The Dancing Girl of Izu and Other Stories


"The Dancing Girl of Izu", particularly its last three pages, is excellent for its delicate poignancy. After that comes a series of vignettes, like postcard-sized watercolors, that Kawabata called palm-of-the-hand stories. Blending fiction and memory (his parents and sister died when he was a child, then his grandparents during his adolescence), as well as misremembering and gaps, Kawabata evokes mono-no-aware through sparse, seemingly evasive, prose.


Kawabata could deliver a lot with just a handful of words. There's Ryunosuke Akutagawa in his style too, with a similar underlying downheartedness. Akutagawa created fuller, more defined pictures, while Kawabata's stories can read like experimental scraps requiring some supplementation—an enlightening book club discussion, maybe, or an academic lecture—to throw light on the depths. "The Dancing Girl of Izu" is the strongest in this collection, but others are sure to linger in the reader's mind.


A question for myself to ponder, or for anyone who can provide the answer: Why do paulownia trees appear so often in Japanese literature? Their literary significance eludes me. With countless tree species in Japan, I doubt the paulownia serves merely as an object of imagery; there must be more to it.



Title: Paulownia Trees at Akasaka in the Evening Rain; Artist: Utagawa Hiroshige II (Japanese, 1826–1869); Period: Edo period (1615–1868); Date: 1859
Title: Paulownia Trees at Akasaka in the Evening Rain; Artist: Utagawa Hiroshige II; Date: 1859