The Seven Sins of Memory


In Yasunari Kawabata’s unsettling short story, Yumiura, a novelist receives an unexpected visit from a woman who says she knew him 30 years earlier. They met when he visited the town of Yumiura during a harbor festival, the woman explains. But the novelist cannot remember her. Plagued recently by other troublesome memory lapses, he sees this latest incident as a further sign of mental decline. His discomfort turns to alarm when the woman offers more revelations about what happened on a day when he visited her room. “You asked me to marry you,” she recalls wistfully. The novelist reels while contemplating the magnitude of what he had forgotten. The woman explains that she had never forgotten their time together and felt continually burdened by her memories of him.

After she finally leaves, the shaken novelist searches maps for the town of Yumiura with the hope of triggering recall of the place and the reasons why he had gone there. But no maps or books list a town called Yumiura. The novelist then realizes that he could not have been in the part of the country the woman described at the time she remembered. Her detailed, heartfelt and convincing memories were entirely false.

Seven different ways that memory can mess with your head and your life, and ways to identify them.

By Daniel Schacter

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