pushed it politely toward me.

“Yes.” I murmured stupidly, and sat down. Surprised and out of breath, I could think of nothing more appropriate to say.

She sat near me, we were facing each other. I fumbled for tobacco and she handed me the ash tray in front of one of the other women. Still I said nothing.

She was perhaps sixteen. Her hair was swept up in mounds after an old style I hardly know what to call. Her solemn, oval face was dwarfed under it, and yet the face and the hair went well together, rather as in the pictures one sees of ancient beauties with their exaggerated rolls of hair. Two other young women were with her, and a man of twenty-four or twenty-five. A sternlooking woman of about forty presided over the group.

I had seen the little dancer twice before. Once I passed her and the other two young women on a long bridge half way down the peninsula. She was carrying a big drum. I looked back and looked back again, congratulating myself that here finally I had the flavor of travel. And then my third night at the inn I saw her dance. She danced just inside the entrance, and I sat on the stairs enraptured. On the bridge then, here tonight, I had said to myself:tomorrow over the pass to Yugano, and surely somewhere along those fifteen miles I will meet themthat was the hope that had sent me hurrying up the mountain road. But the meeting at the tea-house was too sudden. I was taken quite off balance.

A few minutes later the old woman who kept the tea-house led me to another room, one apparently not much used. It was open to a valley so deep that the bottom was out of sight. My teeth were chattering and my arms were covered with goose flesh. I was a little cold, I said to the old woman when she came back with tea.

“But you’re soaked. Come in here and dry yourself.” She led me to her living room.

The heat from the open fire struck me as she opened the door. I went inside and sat back behind the fire. Steam rose from my kimono, and the fire was so warm that my head began to ache.

The old woman went out to talk to the dancers.Well, now. So this is the little girl you had with you before, so big already. Why, she’s practically a grown woman. Isn’t that nice. And so pretty, too. Girls do grow up in a hurry, don’t they?”

Perhaps an hour later I heard them getting ready to leave. My heart pounded and my chest was tight, and yet I could not find the courage to get up and go off with them. I fretted on beside the fire. But they were women, after all ;granted that they were used to walking, I ought to have no trouble overtaking them even if I fell a half mile or a mile behind. My mind danced off after them as though their departure had given it license.

        “Where will they stay tonight?” I asked the woman when she came back.

“People like that, how can you tell where they’ll stay?  If they find someone who will pay them, that’s where it will be. Do you think they know ahead of time?”

Her open contempt excited me. If she is right, I said to myself, then the dancing girl will stay in my room tonight.

The rain quieted to a sprinkle, the sky over the pass cleared. I felt I could wait no longer, though the woman assured me that the sun would be out in another ten minutes.

“Young man, young man.” The woman ran up the road after me. “This is too much. I really can’t take it.”  She clutched at my book sack and held me back, trying to return the money I had given her, and when I refused it she hobbled along after me. She must at least see me off up the road, she insisted. “ It’s really too much. I did nothing for youbut I’ll remember, and I’ll have something for you when you come this way again. You will come again, won’t you? I won’t forget.”

So much gratitude for one fifty-sen piece was rather touching. I was in a fever to overtake the little dancer, and her hobbling only held me back. When we came to the tunnel I finally shook her off .





LINED on one side by a white fence, the road twisted down from the mouth of the tunnel like a streak of lightning. Near the bottom of the jagged figure were the dancer and her companions. Another half mile and I had overtaken them. Since it hardly seemed graceful to slow down at once to their pace, however, I moved on past the women with a show of coolness. The man, walking some ten yards ahead of them, turned as he heard me come up.

        “You’re quite a walker…        .Isn’t it lucky the rain has stopped.”

Rescued, I walked on beside him. He began asking questions, and the women, seeing that we had struck up a conversation, came tripping up behind us. The man had a large wicker trunk strapped to his back. The older woman held a puppy in her arms, the two young women carried bundles, and the girl had her drum and its frame. The older woman presently joined in the conversation.

“He’s  a highschool boy,” one of the young women whispered to the little dancer, giggling as I glanced back.

        “Really, even I know that much,” the girl retorted. “Students come to the island often.”

They were from Oshima in the Izu Islands, the man told me. In the spring they left to wander over the peninsula, but now it was getting cold and they had no winter clothes with them. After ten days or so at Shimoda in the south they would sail back to the islands. I glanced again at those rich mounds of hair, at the little figure all the more romantic now for being from Oshima. I questioned them about the islands.

        “Students come to Oshima to swim, you know,” the girl remarked to the young woman beside her.

        “In the summer, I suppose.” I looked back.

        She was flustered.In the winter too.”she answered in an almost inaudible little voice.

        “Even in the winter?”

         She looked at the other woman and laughed uncertainly.

         “Do they swim even in the winter?” I asked again.

She flushed and nodded very slightly, a serious expression on her face.

        “The child is crazy.” the older woman laughed.

        From six or seven miles above Yugano the road followed a river. The mountains had taken on the look of the South from the moment we descended the pass. The man and I became firm friends, and as the thatched roofs of Yugano came in sight below us I announced that I would like to go on to Shimoda with them. He seemed delighted.

In front of a shabby old inn the older woman glanced tentatively at me as if to take her leave. “But this gentleman would like to go on with us,” the man said.

“Oh, would he?” she answered with simple warmth. “On the road a companion, in life sympathy,they say. I suppose even poor things like us can liven up a trip. Do come inwe’ll have a cup of tea and rest ourselves.”

We went up to the second floor and laid down our baggage. The straw carpeting and the doors were worn and dirty. The little dancer brought up tea from below. As she came to me the teacup clattered in its saucer. She set it down sharply in an effort to save herself, but she succeeded only in spilling it. I was hardly prepared for confusion so extreme.

“Dear me. The child’s come to a dangerous age,” the older woman said, arching her eyebrows as she tossed over a cloth. The girl wiped tensely at the tea.

The remark somehow startled me. I felt the excitement aroused by the old woman at the tea-house begin to mount.

An hour or so later the man took me to another inn. I had thought till then that I was to stay with them. We climbed down over rocks and stone steps a hundred yards or so from the road. There was a public hot spring in the river bed, and just beyond it a bridge led to the garden of the inn.

We went together for a bath.  He was twenty-three, he told me, and his wife had had two miscarriages. He seemed not unintelligent. I had assumed that he had come along for the walk-perhaps like me to be near the dancer.

A heavy rain began to fall about sunset. The mountains, gray and white, flattened to two dimensions, and the river grew yellower and muddier by the minute. I felt sure that the dancers would not be out on a night like this, and yet I could not sit still. Two and three times I went down to the bath, and came restlessly back to my room again.

Then, distant in the rain, I heard the slow beating of a drum. I tore open the shutters as if to wrench them from their grooves and leaned out the window. The drum beat seemed to be coming nearer. The rain,  driven by a strong wind, lashed at my head. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on the drum, on where it might be, whether it could be coming this way. Presently I heard a shamisen, and now and then a woman’s voice calling to someone, a loud burst of laughter. The dancers had been called to a party in the restaurant across from their inn, it seemed. I could distinguish two or three women’s voices and three or four men’s voices. Soon they will be finished there, I told myself, and they will come here. The party seemed to go beyond the harmlessly gay and to approach the rowdy. A shrill woman’s voice came across the darkness like the crack of a whip. I sat rigid, more and more on edge, staring out through the open shutters. At each drum beat I felt a surge of relief. “Ah, she’s still there. Still there and playing the drum.” And each time the beating stopped the silence seemed intolerable. It was as though I were being borne under by the driving rain.

For a time there was a confusion of footstepswere they playing tag, were they dancing? And then complete silence. I glared into the darkness. What would she be doing, who would be with her the rest of the night?

I closed the shutters and got into bed. My chest was painfully tight. I went down to the bath again and splashed about violently. The rain stopped, the moon came out; the autumn sky, washed by the rain, shone crystalline into the distance. I thought for a moment of running out barefoot to look for her. It was after two.





THE man came by my inn at nine the next morning. I had just gotten up, and I invited him along for a bath. Below the bath-house the river, high from the rain, flowed warm in the South Izu autumn sun. My anguish of last night no longer seemed very real. I wanted even so to hear what had happened.

“That was a lively party you had last night.”

“You could hear us?”

“I certainly could.”

“Natives. They make a lot of noise, but there’s not much to them really.”

        He seemed to consider the event quite routine, and I said no more.

“Look. They’ve come for a bath, over there across river. Damned if they haven’t seen us. Look at them laugh.” He pointed over at the public bath, where six or seven naked figures showed through the steam.

One small figure ran out into the sunlight and stood for a moment at the edge of the platform calling something to us, arms raised as though for a plunge into the river. It was the little dancer. I looked at her, at the young legs, at the sculptured white body, and suddenly a draught of fresh water seemed to wash over my heart. I laughed happily. She was a child, a mere child, a child who could run out naked into the sun and stand there on her tiptoes in her delight at seeing a friend. I laughed on, a soft, happy laugh. It was as though a layer of dust had been cleared from my head. And I laughed on and on. It was because of her too-rich hair that she had seemed older, and because she was dressed like a girl of fifteen or sixteen. I had made an extraordinary mistake indeed.

We were back in my room when the older of the two young women came to look at the flowers in the garden. The little dancer followed her halfway across the bridge. The old woman came out of the bath frowning. The dancer shrugged her shoulders and ran back, laughing as if to say that she would be scolded if she came any nearer. The older young woman came up to the bridge.

“Come on over,” she called to me.

“Come on over,” the younger woman echoed, and the two of them turned back toward their inn.

The man stayed on in my room till evening.

I was playing chess with a traveling salesman that night when I heard the drum in the garden. I started to go out to the veranda.

“How about another?” asked the salesman. “Let’s have another game.” But I laughed evasively and after a time he gave up and left the room.

Soon the younger women and the man came in.

“Do you have somewhere else to go tonight?” I asked.

 “We couldn’t find any customers if we tried.”

They stayed on till past midnight, playing away at checkers.

I felt clear-headed and alive when they had gone. I would not be able to sleep, I knew. From the hall. I called in to the salesman.

“Fine, fine.” He hurried out ready for battle.

“ It’s an all-night match tonight. We’ll play all night.” I felt invincible.

We were to leave Yugano at eight the next morning. I poked my school cap into my book sack, put on a hunting cap I had bought in a shop not far from the public bath, and went up to the inn by the highway. I walked confidently upstairsthe shutters on the second floor were openbut I stopped short in the hall. They were still in bed.

The dancing girl lay almost at my feet,beside the youngest of the women. She flushed deeply and pressed her hands to her face with a quick flutter. Traces of make-up were left from the evening before, rouge on her lips and dots of rouge at the corners of her eyes. A thoroughly appealing little figure. I felt a bright surge of happiness as I looked down at her. Abruptly, still hiding her face, she rolled over, slipped out of bed, and bowed low before me in the hall. I stood dumbly wondering what to do.

The man and the older of the young women were sleeping together. They must be marriedI had not thought of it before.

“You will have to forgive us,”the older woman said, sitting up in bed. “We mean to leave today, but it seems there is to be a party tonight, and we thought we’d see what could be done with it. If you really must go, perhaps you can meet us in Shimoda. We always stay at the Koshuya Innyou should have no trouble finding it.”

I felt deserted.

“Or maybe you could wait till tomorrow, the man suggested. “She says we have to stay today....But it’s good to have someone to talk to on the road. Let’s go together tomorrow.”

“A splendid idea,” the woman agreed. “It seems a shame, now that we’ve gotten to know you....and tomorrow we start out no matter what happens. Day after tomorrow it will be forrty-nine days since the baby died. We’ve meant all along to have a service in Shimoda to show that we at least remember, and we’ve been hurrying to get there in time. It would really be very kind of you…        I can’t help thinking there’s a reason for it all, our getting to be friends this way.”

I agreed to wait another day, and went back down to my inn. I sat in the dirty little office talking to the manager while I waited for them to dress. Presently the man came by and we walked out to a pleasant bridge not far from town. He leaned against the railing and talked about himself. He had for a long time belonged to a theater company in Tokyo. Even now he sometimes acted in plays on Oshima, while at parties on the road he could do imitations of actors if called upon to. The strange, leglike bulge in one of the bundles was a stage sword, he explained, and the wicker trunk held both household goods and costumes.

“I made a mistake and ruined myself. My brother has taken over for the family in Kofu and I’m really not much use there.”

“I thought you came from the inn at Nagaoka.”

         “I’m afraid not. That’s my wife, the older of the two women. She’s a year younger than you. She lost her second baby on the road this summerit only lived a weekand she isn’t really well yet. The old woman is her mother, and the girl is my sister.”

“You said you had a sister thirteen?”

         “That’s the one. I’ve tried to think of ways of keeping her out of this business, but there were all sorts of reasons why it couldn’t be helped.”

He said his own name was Eikichi, his wife was Chiyoko, the dancer, his sister, was Kaoru. The other girl, Yuriko, was a sort of maid. She was sixteen, and the only one among them who was really from Oshima. Eikichi became very sentimental. He gazed down at the river, and for a time I thought he was about to weep.





ON the way back, just off the road, we saw the little dancer petting a dog. She had washed away her make-up.

“Come on over to the inn.” I called as we passed.

“I couldn’t very well by myself.”

“Bring your brother.”

“Thank you. I’ll be right over.”

A short time later Eikichi appeared.

“Where are the others?”

 “They couldn’t get away from mother.”

        But the three of them came clattering across the bridge and up the stairs while we were playing checkers. After elaborate bows they waited hesitantly in the hall.

Chiyoko came in first. “Please, please,” she called gaily to the others. “ You needn’t stand on formality in my room.”

An hour or so later they all went down for a bath. I must come along, they insisted; but the idea of a bath with three young women was somewhat overwhelming, and I said I would go in later. In a moment the little dancer came back upstairs.

        “Chiyoko says she’ll wash your back for you if you come down now.”

        Instead she stayed with me, and the two of us played checkers. She was surprisingly good at it. I am better than most and had little trouble with Eikichi and the others, but she came very near beating me. It was a relief not to have to play a deliberately bad game. A model of propriety at first, sitting bolt upright and stretching out her hand to make a play, she soon forgot herself and was leaning intently over the board. Her hair, so rich it seemed unreal, almost brushed against my chest. Suddenly she flushed crimson.

“Excuse me. I’ll be scolded for this.” she exclaimed, and ran out with the game half finished. The older woman was standing beside the public bath across the river. Chiyoko and Yuriko clattered out of the bath downstairs at almost the same moment and retreated across the bridge without bothering to say good-by.

Eikichi spent the day at my inn again, though the manager’s wife, a solicitous sort of woman, had pointed out that it was a waste of good food to invite such people in for meals.

The dancer was practicing the shamisen when I went up to the inn by the highway that evening. She put it down when she saw me, but at the older woman’s order, took it up again.

Eikichi seemed to be reciting something on the second floor of the restaurant across the street, where we could see a party in progress.

“What in the world is that?”

“That? He’s reading a Noh play.”

“An odd sort of thing to be doing.”

“He has as many wares as a dime store. You can never guess what he’ll do next.”

The girl shyly asked me to read her a piece from a storyteller’s collection. I took up the book happily, a certain hope in my mind. Her head was almost at my shoulder as I started to read, and she looked up at me with a serious, intent expression, her eyes bright and unblinking. Her large eyes, almost black, were easily her best feature. The lines of the heavy lids were indescribably graceful. And her laugh was like a flower’s laugh. A flower’s laughThe expression does not seem strained when I think of her.

I had read only a few minutes when the maid from the restaurant across the street came for her. “I’ll be right back,” she said as she smoothed out her clothes. “Don’t go away. I want to hear the rest. She knelt in the hall to take her leave formally.

        We could see the girl as though in the next room. She knelt beside the drum, her back toward us. The slow rhythm filled me with a clean excitement.

        “A party always picks up speed when the drum begins,” the woman said.

Chiyoko and Yuriko went over to the restaurant a little later, and in an hour or so the four of them came back.

“This is all they gave us,” The dancer casually dropped fifty sen from her clenched fist into the older woman’s hand. I read more of the story, and they talked of the baby that had died.

I was not held to them by curiosity, and I felt no condescension toward them. Indeed I was no longer conscious that they belonged to that low order, traveling performers. They seemed to know it and to be moved by it. Before long they decided that I must visit them on Oshima.

“We can put him in the old man’s house.” They planned everything out.

“That should be big enough, and if we move the old man out it will be quiet enough for him to study as long as he can stay.”

        “We have two little houses, and the one on the mountain we can give to you.”

        It was decided, too, that I should help with a play they would give on Oshima for the New Year.

        I came to see that the life of the traveling performer was not the forbidding one I had imagined. Rather it was easy-going, relaxed, carrying with it the scent of meadows and mountains. Then too this troupe was held together by close family affection. Only Yukiko, the hired girlperhaps she was at a shy ageseemed uncomfortable before me.

It was after midnight when I left their inn. The girls saw me to the door, and the little dancer turned my sandals so that I could step into them without twisting. She leaned out and gazed up at the clear sky. “Ah, the moon is up. And tomorrow we’ll be in Shimoda. I love Shimoda. We’ll say prayers for the baby, and mother will buy me the comb she promised, and there are all sorts of things we can do after that. Will you take me to a movie?”

Something about Shimoda seems to have made it a home along the road for performers who wander the region of the Izu and Sagami hot springs.





THE baggage was distributed as on the day we came over Amagi Pass. The puppy, cool as a seasoned traveler, lay with its forepaws on the older woman’s arms. From Yugano we entered the mountains again. We looked out over the sea at the morning sun, warming our mountain valley. At the mouth of the river a beach opened wide and white.

“That’s Oshima.”

“So big! You really will come, won’t you?” the dancer said.

For some reasonwas it the clearness of the autumn sky that made it seem so?the sea where the sun rose over it was veiled in a springlike mist. It was some ten miles to Shimoda. For a time the mountains hid the sea. Chiyoko hummed a song, softly, lazily.

The road forked. One way was a little steep, but it was more than a mile shorter than the other. Would I have the short, steep way, or the long, easy way? I took the short way.

The road wound up through a forest, so steep now that climbing it was like climbing hand-over-hand up a wall. Dead leaves laid it over with a slippery coating. As my breathing became more painful I felt a perverse recklessness, and I pushed on faster and faster, pressing my knee down with my fist at each step. The others fell behind, until presently I could only hear their voices through the trees; but the dancer, skirts tucked high, came after me with tiny little steps. She stayed always a couple of yards behind, neither trying to come nearer nor letting herself fall farther back. Sometimes I would speak to her, and she would stop and answer with a startled little smile. And when she spoke I would pause, hoping that she would come up even with me, but always she waited until I had started out again, and followed the same two yards behind. The road grew steeper and more twisted. I pushed myself on faster, and on she came, two yards behind, climbing earnestly and intently. The mountains were quiet. I could no longer hear the voice of the others.

“Where do you live in Tokyo?”

“In a dormitory. I don’t really live in Tokyo.”

“I’ve been in Tokyo. I went there once to dance, when the cherries were in bloom. I was very little, though, and I don’t remember anything about it.”

“Are your parents living?” she would take up again, or, “Have you ever been to Kofu?” She talked of the movies in Simoda, of the dead baby.

We came to the summit. Laying her drum on a bench among the dead autumn weeds, she wiped her face with a handkerchief. After that she turned her attention to her feet, then changed her mind and bent down instead to dust off the skirt of my kimono. I drew back surprised, and she fell to one knee. When she had brushed me off front and back, bent low before me, she stood up to lower her skirtsThey were still tucked up for walking.I was breathing heavily. She invited me to sit down.

A flock of small birds flew up beside the bench. The dead leaves rustled as they landed,so quiet was the air. I tapped the drum a couple of times with my finger,and the birds started up in alarm.

“I’m thirsty.”

        “Shall I see if I can find you some water?” But a few minutes later she came back empty-handed through the yellowing trees.

“What do you do with yourself on Oshima?”

        She mentioned two or three girls’ names that meant nothing to me, and rambled on with a string of reminiscences. She was talking not of Oshima but of Kofu, apparently, of a grammar school she had been in for the first and second grades. She talked artlessly on as the memories of her friends came back to her.

The two younger women and Eikichi came up about ten minutes later, and the older woman ten minutes later still. On the way down I purposely stayed behind talking to Eikichi, but after two hundred yards or so the little dancer came running back up. “There’s a spring below. They’re waiting for you to drink first.”

I ran down with her. The water bubbled clear and clean from shady rocks. The women were standing around it. “Have a drink. We waited for you. We didn’t think you would want to drink after we had stirred it up.”

I drank from my cupped hands. The women were slow to leave. They wet their handkerchiefs and washed the perspiration from their faces.

At the foot of the slope we came out on the Shimoda highway. Down the highway, sending up columns of smoke here and there, were the fires of the charcoalmakers. We stopped to rest on a pile of wood. The dancing girl began to curry the puppy’s shaggy coat with a pinkish comb.

“You’ll break the teeth,” the older woman warned.

“That’s all right. I’m getting a new one in Shimoda.”

It was the comb she wore in her hair, and even back in Yugano I had planned to ask for it when we got to Shimoda. I was a little upset to find her combing the dog with it.

“But all he would have to do would be to get a gold tooth. Then you’d never notice,” the dancer’s voice came to me suddenly. I looked back.

They were obviously talking about my crooked teeth. Chiyoko must have brought the matter up, and the little dancer suggested a gold tooth for me. I felt no resentment at being talked about and no particular need to hear more. The conversation was subdued for a time.

“He’s nice, isn’t he,” the girl’s voice came again.

“He seems to be very nice.”

“He really is nice. I like having someone so nice.”

        She had an open way of speaking, a youthful, honest way of saying exactly what came to her, that made it possible for me to think of myself as, frankly, “nice.” I looked up anew at the mountains, so bright that they made my eyes ache a little. I had come at nineteen to think of myself as a misanthrope, a lonely misfit, and it was my depression at the thought that had driven me to this Izu trip. And now I was able to look upon myself as “a nice person” in the everyday sense of the expression. I find no way to describe what this meant to me. The mountains grew brighterwe were getting near Shimoda and the sea.

Now and then, on the outskirts of a village, we would see a sign“Vagrant performers keep out.”

The Koshuya was a cheap inn at the northern edge of Shimoda. I went up behind the rest to an attic-like room on the second floor. There was no ceiling, and the roof sloped down so sharply that at the window overlooking the street one could not sit comfortably upright.

        “Your shoulder isn’t stiff ?” The older woman was fussing over the girl. “ Your hands aren’t sore?”

The girl went through the graceful motions of beating a drum. “ They’re not sore. I won’t have any trouble. They’re not sore at all.”

“Good. I was worried.”

I lifted the drum. “Heavy!”

“It’s heavier than you’d think,” she laughed. “It’s heavier than that pack of yours.”

They exchanged greetings with the other guests. The hotel was full of peddlers

and wandering performersShimoda seemed to be a migrants’nest.The dancer

handed out pennies to the inn children,who darted in and out. When I started

to leave she ran to arrange my sandals for me in the doorway.

“You will take me to a movie, won’t you?” she whispered, almost to herself.

Eikichi and I, guided part way by a rather disreputable-looking man from the Koshuya, went on to an inn said to belong to an ex-mayor. We had a bath together and lunch, fish new from the sea.

I handed him a little money as he left. “Buy some flowers for the services tomorrow,” I said. I had explained that I would have to go back to Tokyo on the morning boat. I was, as a matter of fact, out of money, but told them I had to be back in school.

“Well, we’ll see you this winter in any case,” the older women said. “We’ll all come down to the boat to meet you. You must let us know when you’re coming. You’re to stay with uswe couldn’t think of letting you go to a hotel. We’re expecting you, remember, and we’ll all be down at the boat.”

When the others had left the room I asked Chiyoko and Yuriko to go to a movie with me. Chiyoko, pale and tired, lay with her hands pressed to her abdomen. “I couldn’t, thank you. I’m simply not up to so much walking.”

Yuriko stared stiffly at the floor.

        The little dancer was downstairs playing with the inn children. When she saw me come down she ran off and began wheedling the older woman for permission to go to the movies. She came back looking distant and crestfallen.

“I don’t see anything wrong. Why can’t she go with him by herself?” Eikichi argued. I found it hard to understand myself, but the woman was unbending. The dancer sat out in the hall petting a dog when I left the inn. I could not bring myself to speak to her, so chilling was this new formality, and she seemed not to have the strength to look up.

I went to the movies alone. A woman read the dialogue by a small flashlight. I left almost immediately and went back to my inn. For a long time I sat looking out, my elbows on the window sill. The town was dark. I thought I could hear a drum in the distance. For no very good reason I found myself weeping.





EIKICHI called up from the street while I was eating breakfast at seven the next morning. He had on a formal kimono, in my honor it seemed. The women were not with him. I was suddenly lonesome.

“They all wanted to see you off,” he explained when he came up to my room, “but we were out so late last night that they couldn’t get themselves out of bed. They said to apologize and tell you they’d be waiting for you this winter.”

An autumn wind blew cold through the town. On the way to the ship he bought me fruit and tobacco and a bottle of a cologne called “Kaoru.” “ Because her name’s Kaoru,” he smiled. “Oranges are bad on a ship, but persimmons you can eat. They help seasickness.”

“Why don’t I give you this?” I put my hunting cap on his head, pulled my school cap out of my pack, and tried to smooth away a few of the wrinkles. We both laughed.

As we came to the pier I saw with a quick jump of the heart that the little dancer was sitting at the water’s edge. She did not move as we came up, only nodded a silent greeting. On her face were the traces of make-up I found so engaging, and the rather angry red at the corners of her eyes seemed to give her a fresh young dignity.

“Are the others coming?” Eikichi asked.

She shook her head.

“They’re still in bed?”

She nodded.

        Eikichi went to buy ship and lighter tickets. I tried to make conversation, but she only stared silently at the point where the canal ran into the harbor. Now and then she would nod a quick little nod, always before I had finished speaking.

The lighter pitched violently. The dancer stared fixedly ahead, her lips pressed tight together. As I started up the rope ladder to the ship I looked back. I wanted to say good-by, but I only nodded again. The lighter pulled off. Eikichi waved the hunting cap, and as the town retreated into the distance the girl began to wave something white.

I leaned against the railing and gazed out at Oshima until the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula was out of sight. It seemed a long while before that I had said good-by to the little dancer. I went inside and on to my stateroom. The sea was so rough that it was hard even to sit up. A crewman came around to pass out metal basins for the seasick. I lay down with my book sack for a pillow, my mind clear and empty. I was no longer conscious of the passage of time. I wept silently, and when my cheek began to feel chilly I turned my book sack over. A young boy lay beside me. He was the son of an Izu factory owner, he explained, and he was going to Tokyo to get ready for highschool entrance examinations. My school cap had attracted him.

“Is something wrong?” he asked after a time.

“No, I’ve just said good-by to someone.” I saw no need to disguise the truth, and I was quite unashamed of my tears. I thought of nothing. It was as though I were slumbering in a sort of quiet fulfillment. I did not know when evening came, but there were lights on when we passed Atami. I was hungry and a little chilly. The boy opened his lunch and I ate as though it were mine. Afterwards I covered myself with part of his cape. I floated in a beautiful emptiness, and it seemed natural that I should take advantage of his kindness. Everything sank into an enfolding harmony.

The lights went out, the smell of the sea and of the fish in the hold grew stronger. In the darkness, warmed by the boy beside me, I gave myself up to my tears. It was as though my head had turned to clear water, it was falling pleasantly away drop by drop ; soon nothing would remain.



Translated by Edward Seidensticker






This page was created on 2010/09/22

Background Color

Font Style

  • Default
  • For Weak-Eyed


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.

Other Works