“Final Days”

Sayaka Murata, Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

October 21, 2021 
The following story appears in the new issue of Freeman's on "change." Murata is the author of many books, including Convenience Store Woman, winner of Japan’s most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize. Takemori has translated fiction by more than a dozen early modern and contemporary Japanese writers. Her translation of Murata’s Convenience Store Woman won the 2020-21 Lindsey and Masao Miyoshi Prize and shortlisted for the 2019 Indies Choice and Best Translated Book Awards.

I guess it’s about time, I thought, and decided to go ahead with the preparations. First I contacted the workers to dispose of all my belongings.

“Are you making plans to die?” a young man asked.

“Yes. Either tomorrow or the day after.”

“Really? My girlfriend and I are thinking of dying together next month or so.”

Many couples in their twenties or thirties chose to die together.

“How nice,” I said automatically.

“May I ask what setting you have in mind? Disneyland, I imagine. Or a meadow of flowers?”

“No, I have a more natural death in mind.”

“Oh wow, nice. A natural death. That’s what my sister did, too.”

The young men went about their work chatting cheerfully until there was nothing left in my apartment.

“Well, that’s us done. Have a good death!”

I picked up my backpack, the only item left in the empty place, and went outside.

About 100 years had passed since medicine had advanced so far that nobody died any more. Nobody aged either, and even if you died in an accident or were murdered by someone, technology was such that you could immediately be resuscitated. It was feared that the population would explode, but surprisingly that hadn’t happened. As it was, once we thought we were ready to die we could do so in whatever way we liked. Bookstores were full of volumes on ways to die: Perfect for Women! 100 Cute Ways to Die; Die Like a Man! How to Leave an Impression in Death; The Top Ten Ways for Lovers to Die☆Illustrated. I myself chose one titled Let’s Die Naturally! Super Deaths for Adults & the Best Spots.

The right time was different for different people. There were some who had reached two hundred years old and intended to keep going, while some children died when they were only ten. I’m thirty-six now and I don’t know if that’s early or late—I just somehow started to feel that it was time. My hunch was probably right, though, since the population remained steady at about the right number without increasing or decreasing.

After flicking through the book and getting a pretty good idea of what I wanted, I went to city hall and filled in a do-not-resuscitate order to ensure that even if my body were found, no measures would be taken to revive me. Once that was done, I dealt with other practical matters such as what to do with the little savings I had, and obtained my death permit. The formalities were more complicated than I’d anticipated, and by the time I finally finished and went outside again it was already dark.

I presented my death permit at the pharmacy and asked for a relatively strong, fast-acting drug so that I wouldn’t suffer.

“You take care of yourself, now. Have a good death!” the young woman pharmacist told me, throwing in some vitamin tablets free of charge.

I got onto the night train and headed for the location described in the book. It was a quiet place deep in the mountains. In the winter it was a busy ski resort, but in this season the only people here had come to die.

I alighted at the appointed station, and headed off into the mountains on foot in search of a quiet place. On my way I passed by a couple stabbing each other with knives. A lot of couples chose killing each other as their way to die. I skirted around them, taking care not to get in their way. After walking along the mountain road for a couple of hours, I finally came across a deserted spot with a lovely view that looked like a nice place to die. Following the instructions in the book, I dug a hole with the spade. Maybe someone else had been here before me, for the earth was soft and it was easier than I’d expected.

When the hole was ready, I lay down inside it and drank the mineral water containing the drug I’d been given. Then, while still conscious, I began covering myself with earth. I couldn’t do it as thoroughly as someone else would have done it for me, but still I managed to get myself more or less buried in the ground. Breathing through a short hose connected to the surface, enveloped in the warmth of the earth, I closed my eyes. Before long the drug would take effect and I would die buried there in the ground. Returning to the earth like this was currently a popular way to die.

I didn’t want people gossiping about me after I was dead, laughing about the way I died or commenting on how I was so plain in life but then chose a flashy death causing problems for others, or saying that I should have known better than to die like that, and so I wanted to go as quietly as possible, a classy kind of death.

Before medical care had become so advanced, death had apparently been something that came unpredictably. A drug would be the best way, I thought, given that I would have to bury myself. I wanted my death to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Suddenly my head grew heavy, and I knew I was dying. Wouldn’t it be great if natural deaths were restored in the next world, I thought, squeezing my eyes shut, and then abruptly lost consciousness.


This piece is from The Freeman’s issue on change, published by Grove Atlantic. 

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