This novel is a record of the daily experiences of a man approaching old age. It delves into the essential but hidden nature of his everyday life, employing prose that is relentless in its re-creation of detail. Each scene is recorded in such minute precision that the novel sometimes leaves the impression that it has gone beyond the bounds of reality.
"I," the protagonist, cannot sleep, so he goes to the lounge in the hospital where he is receiving treatment. There he meets a young man with a broken leg. Without being asked, the young man begins to relate episodes about deaths that have occurred in his family. In a nearby park, "I" then meets a man with white hair like his own. It turns out that this man is Fujisato, a high-school classmate from over 40 years ago. Fujisato, "I," and another friend get together frequently after that, and as "I" interacts with these friends, he begins to recall incidents connected with life and death in his own past: the suicide of a classmate in high school; the frenzy of trying to escape the flames during the wartime fire bombings; his parents' deaths; the demise of a friend's girlfriend; the almost daily reports of the deaths of people he has known. It is virtually a dialogue with the dead, belonging neither to the real world nor to any dream world. Then Fujisato relates to "I" how he had gone through one particularly difficult period, just before reaching retirement, when he went mad. "I" wonders if it is possible that people go mad as they approach old age. Are his dialogues with the dead a sign of madness? On the other hand, "I" hears that his young friend with the broken leg will soon be blessed with a baby. Sanity and insanity, life and death, stretching back into the past and forward into the future, appear in the strangely cheerful lives of these aging men.