House of the Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories - Yasunari Kawabata, Edward G. Seidensticker “The aged have death and the young have love, and death comes once, and love comes over and over again”.

To love is a game of a brave heart. To die; a desire of a sullen heart; a definite verb for the inevitable. Akin to the broken heart sitting by the sea, pleading the waves to carry it like a child; the loneliness of old age seeks the black sleet of death. The “ugliness of old age” that whispered in ‘The Sound of the Mountain’, roars in this book like the stormy waves Eguchi hears as he nestles in supple breasts of youth. A virginal body of a maiden in the pristine state as the day she was born, slept peacefully as it teased Eguchi’s aged physicality. Day after day, the smell of the untainted youth in all its unfazed beauty, the warmth and the tenderness of an unpolluted woman brought a surge of sorrow in Eguchi’s empty existence. The symbolic virginal magnificence encompasses both the freedom of an unadulterated youth and the possibility of its violation.


Had he not come to this house seeking the ultimate in the ugliness of old age.....”


Why did it seem like Eguchi’s existence was somehow vacant? He had lived a full life, as living would be defined. Like Shingo (Sound of the Mountain), he was a father, husband and a grandfather and had his share of affairs, yet when he slept besides the naked ‘sleeping beauties’ hearing the ocean, a beauty whom he could not violate , Eguchi was claustrophobic by the chaos of his own emotions. What makes a man to lose the very being of his existence for a woman? Is a penile erection the only viable proof for a man’s existence? In the fight between the old and the young, at which point does a man find himself standing on the edge of humanity and inhumanity? Does the impotency of old age find an illusionary sanctuary in the potency of the youth?

True to his beliefs in Zen Philosophy, Kawabata puts the idea of ‘Shunyata’ (Zero); the emptiness that becomes necessary for a man to achieve freedom from emotional corruptibility. But, the author being known for his brilliance in the sinister caricatures of the deepest human sentimentalities uses his protagonists’ (Eguchi, Kikuji, Gimpei. etc...) minds as the prime internal sensitive organ by showing the desperation of achieving the ‘purity of life’ through haunting ideas of eroticisms and death. The menacing sorrow of loneliness suffered by all the actors in this novel comes from the emptiness of being unable to achieve the ‘unattainable’. To sleep like a child, serene, devoid of monstrous dreams is a novelty to a restless mind. To sleep with no dreams, no guilt, no trepidation; to sleep like the dead. The man who never knew the feeling of a tender, sweet sleep until, the warm, clean blood from a round and plump womanly arm flowed through his veins. However, in that blissful moment, the idea of his filth soiling the wholesomeness of another life form repulsed his existence at that very moment.

“The clean blood of the girl was now, this very moment, flowing through me, but would there not be unpleasantness when the arm was returned to the girl, this dirty male blood flowing through it?”(One Arm)


Through morbidness of death festers the thought of contemplative possession of death. In ‘Of Birds and the Beasts’, the misanthropic living of the protagonists, again reflect and urge to achieve the unattainable – purity of life in its true form. It seems that the birth of animals brought elation to the protagonists as it was an “untainted life”, with no mistakes and then when by putting the young ones with the old ones, the stark differences of life stages, brought certain viciousness to the permutation of events that made seem like a salvation from a foreseeable ugliness of life.

“Husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, the bonds were not easily cut even with the most unsatisfactory people”..... “On the other hand a certain sad purity in making playthings of lives and the habits of animals”...."


The commotion that arises from the man’s desperate need to breed and kill animals once again delineates the lingering theme of passivity of a vacant existence of human conscious that sometimes shatter the fine line between humane and inhumane environments.

What are memories? They are reflections of our past actions, the passivity of existence that metamorphoses into inexhaustible shame. Kawabata emphasizes on this factor of human mind to accentuate the relationship of an individual with the existential world. The reflections of our past, the mistakes of our life, always come running back at the brink of death. And then, how we desperately yearn for that impossible chance of grabbing our youth, even for a briefest moment, to relive a clean existence. An impossible chance to experience youth shamelessly. What if? The toughest part about life is living it. And, sometimes when I think about the possibilities of being marred by sorrowful loneliness for not having a full existence , I hide amongst the cerulean depths of the pool , avoiding to reach the surface, swimming for hours till I can no longer hear my thoughts. However, I crave to hear Kawabata even after the pages are closed because in his surreal depictions I find warm repose just like Eguchi did in the purity of the beauties.

Coming, all is clear, no
doubt about it. Going, all is
clear, without a doubt.
What, then, is all?

---Hosshin, 13th century.