The Dancing Girl of Izu by Yasunari Kawabata (Japanese Literature Challenge 13)

On the road, a traveling companion; and in the world, kindness.

~an old Japanese saying

I first heard of this short story from Masa, our travel guide, when I was visiting the Izu Peninsula in Japan two years ago. He asked if I had ever read it, as it was one of his favorites, but I told him I had not.

Just now I have finished this lovely, gentle story by Yasunari Kawabata. It tells of a twenty year old student from Tokyo as he briefly follows itinerant entertainers who perform for people in tea houses. He has noticed the beauty of the dancing girl and cannot bring himself to leave her, or her family, until he runs out of money to travel and must return to Tokyo.

There is no consummation of their relationship; there is not even an embrace, let alone a kiss. But, her hair brushes his shoulder as they play a game with stones called “Five-in-a-row.” She asks him to read her “The Story of The Lord of Mito.“

I picked up the book, with a certain expectation in my heart. Just as I hoped, the dancing girl scooted over beside me. Once I began reading, she brought her face close enough to touch my shoulder, her expression serious. Her eyes sparkled as she gazed at my forehead without blinking. It seemed to be her habit when she was being read to.

She asks him to take her to a silent movie when they come to town, but when he does, her mother forbids her to go.

They have nothing between them but a strong connection, a great affection particularly on his part. He finds something within the traveling group, within the dancing girl herself, which provides some comfort to his spirit. It isn’t until the end of the story that we find out why.

Twenty years old, I had embarked on this trip to Izu heavy with resentment that my personality had been permanently warped by my orphan’s complex and that I would never be able to overcome a stifling melancholy. So I was inexpressibly grateful to find that I looked like a nice person as the world defines the word.

I read this beautiful, melancholic short story (first published in 1926) for free by downloading it from Internet Archive, which proves to be a wonderful resource for borrowing literature. It is perfect for the Japanese Literature Challenge 13, and the first short story I’ve read for the Deal Me In Challenge.

16 thoughts on “The Dancing Girl of Izu by Yasunari Kawabata (Japanese Literature Challenge 13)

    • Jay, thank you for inspiring me to read more short stories, which are truly special and much neglected in my reading life. This one is also available (as I later saw) on Goodreads. If you look for the title there’s a little link below that says something like “read the pdf here.”😉

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  1. Earlier this month I read Kawabata’s Snow Country, one of my first Japanese novels in a long time (have yet to post my review!) In Snow Country, I was struck by Kawabata’s ability to create a very distinctive “atmosphere” and a very subtle yet very strong emotional mood. From your review it sounds like these qualities carried over into his short stories!

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    • You are so right about Kawabata’s ability to portray the atmosphere, and a very strong emotional (usually melancholy) mood. I have forgotten how much I admire his work, which I once heard described as “deceptively simple.” Indeed, I have been thinking of this story since I finished it, and now I want to get all my Kawabata books off the shelf and into my hands again.

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  2. Wow. Of all the January book reviews I am reading, all the Japanese titles (including your anime book) are the most interesting ones and I am itching to read any and all. But my commitment to The Unconsoled, and The Illiad are blocking almost all of my reading time.

    And I feel that The Unconsoled is not a fully Japanese title, but it is so worthy, that I am trying to be patient with myself and don’t worry about quantity, but stay my humble course, 😉 and enjoy the ride.

    I may add that my daughter is being required to read Why the Cage Bird Sings, and I am half way into it. It was my chance to read this classic I hadn’t read.

    The “atmosphere” both of you mention, and the subtle mood, that is something I appreciate much in books.

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      • I love atmosphere in books, and the ability to sympathize with the characters as if I knew them.

        How I admire your ability to read several books at once! I began the War and Peace read along, with a chapter a day, as it seems so reasonable. But, I find I am the kind of reader who must forge ahead or I lose the momentum of the book.

        I am glad you are sticking with The Unconsoled, which I do not think is a particularly “easy” book (especially on audio!). And, I will look for Why a The Caged Bird Sings. I have never read Maya Angelou.

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        • Simultaneous reading was easier before. I spoke too soon about my ability to keep several books at a time. My audio has expired at the half way mark, and I know I want and must read the other half. I was missing more and more with the audio, and last week, I have stayed almost exclusively with The Iliad. Losing that momentum is becoming a challenge.

          I made a break to focus on the Angelou book, and I am already falling behind on The Iliad’s schedule 🙂 But the non fiction and some poetry, I am reading a bit of those here and there.

          I lost my rhythm last year, I thought I found it again, but I haven’t, hahaha.

          At least, I am truly loving what I am reading, and one way or another, I am committed to a book at a time, if it comes to that.

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  3. There’s a fine silent film of this from 1933, which you can see in a scratchy but watchable version on Youtube. The story has been ilmed several times. Kawabata’s other work has also been the been the basis for several films. I can recommend two:Sound of the Mountain from 1954, and Mr. Thank-You from 1936. Both are available on subtitled DVDs; the second is especially good.

    The only Kawabata book I’ve read is The Master of Go, which is fascinating.

    Nice blog; I’m glad to have found it.

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    • Thank you for leaving a link to the film which I didn’t know had been made. I am not much of a film person, sadly, but I do enjoy them from time to time.

      I would like to read The Master or Go; I’ve often heard it praised. We even bought the game one year for my family.

      I am glad you have found my blog. Thank you for your kind words.

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