The Sound of the Mountain

The Sound of the Mountain

infobox book
name = The Sound of the Mountain
title_orig = 山の音
"Yama no Oto"
author = Yasunari Kawabata
country = Japan
language = Japanese
genre = Novel
publisher =
pub_date =
english pub_date = 1970
media type = Print (paperback)
preceded_by = Thousand Cranes
followed_by = The Lake

"The Sound of the Mountain" ("Yama no Oto") is a novel by Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata, serialized between 1949 and 1954. Its translation into English by Edward G. Seidensticker was first published in 1970, earning Seidensticker the National Book Award for Translation the following year. It was made into a Toho movie "Sound of the Mountain" directed by Mikio Naruse in 1954 starring Setsuko Hara, So Yamamura, Ken Uehara, Yatsuko Tanami.

Plot summary

The novel centers upon the Ogata family of Kamakura, and its events are witnessed from the perspective of its aging patriarch, Shingo, a businessman close to retirement who works in Tokyo. Although only sixty-two years old at the beginning of the novel, Shingo has already begun to experience temporary lapses of memory, to recall strange and disturbing dreams upon waking, and occasionally to hear sounds heard by no one else, including the titular noise which awakens him from his sleep one night, "like wind, far away, but with a depth like a rumbling of the earth." Shingo takes the sound to be an omen of his impending death, as he had once coughed up blood (a possible sign of tuberculosis) a year before, but had not sought medical consultation and the symptom subsequently went away.

Although he does not outwardly change his daily routine, Shingo begins to observe and question more closely his relations with the other members of his family, who include his wife Yasuko, his philandering son Shuichi (who, in traditional Japanese custom, lives with his wife in his parents' house), his daughter-in-law Kikuko, and his married daughter Fusako, who has left her husband and returned to her family home with her two young daughters. Shingo realizes that he has not truly been an involved and loving husband and father, and perceives the marital difficulties of his adult children to be the fruit of his poor parenting.

To this end, he begins to question his secretary, Tanizaki Eiko, about his son's affair, as she knows Shuichi socially and is friends with his mistress, and he quietly puts pressure upon Shuichi to quit his infidelity. At the same time, he uncomfortably becomes aware that he has begun to experience a fatherly yet erotic attachment to Kikuko, whose quiet suffering in the face of her husband's unfaithfulness, physical attractiveness, and filial devotion contrast strongly with the bitter resentment and homeliness of his own daughter, Fusako. Complicating matters in his own marriage is the infatuation that as a young man he once possessed for Yasuko's older sister, more beautiful than Yasuko herself, who died as a young woman but who has again begun to appear in his dreams, along with images of other dead friends and associates.

The novel may be interpreted as a meditation upon aging and its attendant decline, and the coming to terms with one's mortality that is its hallmark. Even as Shingo regrets not being present for his family and blames himself for his children's failing marriages, the natural world, represented by the mountain itself, the cherry tree in the yard of his house, the flights of birds and insects in the early summer evening, or two pine trees he sees from the window of his commuter train each day, comes alive for him in a whole new way, provoking meditations on life, love, and companionship.


#The Sound of the Mountain
##Shingo feels his memory is going soon after maid is sacked
##The sound of the mountain; the geisha's story of planning a double suicide (start of August)
##Description of Shingo's workplace; he buys whelks and ginkgo nuts (Thursday)
##The backstory of Yasuko's sister and Shuichi's mistress
##Tanizaki's classmate applies to be new maid; was the sound of the mountain an omen?
#The Wings of the Locust
##Yasuko looks in Fusako's purse
##Sunflowers near their house like "heads of famous people"
##Swallowtails; Shingo dreams about dead acquaintances
##Wingless locusts; Shingo's Friday dance with Eiko (Sunday, early September, before "day 210 after start of spring")
#A Blaze of Clouds
##Typhoon on "Day 209"; Kikuko dances; power failure
##Women's hairstyles; Fusako jealous of Kikuko? the kerchief; Yasuko's father
##The "mikoshi"'s tin roof; Eiko; Shingo and Shuichi go to the cinema
#The Chestnuts
##Kikuko notices ginkgo buds; aftermath of storm; Yasuko's dream of ruined house in Shinano
##Yasuko's father; chestnut rebound at wedding; telegram says Fusako has moved in with Yasuko's aunt in Shinano (autumn)
##Shuichi leaves for Shinano; Shingo talks to Eiko about Shuichi's mistress; dead Toriyama (Saturday morning)
##Toriyama's funeral; the Noh masks of Mizuta (Saturday afternoon)
##Sparrows and buntings; Eiko takes Shingo to see the Hongo house of Kinu(ko) (Saturday evening)
#A Dream of Islands
##Teru the dog has a litter of ten puppies
##Shingo's dream about Matsushima; Suzumoto brings him Mizuta's Noh masks
##Shingo shows the masks to the family
##Teru and her five(?) puppies (29 Dec)
#The Cherry in the Winter
##Satoko running up and down the verandah; age-reckonings; return of Fusako (1 Jan)
##Return of Fusako (31 Dec)
##Eiko visits, tells Shingo about her decision (1 Jan)
##Shingo and Yasuko in Atami (January)
#Water in the Morning
##The death of Kitamoto; Eiko's connection
##Kikuko's nose-bleed; Shingo and Shuichi have lunch
##Eiko and Kinu(ko)'s housemate come to the office to talk about Kinu(ko) (early March?)
##Should Shuichi leave home?
#The Voice in the Night
##Shuichi comes home drunk at 2.30am
##Shingo dreams about reading a novel; newspaper article about teenage pregnancy
##Kikuko gives Shuichi sake for his hangover; Kikuko's friend's abortion (March)
##Shingo talks to Kikuko on the train to hospital; she wants to stay with them
#The Bell in Spring
##Kamakura's 700th anniversary; the double suicide in the newspaper (Sunday, in April by 11.3)
##The sewing machine; a camellia bonsai at the tobacconist's
##Procession of little princes; Yosano poem; tea stall; the accident
##Shingo looks for a kimono for Satoko; Kikuko puts on mask
#The Kite's House
##The call of the kite; the "aodaisho" snake (mid-May)
##Shuichi tells Shingo on the train of Kikuko's abortion yesterday; he is furious (late May by 11.2)
##Fusako goes to the post-office and Shingo talks to Kikuko about the abortion; she goes home to her family the next day (late June?/late May by 11.2)
#A Garden in the Capital
##Fusako becomes hostile towards Shingo; they discuss Aihara's disappearance (early July?/late May by 11.2)
##Eiko calls Shingo; Shingo calls Kikuko at the Sagamis' (late May)
##Shingo meets Kikuko at Shinjuku Gardens
##Eiko tells Shingo that Shuichi paid for Kikuko's abortion with money from Kinu(ko)
#The Scar
##Shingo cuts down the yatsude (Sunday)
##Kikuko's return with presents for the family; the electric razor
##The vacuum cleaner; Shingo's dream about American beards, and a girl
##Platonic love for Kikuko? a cab-ride with geisha
#In the Rain
##Aihara attempts suicide with woman; newspaper article; divorce notice
##Shingo wonders: Am I a murderer? Eiko reveals Kinu(ko) is pregnant (June)
##Kinu(ko) is four months pregnant
#The Cluster of Mosquitoes
##Shingo goes to the Ikeda house
##Kinu(ko) returns home; she says the child is not Shuichi's
##Shingo goes to a geisha; his dream about a uniform and a tree of mosquitoes
#The Snake's Egg
## On a train journey, Shingo ponders a friend's possible suicide (late August)
##Yasuko says Kikuko may be pregnant again; dream about eggs (Saturday by 15.3)
## The lotus articles; Kikuko denies she is pregnant (Sunday)
##Shingo talks to Shuichi; Kikuko calls Shingo, to meet him at the Tokyo station
#Fish in Autumn
##Shingo forgets how to tie his tie (October)
##The girl on the train and her "father"
##Discusses his mistake with Shuichi
##The ear story (Sunday)
##Dinner; Shingo suggests a trip to his old home next Sunday

List of characters

The Ogata household

(Japanese-style age determined by years lived in/Western-style age by birthdays)
*Shingo (62-3/61-2) and Yasuko (63-4/62-3)
*Shuichi, Shingo's son, and his wife Sagara Kikuko (early 20s)
*Fusako (30/28 or 29), the daughter and her own daughters Satoko (4-5/3-4) and baby Kuniko (2-3/1-2)

hingo's friends and colleagues

*the dead cabinet-maker Tatsumi, who had six daughters, died 3 or 4 years ago 2.3
*dead Aida, a former director of Shingo's company, who died the year before 2.3
*Eiko Tanizaki (early 20s), the office girl for 3 years, schoolfriend of Kitamoto's daughter
*dead Toriyama 4.3
*Suzumoto 5.2
*dead Mizuta 5.2
*Unno 5.2
*Itakura, the old President of the company 6.3
*dead Kitamoto (lost three sons; died during air-raids) 7.1
*Kitamoto's family taking refuge in Gifu Prefecture 7.1
*Natsuko Iwamura, who replaced Eiko Tanizaki 11.2, 11.4, 13.2


*Kayo, the sacked maid 1.1
*Kinu(ko), the widowed mistress of Shuichi
*Kinu(ko)'s housemate, "the Ikeda woman", Mrs Ikeda, two or three years younger (13.3) 7.3
*Her small son 14.1
*Aihara, Fusako's dissolute husband and his arthritic mother
*Yasuko's father, fond of bonsai 3.2, 9.2
*Yasuko's dead sister, older than Shingo 1.4, 9.2, 9.4, 16.1, 16.2
*Yasuko's aunt (80s), and her son, present head of Yasuko's family, in Shinano 4.2
*A local lady 5.4
*Grandfather Amamiya 5.4 and his son 8.4
*Boat company president and wife 9.1
*Old man and paralysed boy 9.1
*Tobacconist who keeps bonsai 9.2
*Dancing girl and her mother 9.3
*A friend of Kikuyo who takes tea ceremony lessons 9.4
*Lotus doctor (69 years old) 10.3, 15.3
*The Sagaras, family of Kikuko 10.3, 15.4
*Younger sister of a friend of Shuichi's 12.3
*Shingo's friend with the Kazan picture 12.3
*Two elderly geisha and three young geisha 12.4
*Aihara's new girlfriend (25 or 26) 13.1
*Friend who wants to see geishas 13.1, 13.3
*Friend dying of liver cancer 14.1, 15.4
*His wife, dead seven years ago, eldest son, five grandchildren 15.4
*Miyamoto, owner of factory with cyanide 14.1
*Red-haired foreigner 15.1
*Male prostitute 15.1
*Girl on train, her "father", five or six men with maple branches 16.2, 16.3


*Kamikochi 2.2
*Shinano 3.2, 4.1
*The Yokosuka Line 3.3, 8.1, 9.3, 10.2, 14.1
*The "Ikeda" house in Hongo, Tokyo 4.3, 4.5, 14.1
*Mount Fuji 5.2, 16.1
*Matsushima Bay 5.2
*Amanohashidate 5.2
*Kyūshū 5.2
*Miyajima Shrine 5.2
*Atami 6.4
*Jikkoku Pass 6.4
*Tanna Tunnel 6.4
*Kannami 6.4
*Gifu Prefecture 7.1
*Aomori 8.2
*Hirosaki 8.2
*North and South Tsumaru District 8.2
*Hongo, Tokyo 8.3, 8.4
*North Kamakura valley 8.4
*Totsuka Station and Hodogaya Station 8.4, 15.4, 16.3
*Tochigi 9.1
*Hase district, Kamakura 9.2
*Ikegami Grove, Tokyo 10.2, 11.2
*Kemigawa, Chiba 10.3
*Hatakemachi, Chiba 10.3
*Okinawa 11.1
*Ikegami Hommonji Temple, Tokyo 11.2
*Shinjuku Gardens, Tokyo 11.2, 11.3, 12.1
*Rendaiji Spa, Izu Peninsula 13.1
*Harvard and Boston University 13.2
*Tsukiji geisha district 14.1, 14.3
*Tokyo Central Station 14.3
*Shinshu 14.3, 16.3, 16.5
*Kudan Hill and the Palace moat, Tokyo 15.1
*Tsurumi Station 15.1
*Sanshiro's Lake at Tokyo University 15.3
*Tohoku University 15.3
*Manchuria 15.3
*National Botanical Gardens (U.S.) 15.3
*Numazu 15.4
*Ofuna Station 16.1, 16.3
*Mountains of Echigo 16.2
*Yokohama 16.2, 16.3
*Buffalo, New York 16.4

Flora and fauna

*Whelk 1.3, 1.4
*Prawn, lobster, herring, minnow 1.3
*ginkgo nut 1.3, 1.4
*Sunflower 2.2, 4.1, 13.2, 16.4
*Swallowtail butterfly 2.3
*Bush clover 2.3, 4.1
*Pine 2.3, 5.2, 10.2
*Locust 2.4
*Cherry 2.4, 4.1, 6.4, 9.1, 9.3, 11.3, 12.1, 15.4
*Maple (bonsai or normal) 3.2, 9.2, 16.2, 16.3, 16.5
*Ginkgo 4.1, 8.3
*Bamboo 4.1, 6.4
*Susuki grass 4.1, 4.5, 5.4, 15.4, 16.4
*Amaranth 4.1
*Chestnut 4.2
*Sparrow 4.4, 4.5, 5.4
*Bunting 4.5, 5.4
*Four Princes pattern: orchid, bamboo, ume, chrysanthemum 5.1
*Thistle 5.4
*Plum, peach, apricot 6.4
*Duck 6.4
*Azalea 6.4
*Dog other than Teru 6.4, 15.1
*Loquat 7.4, 11.3
*Plum 8.4
*Yatsude ("Fatsia japonica") 9.1, 11.3, 12.1, 13.2
*Camellia (bonsai) 9.2
*Kikyo (Japanese bellflower) 9.4
*Black lily 9.4
*White hyacinth 9.4
*Black camellia 9.4
*Kite 10.1
*Crow 10.1, 12.3, 12.4
*Flea, mosquito 10.1
*Aodaisho (Japanese Rat Snake, "Elaphe climacophora") 10.1
*Lotus 10.3, 15.3, 15.4
*German Pointer 11.3
*Deodar 11.3
*Japanese arborvitae ("Thuja standishii") 11.3
*Utsukushimatsu pine ("Pinus densiflora form. umbraculifera") 11.3
*Keyaki (Japanese grey-bark elm, "Zelkova serrata") 11.3
*Tulip tree ("lily tree") 11.3
*Rose 11.4
*Chrysanthemum (Western) 13.2, 15.4
*Abalone shells 13.2
*Marguerite 13.2
*Dahlia 13.2
*Acacia 15.1
*Suzumushi (Bell Cricket, "Homoeogryllus orientalis") 15.2
*Matsumushi (Pine Cricket, "Madasumma marmorata"?) 15.2
*Ostrich 15.2
*Snake (generic) 15.2, 15.3
*Equinox lily 15.4
*Gourd vine 16.4, 16.5
*Pigeon 16.4
*Trout 16.5

Cultural references

*Lys Gauty record, the theme song from "Quatorze Juillet" 3.1
*mikoshi shrine 3.3
*"Kanjincho", a kabuki play with actors Koshiro, Uzaemon, Kikugoro 3.3
*Shigaraki vase 4.1
*kotatsu 5.1
*obi 5.1, 9.1, 11.1, 12.1, 12.2, 12.4
*The Four Princes pattern 5.1
*varieties of tea: gyokuro and bancha 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 8.3
*Noh masks: jido and kasshiki (children) 4.3, 5.2, 9.4
*Muromachi Period 5.3
*Toyotomi Hideyoshi 5.3
*Sotatsu, a painter 5.4
*Kamakura's 700th anniversary and temple bell 9.1
*Viscount Masanori Takagi (died 1948) 9.1
*Gandhi 9.1
*"The Spiteful Years" refers to "The Hateful Age" by Fumio Niwa 9.1
*Hikari cigarettes 9.2
*Great Buddha of Kamakura 9.3, 16.4
*Akiko Yosano (1878-1942) 9.3:"A summer grove, Kamakura; a Buddha he may be,":"But a handsome man he also is, Lord Sakyamuni." (should have been "Amitabha")
*Shichi-Go-San ("Seven-Five-Three Day", November 15) 9.3
*Taigu Ryokan (1757/8-1831) 9.3:"In the heavens, a high wind." (Shingo's is a forgery)
*Passage from an unspecified Noh play 9.4
*Rikyu and the Enshu School of tea ceremony 9.4
*Kankyuan School of tea ceremony, the Mushanokoji family 9.4
*Yayoi Period archaeological excavation 10.3, 15.3
*juban 11.1
*"Les Sylphides", ballet music by Chopin 11.2
*Russo-Japanese War 11.3
*Ogai Mori (1862-1922) 12.3:"All very stupid." (last words)
*Kazan Watanabe (1793-1841) 12.3, 12.4:"A stubborn crow in the dawn: the rains of June. Kazan" (ink wash)
*Buson 12.4:"I try to forget this senile love; a chilly autumn shower." (haiku)
*Haiku, poetic expressions involving trout 16.5

"The Sound of the Mountain" is unusually long for a Kawabata novel, running to 276 pages in its English translation. As is characteristic of much of his work, it is written in short, spare prose akin to poetry, which Seidensticker himself likened to a haiku in the introduction to his translation of Kawabata's most well-known novel, "Snow Country".

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