Snow Country

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Snow Country
AuthorYasunari Kawabata
Original title雪国
TranslatorEdward Seidensticker
Publication date
1935–1937 (serialization)
Published in English
Media typePrint (Paperback)

Snow Country (雪国, Yukiguni) is a novel by the Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. The novel is considered a classic work of Japanese literature[1] and was among the three novels the Nobel Committee cited in 1968, when Kawabata was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.[2]

Writing process[edit]

The novel began as a single short story published in a literary journal in January 1935, with its next section appearing in another journal the same month.[3] Kawabata continued writing about the characters afterward, with parts of the novel ultimately appearing in five different journals before he published the first iteration of the book. An integration of the initial seven pieces with a newly conceived ending appeared in 1937. Kawabata restarted work on the novel after a three-year break, again adding new chapters and again publishing in two separate journals, in 1940 and 1941. He re-wrote the last two sections, merging them into a single piece, published in a journal in 1946. Another additional piece arrived in 1947. Finally, in 1948, the novel reached its final form, an integration of nine separately published works.

Kawabata himself visited Yuzawa Onsen and worked on the novel there. The room in the hotel where he was staying is preserved as a museum.[1]

Kawabata again returned to Snow Country near the end of his life. A few months before his death in 1972, he wrote an abbreviated version of the work, which he titled "Gleanings from Snow Country", that shortened the novel to a few spare pages, a length that placed it among his Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, a form to which Kawabata devoted particular attention for more than 50 years. An English translation of "Gleanings from Snow Country" was published in 1988 by J. Martin Holman, in the collection Palm-of-the-Hand Stories.[4]


Onsen geisha Matsuei, whom Kawabata is said to have based the character Komako in the novel.[5]

Snow Country is a stark tale of a love affair between a Tokyo dilettante and a provincial geisha that takes place in the remote hot spring (onsen) town of Yuzawa.[1] (Kawabata did not mention the name of the town in his novel.)

The novel opens with the protagonist of the novel, Shimamura, riding a train to a remote onsen town. Shimamura is a rich, married man, who inherited his wealth, and a self-professed ballet expert. During the train ride, he observes a young woman (who is later revealed as Yoko) caring for a sickly man (named Yukio). He observes the woman through a reflection in the train window, and is particularly enthralled by her eyes, as well as the sound of her voice.

Shimamura's purpose for going to the onsen is meeting a young woman, Komako, with whom he had a brief encounter during his previous stay. Although she wasn't employed as a geisha during his first stay, her situation is changed during his second visit. Shimamura is attracted to the young geisha, although his affection proves to be inconsistent and uncertain over time. However, Komako falls in love with Shimamura, which goes against the geisha tradition of meeting the customers demands without any emotional attachment. Throughout their conversations, a number of things about Komako's life is revealed: her becoming a geisha to pay for Yukio's hospital bills, their rumored engagement, Komako and Yuko's strained relationship, how she came to live with Yukio and his mother, and her life as a full time geisha.

The climax of the novel happens during one of Komako's visits to Shimamura's room at the onsen inn. During their conversation, Shimaura calls her a "good woman", instead of a "good girl". This change of wording used to describe Komako reveals that the two of them could never be together, while Komako's hopes of a better and happier life with Shimamura remains just a delusion.[6]

At the very end of the novel, a fire occurs in the town warehouse, which was at the time being used as a cinema. Shimamura and Komako come to observe the fire, and see Yoko falling lifelessly from the warehouse balcony. Komako carries Yoko's body away from the burning warehouse, while Shimamura slinks back, observing the night sky.

Major themes[edit]

The modern and traditional[edit]

Snow Country was written during a period of japanese militarism, and a number of modern inventions can be seen in the novel, which include as a train, a snowplow, and an electric avalanche warning system. Kawabata saw no conflict between the modern and the traditional, but saw modern inventions as part of the traditional Japan. This can be seen in the train scene, at the very beginning of the novel, during which the protagonist observes the beautiful eyes of the female passenger. The electric light of the train thus facilitates traditional esthetic expression. Various modern inventions are treated as a normal part of life in the rustic onsen town.[7]


This novel, like others Kawabata wrote, vividly depicts the psychic cost of aesthetic appreciation, as well as its effect on minds susceptible to beauty. The protagonist of the novel is often taken out of the real world and into the dream world of his own mind after witnessing beauty. Furthermore, this beauty makes the oblivious to the world around them: e.g. after observing Yoko's eyes in the train, or seeing the Milky Way during the fire at the end of the novel. This beauty often leads to Shimamura acting cold or cruel, as when he calls Komako a "good woman" after observing her in the moonlight.[8]

It can also be noted that all depictions of beauty in the novel include an element of sadness: loneliness in the beauty of nature, sadness in Yoko's beautiful voice, wasted beauty of Komako, as well as the wasted effort in an act of love.[9]


Edward Seidensticker, noted scholar of Japanese literature whose English translation of the novel was published in 1956, described the work as "perhaps Kawabata's masterpiece." According to him, the novel reminds of haiku, both for its many delicate contrapuntal touches and its use of brief scenes to tell a larger story.

Snow Country has received favorable reviews both at time of its publishing, and over the following years. The Times stated: "He has fashioned an idyll out of unpromising material", while Eileen Fraser of the Times Literary Supplement stated: "Mr. Kawabata's beautifully economical novel. This is a finely written book, excellently translated." Jason Cowley has called Snow Country as "..perhaps his finest work.".[10]


  1. ^ a b c Asenlund, Dan (3 January 2015). "In Kawabata's footsteps to 'Snow Country'". Japan Times. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  2. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1968". Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  3. ^ According to the postscript of the pocket edition of Yukiguni (Snow Country) published in 1952, Kawabata could not finish his manuscript by the submission deadline of the first journal, and decided to keep writing and submit to the other whose deadline was several days later.
  4. ^ Kawabata, Yasunari (1988). "Gleanings from Snow Country". Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. J. Martin Holman.
  5. ^ Fox Butterfield, "Snow‐Country Japanese Feel Less Isolated", New York Times, first published 25 January 2975
  6. ^ "Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata". Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  7. ^ DeVere Brown, Sidney (1988). "Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972): Tradition versus Modernity". World Literature Today. 62 (3): 376. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  8. ^ Phillips, Brian (2006). "The Tyranny of Beauty: Kawabata". The Hudson Review. 59 (3): 420–421. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  9. ^ Cahyaningati, Desi Tri (2018). "PORTRAYING THE WABI SABI PHILOSOPHY OF BEAUTY IN KAWABATA'S SNOW COUNTRY". Dinamika : Jurnal Sastra dan Budaya. 6 (1): 637. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  10. ^ "Snow Country by Kawabata Yasunari". Retrieved 6 January 2021.


Publication history[edit]

  • 1956, Snow Country. New York: Knopf. OCLC: 3623808. Paperback. (translated by Edward G. Seidensticker).
  • 1957, Snow Country. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle. OCLC: 29197673. Paperback.
  • 1986, Snow Country and Thousand Cranes. UK: Penguin. ISBN 0140181180. Paperback.
  • 1996, Snow Country. New York: Vintage. ISBN 0-679-76104-7. Paperback.

External links[edit]