Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Murakami, Haruki

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony
  • Date of entry: Aug-24-2006
  • Last revised: Oct-05-2006


The 25-year-old narrator returns to his hometown after a five-year absence. He accompanies his 14-year-old cousin to the hospital. The cousin's right ear is damaged, and his hearing is ruined. Although previous treatments have been unsuccessful, a new ear specialist is going to perform a procedure on the boy's ear.

The narrator recalls another trip he took to a hospital eight years earlier. At that time, he and a high school friend visited a girl who was having an operation on her rib. The girl had composed a poem based on a dream she had. She told the story to her two visitors and illustrated it by drawing a picture on a napkin. Her tale involved miniscule flies that crept into a woman's ear causing her to fall asleep. While she slept, the insects eventually devoured her flesh. A man attempted to awake (and save) her, but it was too late. The narrator remembers that his high school friend died not long afterwards.

The cousin's appointment with the ear doctor ends with a sack of medication and little likelihood that the day's treatment will restore his hearing. The narrator and his cousin eat in the hospital cafeteria. The boy asks the narrator to gaze inside his ears, and the narrator marvels at the structure and mystery of the human ear. He decides his cousin's ear appears normal. Soon, the narrator's mind once again drifts back to a summer eight years ago and memories of his lost friend.


The story reads like a daydream. A fairy tale of sorts is built into the narrative. What little action takes place occurs in one of three settings: a bus, the hospital cafeteria, and especially the narrator's memory. The wonder of memory (and the sensory stimuli that trigger it) is at the heart of this story. Recollection can offer comfort but can also create pain. The distinction between recall and illusion is sometimes blurry. Reminiscence has the power to preserve the past as well as connect us to the present. Time and Nature both have mystical qualities in the story. The human ear is depicted as much more than merely a conduit of sound.


Translated by Philip Gabriel. The book in which this story appears won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award.

Primary Source

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman


Harvill Secker

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