Beauty and Sadness

In chapter 1, the main character Oki Toshio travels by train from Tokyo to Kyoto on the 29th of December. The official goal of Oki’s trip is to hear the New Year’s Eve bells in Kyoto (that is what he told his wife and son), but his personal, and rather primary goal, is seeing Otoko again. Otoko is the woman he had an affair with 24 years ago, when she was 15 and he was 30 and married (16 and 31 in the Dutch translation). Otoko got pregnant, the baby was born prematurely and died soon after birth. Otoko never married, probably because of this scandalous affair in her youth and moved from Tokyo to Kyoto. After his arrival in Kyoto, Oki goes to his hotel and makes a telephone call to Otoko. She agrees to meet him on New Year’s Eve, to hear the bells together. Oki had hoped to spend the evening alone with Otoko, but she organized company, a protegee of Otoko and two geisha’s.

We focus here on the first four paragraphs of the novel. Below, the English translation is copied, divided up in fragments, mostly consisting of sentences, numbered ‘S1’ to ‘S13’.

S1. Five 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. S2. He could not take his eyes from it. S3. The low armchairs on his side of the car did not swivel.

S4. Oki was alone in the observation car. S5. Slouched deep in his armchair, he watched the end chair turn. S6. Not that it kept turning in the same direction, at the same speed: S7. sometimes it went a little faster, or a little slower, or even stopped and began turning in the opposite direction. S8. 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.

S9. It was the twenty-ninth of December. S10. Oki was going to Kyoto to hear the New Year’s Eve Bells.

  • 511. For how many years had he heard the tolling of those bells over the radio?
  • 512. How long ago had the broadcast begun? S13. Probably he had listened to them every year since then.
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