A teacher and an amateur entomologist, Niki Jumpei decides to take a vacation to gather specimens for his collection of insects. He takes a train to a small town near the ocean and, carrying a canteen and a large wooden box, disappears from the urban life he knows. Eventually, he is missed by his mother and by his lover. His mother files a report with the missing-persons bureau, but the authorities can find no trace of her son.
Jumpei’s story is as follows: After arriving in a small beach town, he walks from the railroad station to an area of dunes near the ocean. He comes upon a strange village, where many of the houses are located in pits created by huge sand dunes. As night approaches, he begins to look for a place to sleep; villagers direct him to a building that is little more than a shack, located in one of the depressions in the dunes. It turns out to be the home of a young woman, who offers to accommodate Jumpei. Unenthusiastically, Jumpei accepts the woman’s hospitality.
Jumpei is horrified by the woman’s story. He learns, soon after his stay begins, that she is a widow whose husband and young daughter were both victims of the ever-encroaching sand. Her life now is a constant struggle against the sand, shoveling it to a place from which it can be hauled up for shipment to shoddy contractors for use in making cheap concrete. This industry is the sole economic support of the entire village. The woman makes it clear that Jumpei is expected to help with the work of shoveling sand in exchange for his room and board. Their shoveling is essential; without constant efforts to remove sand and send it to the top, the little house would be overwhelmed by sand slides.
Jumpei soon discovers that he cannot escape from the depression in the dunes in which the house is placed. He attempts to evade the fate to which he has been condemned. He tries to bully and threaten the woman to force her to help him leave, but he fails. He tries to bargain with and to threaten the only other villagers he sees, the men who arrive at the top of the dune, lowering buckets to the pit below to be filled with sand, and raising the buckets on ropes; they do not respond to his overtures. Finally and reluctantly, he gives in and helps the woman with her unceasing labor, but he cannot get used to the constant presence of sand. It is in his clothes, in his eyes, on his skin, and in his mouth; when he sleeps, it coats his entire body.
When he is not shoveling sand, sleeping, or eating his meals,...
(The entire section is 1030 words.)