(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A middle-aged woman, much like the author, the narrator has left her summer home at Karuizawa to go to a nearby town to give a talk to a woman’s group. She returns to Karuizawa on a train that is unexpectedly slow, not only stopping at every single station along the way but also making remarkably long stops.

At one stop the narrator finally gets off the train, partly to relieve her irritation and frustration and partly to learn the cause of the delays. She finds the station attendants loading long bundles into freight cars. At the same time, she encounters a middle-aged woman accompanied by an old man who is clearly mentally deficient. The station attendants are loading bundles of cut chrysanthemums that are being shipped on the overnight train to flower markets in Tokyo. The couple has come to the station because the old man has an obsessive concern about how his flowers are handled.

Returning to her seat on the train, the narrator learns from a local person named Kurokawa something about the odd couple she has met on the platform. He confirms that the old man is retarded and obsessed with growing chrysanthemums; he also informs the narrator that the train is going to be much slower than she had planned but that “you might as well just get used to it and consider it an elegant way to travel.” He then tells the story of the couple, Ichige Masutoshi and his wife, Rie, as it was passed on to him by his father. The Ichiges had once been a wealthy family, although they have since gone bankrupt. The narrator is shocked to learn that when the family was in its heyday, they arranged for Rie, one of...

(The entire section is 663 words.)