“The Girl Who Goes to the Fire” by Kawabata

 久し振り! Sorry for being gone for so long. I took the 漢字検定 recently, and man did that take a lot of preparation. Let’s hope I passed! Anyway, I’ve been reading some of Kawabata Yasunari’s Palm-of-the-hand Stories (掌の小説) and thought I’d translate one here. If you have any interest in reading more there is an collection of them available in English. I’m also working on some Dazai Osamu which should be ready before long. For the moment I hope you enjoy the (very short) Kawabata I’ve tried my hand at translating!

The Girl Who Goes to the Fire / 「火に行く彼女」

By Kawabata Yasunari

Far away the lake is shining. It is like the color of evening moonlight reflecting off a rank pond in an old untended garden.

The thicket on the opposite bank of the river is quietly burning. The fire spreads wide as the eye can see. It seems to be a forest fire.

A fire engine running like a toy along the bank is vividly reflected on the water’s surface.

A throng of people race up the hillside, painting it black.

As I come to my senses, the surrounding air is bright as though quietly desiccated.

The entire downtown area at the foot of the hill is a sea of fire.

–She cuts through the great throng and goes down the hill alone. She is the only person to go down the hill.

The world is eerily silent.

Seeing her heading straight for the sea of fire feels unbearable.

At this moment, without saying a single word I have a very vivid conversation with her heart.

“Why are you the only one going down the hill? Are you going to the fire to die?”

“I do not wish to die. However, your home is in the west. And so I go east.”

I feel a pain as though her silhouette–a black dot amid the flames that dominate my field of vision–has pierced my eyes. And thus I wake.

Tears are streaming from the corners of my eyes.


I already knew that it was hard for her to even walk in the direction of my home. Whatever she may have been thinking, it doesn’t matter. But for me no matter how unreasonable it is, and regardless of how much it seemed on the surface that she had given up, that her feelings toward me had completely frozen over, I, very selfishly and without any real regard to her actual self, wanted to feel that somewhere within her there was just a single drop of emotion for me. Even as I sneered coldly at myself, I secretly wanted to keep that alive.

And yet, that I have had such a dream may mean that, deep down in the recesses of my heart, I have already come to believe that she no longer holds even a mite of affection for me.

The dream is my own emotion. Her emotions within the dream are emotions that I fashioned for her. They are my emotions. Even though the dream itself holds no insistence or pretense of emotion.

How lonely I felt as I pondered thus.

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