This is an engrossing story that realistically depicts a Buddhist monk's struggles with depression.
In Japanese fiction, Buddhist monks are often portrayed as emerging triumphant over spiritual turmoil, but that is not the case in this story. Though a monk, the protagonist is unable to overcome his spiritual suffering and finds relief only in medicinal drugs. His struggles are described from the viewpoint of the protagonist himself, his wife, his temple's chief priest (Genshu), and the chief priest's wife.
The protagonist, Jonen, is a monk at a Zen temple in a small town in northern Japan. He suffers from both manic-depression and schizophrenia, and he relies on medicine to maintain a semblance of balance. As a student at a university in Tokyo, his overriding interests were rock music and sex. But when symptoms of mental illness appeared, his parents committed him to a mental institution in his hometown of Kagoshima, where he eventually lost interest in such things. Upon being released from this institution, he followed his parents' advice and entered a Buddhist temple. After a period of training, he left the temple and began attending a university in Kyoto. Eventually he quit the university without graduating and returned to Kagoshima. There he found a job, but it did not last long. Following the chief priest's advice, Jonen stopped taking his medicine. Unfortunately, this resulted in his being tormented by hallucinations and delusions, and he attempted to drown himself. He left the temple, and after returning to Kyoto for some time, entered another temple in Kanagawa Prefecture. There he met his future wife, Tae, and with her he returned to the temple in northern Japan, where he is when the novel begins.
Jonen's father, who has been sending him the medicine, suddenly passes away, and Jonen becomes increasingly unstable. It is then that Jonen proposes that, as a means of finding himself, he hold a live concert in town. Tae and Genshu help him make preparations, but just before the concert begins, signs of schizophrenia reappear. On stage Jonen experiences a sense of exaltation he has never felt before, but gradually his behavior turns erratic. In the eyes of Tae, however, Jonen has taken a turn for the better.