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Snow Country

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Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country is widely considered to be the writer’s masterpiece: a powerful tale of wasted love set amid the desolate beauty of western Japan.

At an isolated mountain hot spring, with snow blanketing every surface, Shimamura, a wealthy dilettante, meets Komako, a lowly geisha. She gives herself to him fully and without remorse, despite knowing that their passion cannot last and that the affair can have only one outcome. In chronicling the course of this doomed romance, Kawabata has created a story for the ages — a stunning novel dense in implication and exalting in its sadness.

“Beautifully economical. . . . The haiku works entirely by implication; so, in this novel, using the same delicate, glancing technique, Mr. Kawabata probes a complicated human relationship.” — The Times Literary Supplement (London)

“Kawabata’s novels are among the most affecting and original works of our time.” — The New York Times Book Review

Audio CD

First published January 1, 1948

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About the author

Yasunari Kawabata

302 books3,161 followers
Yasunari Kawabata (川端 康成) was a Japanese short story writer and novelist whose spare, lyrical, subtly-shaded prose works won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, the first Japanese author to receive the award. His works have enjoyed broad international appeal and are still widely read today.
Nobel Lecture: 1968

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,258 reviews
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,100 reviews7,194 followers
September 11, 2020
If you like a “ski” read instead of a “beach” read, this is for you! The setting is the mountain slopes of western Japan, one of the snowiest regions of the world – up to 15 feet of winter snow is common. In the town, the overhangs of buildings over the sidewalks form a tunnel through the snow in winter.


We are told in the translator’s Introduction that the snow country geisha catering to the ski lodge and hot spring clientele in winter are second class geisha compared to the urban geisha in Japan. In fact they are considered almost social outcasts and come close to being just prostitutes -- at least that was the case in the 1930’s, the time of this story.

The setting is one of cold loneliness. The literary style matches the setting. It is written in prose but using the haiku style, terse and austere, due to the limitation of words and the use of opposites and contrasts. You quickly see all the references to black hair against the white snow and darkness against sunlight, distant music against stillness -- darkness and wasted beauty as the main character says in regard to his favorite geisha.

There isn’t a lot of plot. Our main character is a middle-aged man who is independently wealthy; just a dilettante who piddles around and yet a recurring theme is that he comments on the geisha’s “wasted efforts” in reading and learning or practicing her music as she tries to improve herself.

The other main character is the geisha who has more or less fallen in love with this man. Of course he is married with kids in Tokyo but he can still be her sugar-daddy, so to speak. As she gets on in years, her goal is to find a man who will set her up in a business when she is no longer a geisha in demand.

She has had two other older men in her life; the first was an old man who paid off all her debts and then died. The way the geisha system works is that she signs a contract for a set amount with the ski lodge for a period of years and pays the lodge back out of her earnings. She is selective in offering herself to men and much of her earnings come from entertaining groups of men at parties by serving tea, playing music and dancing. The second man is also an old man who is still around and the main character wonders what her relationship is to him.

A passage I liked: “The man was clearly ill, however, and illness shortens the distance between a man and a woman.”


There is a lot in the book about the coolness of the special Japanese fabric called chijimi, and how it is laboriously made. It’s a white fabric that is dyed by exposure to the sun on top of the snow. (This is still true - here is a short National Geographic video about it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qa1t7...)


The book is a pretty good read but slow. I liked his novel First Snow on Fuji better. The author was the first Japanese winner of the Nobel Prize for literature (1968).

Photos from top to bottom:
Profile Image for Dolors.
540 reviews2,280 followers
October 22, 2017
Shimamura gets on a train to dreamland. He escapes from the urbanity of Tokyo, from the grayish routine, the dull marriage, the mediocre reality that leaves him numb and empty in search of the purest expression of his desires. He is a dilettante, an expert aesthetician who knows that beauty lingers in memory of times past, on the glint of two sad eyes sparkling in a pale face, in a head tilted at a certain angle, in fragrances and sounds and the noiseless rippling waves that assimilate a caress.
Who hasn’t wanted to run away from daily life?
Who hasn’t felt the exhilaration of being driven away into distant lands, to new beginnings and comfortable anonimity?

In the rural areas of Japan, there is a place called Snow Country. A place where ancient tradition and sheer pleasure are bound together, taking the shape of a young geisha called Komako. No longer a girl but still not a woman, she loves with passionate abandon, making herself vulnerable to her own emotions.
Who hasn’t loved someone knowing the story is over before it even started?
Who hasn’t given free rein to imagination and switched the shipwreck of today for the groundless hope of a future with the person who consistently neglects us?

Shimamura goes back to the Snow Country, to this world of fantasy, expecting to be reunited with young Komako, whose inexperience attracts and repulses him at once. What he can’t expect is that an enigmatic woman called Yoko will disturb the imperfect balance of his universe and create silent havoc without uttering a word. Her silent presence, the contour of her features and the ominous aura that shrouds her; she presents a gateway to the pinnacle of artistic expression.

Kawabata paints his story rather than writing it. He is an extremely punctilious imagist who uses his brush with ruthless suavity. Shorts sentences that never falter but flow in a torrent of the simple and the quotidian transformed into pearls of absolute beauty. The reflection of a graceful face on a train window that fuses with the one of the surreptitious voyeur in a backdrop varnished in white, the thunderous calm of a winter night that is as cold and detached as Shimamura’s disregard for Komako’s utter surrender of body and soul, a landscape covered in perennial snow that mimics the protagonist’s stagnation and the geisha’s “wasted efforts” to melt the frostiness with her ardent submission. There isn’t a single image that doesn’t evoke the evanescent nature of human feelings.

This is the sort of quiet novella that grows on you. The characters appear withdrawn on the surface with unexpressive, porcelain countenances, but deep down, they burn inwardly, their hearts are ablaze with the ongoing progression of the many births and deaths inherent in the changing of the seasons, echoing the idea of eternity in ceaceless movement.
Much is revelead in things left unsaid, lingering glances and bodies floating in limbo, halfway between heaven and earth. The rest is up to the imagination.
Kawabata’s prose is as suggestive as it is devastating, it tantalizes, it provokes, it stings with painful lyricism. His voice is a whisper in a world that only shouts and replaces the background noise with words that contain it all, the gift of life, the tragedy of death and the interdependent wholeness of both.
Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,614 followers
January 1, 2016
I am white, mostly. And cold. And occasionally, weeping. But you don’t see my tears, for they run down the stream and lose their essence at the prolonged kiss of the first sun. But I do not mind. I come alive to die; I bulk up to surrender; I appear to vanish. But I, too, have admirers. Admirers, who eye ephemeral beauty with a stinging lacquer of depleting life, colluding their vision with a bagful of clouded vignettes stroking the air that arises after all is consumed and lost.

Visiting Japan in 1935, I met Kawabata-san. He whispered in my drifter ears that he wished to nestle a story under my frosty silhouette. I cast a doubtful glance at him and asked: ‘Are you sure? I am no spring and I am no sun. In my lap, tears appear more tenacious than smiles. And in my heart, I imprison love stories that untangle into laborious passion, reverberating in their incomplete destinies of intertwined desires but scattered existences. Your decision to drop your child in my tutelage may mar its chances of gaining an empathetic visitor.’ But he ran his hand on my granular head and said: ‘Be assured; wasted love is still love, after all.’ I eventually agreed to take his characters in my country.

So came, Shimamura and Komako, Yoko and Yukio. You don’t need to know who they are since all lovers in my country appear the same. And this Japan was still under the wreck of unequal rights of labour and dignity. But if you insist, I will oblige. Shimamura was groping for new vistas after a regular life had clutched him tight and Komako was a young geisha who equated new horizons to the skyline that inebriated my edges. When I saw them the first time, they were well-equipped to escape my mirthful sorrow. Shimamura was indulgent without emotion and Komako was wishful without goals. But alas! I am such a wretched stage; people step on me and forget the rest. I kept telling them I am the soft soil that sinks with repeated stamping but the duo, perplexed under the hypnotic rhythm of my robust sheets, dripping body and glistening air paid no heed to my cries. Intoxicated, they spent nights under my shadows and burnt lamps to spring reflections in my eyes; they held their rage and admiration under the chilling blanket I sent their way; they fought their jealousies when I subdued to let the sun cast a scarlet veil on Yoko, the lovely girl who never got bewitched under my spell and they darted viscous glances through my flakes at each pondering pause, rippled from Yukio’s disintegration. Both returned at my every appearance like faithful regulars but the unfulfilled rooms of their lives refused to open to a common hall. Whether other people tricked them into acts they did not intend to commit? I am afraid not. I suspect when I melt, I steal a part of those who hold me in their eyes; and at each return, I bind the stolen things in threads of melancholy despite my intention to dye them in colors of happiness. I can’t help it; my whiteness, under nature’s exponents of aggravation, assimilates all spunk and disperses a reeling blankness unmatched by any buoyant avalanche.

But Kawabata-san was a mature man; for when he placed his characters in my world, he also slipped many lyrical skates bearing the mark of mono no aware, handing a robust sailing to his creations and effectively annulling the threats posed by the steep boulders of unrequited love, unfathomable concern, unstoppable heartbeats and unmanageable bonds, compounded further under the burden of my heavy, stoic breathing. He won my heart by comprehending the little corners of my country with a sagacity comparable to someone born in my womb and chiseled them gently to accentuate their hidden beauties. So, the next time someone alights from a rickety train on a faint evening into a land bearing my stamp for as far as the eyes go, he will extend his arms in anticipation of an embrace that will not congeal his thoughts but would set them in riveting motion, softly swaying them in the gust of impermanent realities and navigating them into the warm kotatsu of permanent memoirs.

Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,975 reviews1,986 followers
July 29, 2022
Rating: 3.5* of five


My Review
: Married, bored (but I repeat myself) aesthete, philanderer, and flâneur Shimamura, an aficionado of Western ballet (although he's never seen one), takes a solo trip into Japan's Snow Country. While there in the wildest of boondocks Japan possesses, he meets Komako, probably the world's worst geisha, but apparently a fascinating contrast to all other women for Shimamura. They meet a total of three times in two years. Another woman, Yoko, hovers purposelessly around the narrative until, for no apparent reason, Komako and Shimamura have a fight over his feelings (?) for Yoko, who for some reason nursed Komako's not-quite-fiance Yukio while he died, despite the fact that Komako indentured herself to the (apparently quite unsuitable) career of geisha to pay for his death expenses.

Then a fire breaks out and Komako runs into the burning building and saves Yoko while Shimamura stands there and looks up at the sky. Fin.

No, seriously.

I spent the entire month I was reading this book, all 175pp of it, alternately claustrophobic and bemused. WTF, I kept thinking, why am I still at this rock-pile, trying to winkle out some small purpose to the narrative; then along would come a gem, eg:
It was a stern night landscape. The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void.
p44, Vintage ed., trans. Seidensticker

Oh wow, I thought, and plowed on. And on. And on. Every damn time Komako exhibits what today we'd call a bipolar break exacerbated by alcohol abuse, I'd find myself thinking, "This damned book is Come Back, Little Sheba directed by Kurosawa." Seriously. Shirley Booth did the same bloody role in that movie, only Burt Lancaster (whose role as her husband bewitched by a younger woman was pretty much exactly like Shimamura) is the one who drank.

I drank a good bit myself, trudging ever onward, marching off to war with the cross of Jesus going on before; okay, I'm a piss-poor Christian soldier, but you get the sense of futility I was experiencing. Then, it happened.
He had stayed so long that one might wonder whether he had forgotten his wife and children. He stayed not because he could not leave Komako nor because he did not want to. He had simply fallen into the habit of waiting for those frequent visits. And the more continuous the assault became, the more he began to wonder what was lacking in him, what kept him from living as completely...All of Komako came to him, but it seemed that nothing went out from him to her. He heard in his chest, like snow piling up, the sound of Komako, an echo beating against empty walls. And he knew he could not go on pampering himself forever.

So there *is* a point to this hike! And a profound one: The sudden awakening of human feeling in an otherwise dead heart. It was a payoff, and a major one. But did it have to be such a Bataan Death March of a journey to get here? And the stupid-ass last line of the book, which made me so bloody angry that I began raining curses on the lady whose idea it was our book circle read the book...! INFURIATINGLY SOPHOMORICALLY PORTENTOUS, I shrieked. The dog ran away from me. The same dog who, at an earlier moment in my tossing about of the book, expressed her opinion of it by fanging the corner. She calmed down after I did, but really...does one *want* to read this book? I won't do it again. But, on balance and after sleeping on it, I'm glad that I did.
Profile Image for Jr Bacdayan.
211 reviews1,741 followers
September 12, 2016
Never have I had such intense desire to prolong a novel, not until I read this. I am a man of literature. It is in my blood to have the highest respect for the writer and to consider the work sacred, thus I never impose my will on the material even if the end is left open for the imagination to play upon. I purposely hold myself back and stop where the cliff ends, I do not take the leap into the unknown abyss. However today I find the exception. Today I jumped. Forgive me. I am a weak man, a man now consumed by such glaring passion that even the very fabric of my nature trembles. This refined suit of silly intellectualism that I have carefully cultivated through the years is now reduced to ashes after being engulfed by the flames of clear brilliance, so clear that I mistook it for reality. I was so enamored by the flames of desire I found in the pages of this small novel that step by step I drew closer to it until I realized that I had ventured too near, like a moth drawn to the candlelight, consumed by the searing fire. Do not let the title of this work confuse you, this is not a story of icy temperament. This is a tale of such intensely burning passion that no other work I have read comes close to matching, and it makes it all the more astounding when you consider the restraint that is displayed by the very actions of the two people who breathe life into this book.

Shimamura is a Tokyo man of weak passion, a connoisseur of desultoriness and lethargy yet when he meets the naïve and transparent country girl named Komako something inside him is stirred. A curious relationship blossoms between them. It is the type of connection rekindled only every few months, grounded on change, one that developed in spurts, but one that ingrained itself into the core of both their beings. As I said, there lingered a very Japanese restraint between them that disabled any directness to shed light to their sentiments. But despite this handicap, the clarity of their emotions is so radiantly felt. Kawabata masterfully brushes the non-verbal strokes of the romantic. The controlled intimacy between the two is so delicious to watch, each one trying to keep their feelings in check, like a chess match, both trying to win but forever stuck in impasse.

But what of the girl who comes between them? What role does this Yoko play? I believe that Kawabata used her as the intermediary. She was the reflection of their union, explaining why both are attracted to her yet neither had the power to confront her. She served as the whipping boy between the two lovers. The things that cannot be said to each other they said to her. Taking up residence in Tokyo, being good to the other, to being insane, these were not words directed at her, these were words directed at themselves, at each other. And in the end her very life was the symbol for their bond, when they thought all was lost, a spasm of life renewed them and it was Komako who willed and saved them and finally made the life inside Shimamura feel the gravity of his emotion.

I know a lot of people view this tale a tragedy but I beg to differ. I wholeheartedly believe it is the kind where the love stands the test of time. From the wordless i-love-yous, the touchless caresses, the undone kisses, everything is insinuated and nothing is said nor done. And yet love, no matter how repressed or covered, breaks out and consumes like a flame that burns steadily, strongly, through the years. Like the iridescent balls of fire in the Milky Way reminding us of the beautiful past that burns vividly in our memories.

Oh how beautiful are the stars!
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,492 reviews2,372 followers
July 20, 2017
Steeped in Japanese tradition Nobel prize winner Yasunari Kawabata has created something almost otherworldly, like it belongs in a completely different time and place. Shimamura travels from the city to a village in the snowy mountains, and while in the company of a young rural geisha called Komako a strange love blossoms, but bound to the rules of the geisha Komako struggles with her emotions towards him and there is always a sense that sadness lingers . The snowy setting really captures the imagination especially at night where there are moments described so heavenly it goes beyond words. Delicate and tranquil in nature with a precise lyrical style it has the feeling of a butterfly being caressed by a gentle breeze. A work of rare and subtle beauty.
Profile Image for Garima.
113 reviews1,788 followers
August 6, 2014
turn this way!
I too feel lonely
late in autumn
~ Basho's Haiku

As if on a winter’s night a traveler, travels to a distant land, where the snow falls even on the maple leaves. Where lovers part to meet and meet to part. Where love is nothing but a mirrored reality or a fogged illusion. Where one heart has room only for the pleasure of regaining what had been lost and another voice is so beautiful that it’s almost lonely and sad. Where some deaths are tiny but invoke immense poetry and several lives struggle to find meaning between the lines of a haiku. Where eyes reflect the desperation of an intermittent wait and doors are opened for expected/unexpected arrivals. Where powdered face of a Geisha has a ruddy complexion underneath and hair is sometimes let loose to free oneself. Where questions are difficult and answers are complicated. Where fire is both a saint and a sinner. Where stars are burned and the beauty of Milky Way comes alive in its entire splendor. Where Hellos and Goodbyes arrive like the seasons of a year. Where nature sings and humans dance. Where it’s easy to find oneself and easier to lost oneself. For a little less and a lot more, Snow Country is where one needs to visit.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
874 reviews2,264 followers
March 15, 2015
Shimamura’s Tale Part I

The Milky Way
Sits high above
Mountain country,
Villages below.
Stardust falls
Until, frozen,
It becomes
White snowflakes
That shroud the ground,
Two meters deep.
My hands reach out
Towards the winter sky,
Hoping I might catch
A star in each hand.
For a moment,
They’re in my grasp.
I adore them
Like they’re lovers
That I can keep.
My desire doesn't
Require that
I make a choice.
Sometimes, it’s true,
You can have both.
But the angry fire
In my selfish heart
Melts my loving flakes,
The one a sacrifice
That I must make,
The other my
Fate slices through me
Like a knife,
And leaves me
To return
To my wife,
And little child
In Tokyo,
With only this my tale
Between my legs.

Shimamura’s Tale Part II
[Apologies to Shakespeare]

With thine eyes and mind,
Thou hast committed fornication,
But that was in the snow country,
And besides, the girl is dead.

Komako's Counsel

Watch out for the beau
Who'll approach you in the snow.
He makes l'amour faux.


We must learn how to
Partition self-pity from

In This Time of Dying
[For, Because Inspired by, Clive James]

Poet, write not of
"Existential Crisis":
Treasure life itself.

Japanese Maple
[By Clive James]


"The Old Capital" by Yasunari Kawabata
[First Lines of the Novel]

"Chieko discovered the violets
Flowering on the trunk of the old maple tree.
'Ah. They've bloomed again this year,' she said
As she encountered the gentleness of spring."



"Life's Great Choices Series: Sometimes You Can Have Both" by Noela Hills

This pencil drawing was a gift from my friend, the artist Noela Hills, in 1985. She tried to have both, but unfortunately she died later that year of breast cancer. I read yesterday that they are close to finding a prevention and a cure for breast cancer. It said that, one day soon, nobody need die of breast cancer. There was one less star in the Milky Way the day Noela died.


"Untitled" by Noela Hills

There is such a Japanese feel to both of these artworks. I always loved both the gown, the blade and the mask in this second work. I wanted to pay Noela for it, but she made me accept it as a gift. This review is my opportunity to return her favour and honour her memory.


I read "Thousand Cranes" straight after reading and reviewing "Snow Country":

Profile Image for Luís.
1,944 reviews609 followers
October 21, 2021
Difficult to speak about this book. I like Kawabata's style. All in finesse, in subtleties. He is the writer of contemplation. The descriptions are very visual, like tables. And it's a beautiful love story between a wealthy idler and a young geisha. The plot unfolds over the change of nature of the seasons. I try to retain as many images as possible from this reading. But they will inevitably fade.
Profile Image for Florencia.
649 reviews1,940 followers
July 12, 2019
[ ▷ ◻ ]



Bashō's evocative haiku is referenced by the end of the book, as one of the characters contemplates small drops of fire that, in contrast to the quiet atmosphere of a country made of snow, were floating in the air, ablaze with fury and disenchantment, sheltered by the absolute splendour of the Milky Way. The sublimeness of a firmament under which existence manifests itself in the shape of beauty and sadness.
As always, Bashō depicted an entire universe in three lines. Trifling matters and existential crisis coexist under the breathtaking vastness of a starry night. They live, they breathe; quietly, in raptures. They are likely to sink in the rough, turbulent sea. Tolerating the company of others or facing a self-imposed solitude, like the disgraced inhabitants of Sado Island. Above all these relevant and mundane issues of ours, one finds the Heaven’s River. The Milky Way. Where everything is silence. A distant blanket with scintillating pearls scattered all over it. An ethereal image replete with possibility; with hope. Nature's attempt at pacifying our tantrums and mitigating our misery.


That is how I feel about Kawabata's prose. His minimalistic and poignant style. His sincere and nostalgic voice. A unique melody on a quiet night amid a stream of twinkling stars.
His words are my night sky.

It's rather strange to look at this book and see something I hold dear since it has some elements I dislike (hence, the absence of a perfect rating). Primarily, a love story. A romanticized love affair. An apparently cold married man with a couple of women in his head. Women giving everything they have, obviously. A dramatic display of each emotion. An abyss of vulnerability. An obstinate behavior that doesn't even consider relinquishing everything that is destined to failure. A relationship that was meant to perish in front of the whitened mountains, before it even started.


Snow Country is ready to destroy any vestige of passion that may disturb its gelid landscape. That is where she belongs. He looks at her from another side of the country. And thus they will remain, concealing any stubborn tear that may wish to appear.


This novel also brims with nostalgia. The delights of nature. A simple kind of beauty. A Japanese kind of beauty, pure, unadulterated; one that refuses to fall under the spell of Western modernity; desperately trying to preserve its traditions and values. The world of a geisha. Lesson after lesson on how to entertain others with a broken heart.
Seemingly incidental elements that become substantial meditations on the world around us when touched by Kawabata's majestic pen. An avalanche of introspection roaring down a mountainside, seeking for one's attention. Or complete annihilation. Couples and every unexpressed emotion that abided by fear's wishes and satiated their pride. Everywhere.

In any case, this writer's deeply poetic language was fundamental for me to actually enjoy this book. It saved this story from being trite and overly sentimental. There is an imaginative use of the word to convey widely known sentiments. The air was pervaded by the scent of vivid reminiscences; words uttered in an elegiac tone that never felt so alive.


Paraphrasing Byron, the characters of this novel were two parallel lines prolonged to infinity side by side but never to meet, but that could not refrain from trying. One can't help wondering if it is worth letting someone in when parting is already on the horizon; latent, existing –


after all, the Milky Way illuminating an entire world made of snow might be the only thing some people have in common. Or, perhaps, the reason of it all might rely on the fact that, despite any complication or obstacle that these characters encountered, they were able to elude – for a season, for an instant – Dostoyevsky's idea of hell.
That may also happen under the comforting light of the sun.


April 18, 16
* Also on my blog.
** Photo credit: Milky Way Panorama and Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado / Glenn Randall via this blog.
Maiko Snow Resort looking towards Yuzawa town via Snow Japan.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,404 reviews11.7k followers
January 10, 2022
Nobel Prize winning author's best novel. I am not coming back for more.

In every country there is a classic (or two or three) about a wealthy man's dalliance with a sex worker. I've read a lot of them, and I will add this short Japanese novel to the roster, as a particularly biteless one at that. While I was fascinated by all things geisha in this story, the narrative itself pretty much went nowhere. The writing was beautiful, to be sure, and descriptions of snow too. But characters were underdeveloped, IMO, and acted bizarrely. I could never understand fully what the problem was between them, what the sources of their conflicts were, and what they ultimately wanted. Can this be a cultural barrier I was unable to break? Was I missing some context? Why is this considered good?
Profile Image for Carol.
330 reviews914 followers
May 19, 2016
Snow Country is one exquisite read. It should be on every classics list, and bump a couple of dead Americans or Englishmen to make room near the top of the "top 100 books you must read to be deemed educated".

Two tips. First, I recommend that you not do what I did, and read it over a period of 2 weeks - 20 pages here, 12 pages there. I didn't do service to it. And still. 5 stars.

Second, I recommend that you read these two friends' reviews because they also are exquisite and tell you everything you need to know about Kawabata's masterpiece.



Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
580 reviews4,071 followers
November 25, 2018
Muy fan de Kawabata.
Este es uno de esos libros llenos de sutilezas en el que predominan los sentimientos y la atmósfera única de ese País de nieve.
Me he sentido una más en ese lugar perdido entre las montañas, totalmente aislado, gélido y antiguo, con la magia de las tradiciones que se desmoronan por sí solas.
Profile Image for Jenn(ifer).
159 reviews974 followers
May 18, 2012

New love is as delicate as the wings of a moth.

I try to write but the words disintegrate between my fingertips. They melt like snow on my tongue. Maybe a light breeze could carry them across the ocean and drop them at your feet. They will slip through your fingers like sand. They will drift through the air like dandelion wishes.

New love is as fleeting as the blossoms of an almond tree.

The words might cut you like the sharp edge of this paper. The tiny cuts will sting. They buzz around your ear but you won’t hear what they are saying. They fall into your lap and you brush them away with a shrug.

New love floats on water. New love sinks like a stone.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
684 reviews603 followers
November 2, 2022
A meek married man cares about no one, just the moon, snow, and maybe moths. And—supposedly but dilettanteishly—ballet. Yet he does his best to inflict his grey, dull self on a ditzy drunkard hooker and one other woman at a winter resort. How they stayed awake in his leaden, obnoxious presence, I’ll never know. I barely could.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews927 followers
December 10, 2021
“It was a stern night landscape. The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void."

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata - Japan Powered

The landscape sets the tone for doomed romance in Yasunari Kawabata's Snow Country. Unfolding at a winter resort in the 1930s, Shimamura, a wealthy dilettante, and a young geisha named Komako begin their relationship. This is a very slow-moving book with characters that demand that we ask, why should I care? Shimamura has a wife and family in Tokyo and Komako is scheming to get men to pay her debts. Their connection seems tenuous at best. That said, this book is beautifully written, and the world Kawabata evokes comes alive through the landscape. 3.75 stars

“As he caught his footing, his head fell back, and the Milky Way flowed down inside him with a roar.”
Profile Image for Praj.
314 reviews811 followers
August 26, 2013

Amusing the lotus pond
A child’s delight.

Butterflies dab my tears and lotuses kiss my heart. As a child, I used to spend hours gazing the dainty beauties as they flirted with the boisterous flowers. Amid my hearty giggles, the soft buttery wings browsed my cheeks for a pink watermark. I sought to embrace these coquettish insects as I sat on the wet grass. As I lifted one from its flowering sojourn and laid it on my palms, my eyes lit like the time my mother cuddled me after a bad school day. The rosiness of the wings spread on to my palm as it lay there silently in all its glory. It did not fly as I wanted it to. I coaxed it, even twisted my palm, all it did was spiral down on the ground as a rocket descending to its earthly grave. That was the very first and the last day, I had ever caught a butterfly. I still cherish their fragile beauty but from afar; I do not touch their wings for I’m afraid that I might bring an everlasting emptiness in their lives. “Their beauty shines through death”, said the temple priest, as he immaculately entwined the bowed lotuses into a stiff pink garland. The lotus bud that braved the rambunctious dragonflies and thunderstorms only to bloom for a day and the butterfly after months of seclusion burst through the rigid cocoon only to be left as a crimson dust on a child’s palm , was it all a wasted effort? A wasted beauty? If only, the plucked lotuses could whimper and the butterfly could squeal. Does a heart shine brighter with the demise of love?

“The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. The earth lay white under the night sky”.

As the maple leaves bid adieu to the red carp in the lotus pond, the snow comes alive. The earth pristinely glistens underneath a vermillion sky. The snow-laden cedar fiercely guards the persimmon trees near the old moldering house. The chimney smoke twirls in a sensuous way with the steam from the nearby hot-springs. Chimerical decorated beauties parade on the floating world of nightfall. The days are filled with lonely beds and nights with lonely hearts. The melodious strings of a samisen appreciated among icy fingers. The clean air cluttered with translucent worthlessness. The insects wordlessly moan as a heart is cut into two. The secluded cocoon weaves its silken thread artistically, only to emerge in the spring metamorphosing into the finest Chijimi. The snow country is “a place where the maidens live”.

Red lips, porcelain face,
Songs of crimson snow,
Lonely love.

It is when the snow touches the earth, can she sense love, her lover’s warm breath, his arms around her trembling waist and his kiss on her blood-stained lips. When the world sleeps, the heart rouses. The footsteps that had been lost underneath the white expanse had resurfaced; the iciness of the winter had renewed the tenderness of love. In the intimacy of love, her heart was beating like couple moths on a lamp, once again fumbling into emptiness. After all, it was a lonely heart drowning in remote emotionalism.
A heart is never lonely; a person is, when he stands at the crossroads where the perfect fantasy is blemished with candid realism. Akin to the glass window that bestows a lonesome traveler with the precious company of the moon, only to realize at the end of the journey, it was only solitude that alighted at the station. Shimamura found lonesomeness seductive. The “indefinable air of loneliness” that surrounded Komako, the loneliness that lingered in Yoko’s voice and her piercing eyes and the emptiness that came from Shimamura’s life itself; he stood on the edge of fantasy and reality. Shimamura was always fascinated with untainted mirror images or the illusions that were constructed within his thoughts. The phantasms of an impeccably choreographed ballet were lyrics from heaven, liberated from human errors and where imaginations were without boundaries.

“It was like being in love with some he had never seen”.

Shimamura treated his women in similar way as the chimerical ballet. He desired the romance of fiery red strokes on a geisha’s lips softening onto a snowy visage, but he sensed emptiness as the face was wiped cleaned. He sought after the call of the naked heart without having to shelter it from the frosty afflictions.

“Was it sorrow at finding herself about to sink into deep a relationship with a traveler?”

Komako as they call was a splendor of the floating world. Komako was as multifarious as her heart. She observed the bereavement of her heart, though she could never see a dying person. She loved Shimamura even though the latter being skeptical about having to build a liaison with a woman of an “ambiguous position”. Shimamura calls her a “clean beauty” and not a “real beauty”. Kawabata rightly asserts the position of a wholesome beauty. A woman looks utmost beautiful when her face is a melancholic riddle. The snow attains it grandeur when its smooth velvety carpet is tainted by footprints of skiing children. It is in sadness that a beauty luxuriously shines. The priest was right after all, the beauty of the lotuses was magnified in the garland. Kawabata further pushes this symbolic position solidifying its stance when Shimamura later, addresses Komako as “a good woman” correcting his former statement of her being “a good girl”. It is here that the reader views the metamorphosis of Komako’s ‘clean beauty’ into a ‘real one’.

Nagauta on a samisen
Hearts still asleep
Wasted effort.

The fair maidens who as children learn to weave the silken mesh of the exquisite Chijimi cloth, live in months of seclusion and monotony and labor their love into the product that needed months of washing in hot water, hours of massaging by feet and bleaching and when spring finally arrived the Chijimi was proudly displayed as a sweltering body’s ideal companion. The women immersed themselves in hard work at the risk of their fading beauty in the strenuous survival of the secluded snow bound months. Kawabata signifies the production of Chijimi cloth to rationalize the query of ‘a wasted effort’. The said terminology becomes the definite antagonist to the foundation of love and beauty.

“A good piece of Chijimi, if it has been taken care of, can be worn quite unfaded a half- century and more after....”

Unlike, the weavers whose undying love for the art of weaving leaves a gift of a Chijimi to be cherished for years, Shimamura ponders how his relationship with Komako would leave nothing as definite as Chijimi. Was then the love that harbored in the room where silkworms once bred, a wasted effort of two lonely hearts? Like peonies on a frosty river bank searching for happy puns, Kawabata equates the beauty of human intimacies as the ephemeral weave that do not even have half the shelf-life of an airy Chijimi cloth.

“The labor into which a heart has poured its whole love…where will it have it say, to excite and inspire, and when?

Only if one could have read Komako’s diary, the one that she had been writing since she was 16, it would have been known whether her loyal love to Shimamura, her skeptical emotions for Yoko, her collection of non-smoked cigarettes and her stance in Yukio’s life were a bunch of wasted efforts. If, Shimamura could have gained a little of his lost honesty in the snow country, only if one could read Yoko’s piercing moist eyes and if someone could have asked the Milky Way , if being outshined by the blazing fire made its brightening splendor a wasted effort. Only if one could? Kawabata in his usual sinister flair speaks about the idea of an exhausted beauty that would not have an unambiguous ending. Komako, going back to the hot-springs , dowsing her heart in sake , Shimamura once again losing his candor in an illusionary other world and the chrysanthemum withering on the snow-caped eaves.

White peonies in moonlight
Echoes of distilled love
Snow falls.

Kawabata symbolizes the snow as the ultimate pictogram of a wasted beauty. The fragile beauty of a snowflake deteriorates at the slightest touch melting into the heat of the fingers. And as the snow accumulates on the ground its opulence is trampled by footprints, shoveled paths and at times the decay of bleeding hearts. Similar to the beauty of love, the exquisiteness of the pristine snow perishes in its own excessiveness.

Snow on bald cedars
Letters to obscured leaves
Melancholy writes....

I have an aversion to happy endings. To me, happy endings are similar to feeding rainbows to Thomas More’s utopian unicorn. Label me weird or even call me absolute idiot, nevertheless it is in sadness, that I feel alive. It is in sadness that I think about the little girl that still resides within me. It is in sadness that I appreciate the rarity of a smile and it is sadness that helps me to value the true essence of happiness. One may never desire it, let alone embrace it, but sadness comes knocking back when one starts to dread happiness. And, when it does penetrate into our lives it brings along infinite silence; the most powerful resource of the mind. At this very moment, I earnestly realized that Kawabata has always been communicating about the silence that overwhelms human sentimentalities and life as we know it. And, I like an ignorant fool was unaware of the very institution that was assisting me not only to read Kawabata’s thoughts but script my own. A silence that can make or break a prosperous soul.

The Milky Way, brightest star
Whistles the mountain ghost
Departed soul.

In his Nobel Prize winning speech, Kawabata emphasized on the works of Daigu Ryokan (1758-1831) and the subsequent source of inspiration for his works. Commenting on the premise of his nominated book, ‘Snow Country' he said, “Ryokan was born in the province of Echigo, the present Niigata Prefecture and the setting of my novel Snow Country, a northerly region on what is known as the reverse side of Japan, where cold winds come down across the Japan Sea from Siberia. He lived his whole life in the snow country and to his "eyes in their last extremity..."

It is not surprising to find an ideal ode to Kawabata’s prose from one of Ryokan’s inscribed poems:-

Where beauty is, then there is ugliness;
where right is, also there is wrong.
Knowledge and ignorance are interdependent;
delusion and enlightenment condition each other.
Since olden times it has been so.
How could it be otherwise now?
Wanting to get rid of one and grab the other
is merely realizing a scene of stupidity.
Even if you speak of the wonder of it all,
how do you deal with each thing changing?

**(Japanese actors essaying Shimamura and Komako in Shirō Toyoda's 'Snow Country'(1957))

Profile Image for Matthew Ted.
766 reviews660 followers
June 7, 2021
58th book of 2021. Artist for this review is Japanese painter Asano Takeji.

3.5. Surprisingly slow, gentle, knife-edged prose as I've come to expect from Japanese literature. It's sometimes less about the sentences being sparse, but more about the sentences having great subtle weight. A short novel full of nuances. Aside from that, the prose is wonderful: the snow country is described with such beauty, the cold, the ice. Kawabata only needs a few lines to capture some startlingly images. Take this, for example,
The Milky Way spread its skirts to be broken by the waves of the mountain, and, fanning out again in all its brilliant vastness higher in the sky, it left the mountain in a deeper darkness.

"Snow at Hiunkaku Temple, Kyoto"—1953

Snow Country is often referred to as Kawabata's masterpiece. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1968, the first Japanese writer to win. Simply, it is a love affair between a man from Tokyo and a geisha, set in a hot-spring town in mountains of northern Japan. The novel builds slowly, almost drop-by-drop. In that sense, reading it reminded me of one of my favourite Pink Floyd songs, Echoes, in which it begins with those gentle, but gradual plinking noises, like stones into a pool before inevitably rising towards its climax. The novel has a similar structure in a way, though where Echoes rises and falls several times, Snow Country rises gradually through to a single crescendo at the end of the novel. I've read a few times that Kawabata's prose is written almost like lines of a haiku, and I see that. The prose is almost so gentle, so that it simply washes over you, I felt myself worrying I wasn't taking it in; but those plinking drops, those stones filling the pool out of sight from the bottom up, do lay a beautifully written but quite saddening foundation for the novel's sudden climax where fire meets snow.


In 1972 Kawabata apparently committed suicide by gassing himself, though many close friends, and his widow, claimed it was accidental. I was reading about the other possible reasons for his suicide that have been discussed since: poor health (Parkinson's), something about a love affair, but something else caught my eye: shock about the suicide of his friend and fellow writer, Yukio Mishima. I am a big Mishima fan, so I read on. According to Kawabata's biographer, he had recurring nightmares about Mishima, for two or three hundred nights in a row, and was "incessantly haunted by the specter of Mishima".

Profile Image for Théo d'Or .
385 reviews185 followers
September 18, 2021
Beauty, tranquility, futility, warmth, sparks, temptation , fragmentation, the unreal game of reality - are just a part of the splinters of words that surround the universe of existence in Kavabata's writing.
A writer who surprised me, with the strange art of snatching from the mixture of life fragments of beauty that shine especially during their sad passage.
In " Snow Country" prevails the hallucinately painful relation between futility and beauty.

" The mirror and the ghosts in it, moved one in the other, like in a movie. The characters had nothing to do with the setting, they wore a fleeting transparency in them, in a landscape that was just a blurred evening darkness. Both, melted and mixed, sketched a uncertain world of shadows. "

The whole novel seems to have grown out of this game of mirrors with snow, with gestures and feelings as deceptive as the shadows projected on the window of a train, the beauty of the world is revealed only by the lines drawn with the finger on the steamed glass.
The tensions in the souls of the characters erupt discreetly, it is a quiet agitation, which changes its shades during the man's three arrivals, once a year, in three different seasons.
The cicle remains endless, as love and life are unfinished too. In any moment of presence, the absence boils, with the same naturalness of the futility of beauty. Shinamura knows a lot about dance, without dancing, he sees beauty without being able to really experience it, he cannot internalize it. Just like Komako, who loves too much, but alone.
Kavabata's novel is a beautiful book, a poem, I would say, sensual, difficult to synthesize in words, it is like a painting, it can be lived, more than told.
Beauty, here, is covered with snow, loneliness is only temporarily covered with love, but also the temporality of snow and love are beautiful, in themselves.
Counterpoint, beautiful and sad..
Profile Image for B0nnie.
136 reviews49 followers
October 23, 2012
An image of a young woman reflected in the window of a train. A man watches her. Snow Country opens with a strange, beautiful scene which sets up the story, and leaves hints at what is to follow,
A woman’s eye floated up before him. He almost called out in his astonishment. But he had been dreaming, and when he came to himself he saw that it was only the reflection in the window of the girl opposite. Outside it was growing dark, and the lights had been turned on in the train, transforming the window into a mirror. The mirror had been clouded over with steam until he drew that line across it.

The story is impressionistic, revealed through glimpses and reflections. To see through a glass darkly: that is how the Kawabata displays this world. The glass is particularly dark for non-Japanese. We obviously miss some nuances in the translation and we are outsiders to the culture. But even in shadow, Snow Country shines brilliantly.
In the depths of the mirror the evening landscape moved by, the mirror and the reflected figures like motion pictures superimposed one on the other. The figures and the background were unrelated, and yet the figures, transparent and intangible, and the background, dim in the gathering darkness, melted together into a sort of symbolic world not of this world. Particularly when a light out in the mountains shone in the center of the girl’s face, Shimamura felt his chest rise at the inexpressible beauty of it.

Shimamura is the character around which everything happens. Like the eye of a storm, he is more about what is not there. His heart is cold. He sees surfaces, he admires beauty, but he lets nothing in.

Let this be his song: http://youtu.be/MCCPRy2pHzY

The plot is simple: Shimamura, a weathy married man, goes three times to a hot springs in the snow country of Japan and has an affair with a geisha named Komako. He is attracted to another woman, Yoko. There's a fire and he returns.

No doubt the movie version follows the plot. Does it have the invisible power that circles this slim volume? I rather doubt it.

Snow Country (雪国, Yukiguni) 1957.
Directed by Shirō Toyoda.

Komako is a tragic character, trapped in a life that she did not choose. She loves too strongly, and perhaps more than once.

The woman in the reflection, Yoko, has a presence so ambiguous I'm not sure where her heart is. She might be Komako's rival for two different men; she might be the one that Komako loves! or hates!

It's complicated.

The style of writing in Spring Snow is sparse and startling like a haiku. I will force this metaphor by turning the last sentence into one. Forced and imperfect, all the power of Kawabata remains:
his head fell back, and
the Milky Way flowed down
inside him with a roar

Profile Image for Meike.
1,589 reviews2,813 followers
December 27, 2019
Kawabata was the first Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1968), and this was one of the works the Nobel Committee cited in their decision. Employing a simple storyline, this author shines by finding an abundance of images to illustrate emptiness and by evoking a strong atmosphere of imminent loss - the characters drift through the title-giving snow country, and while Kawabata plays with the color white, describes the physical sensations brought about by icy temperatures and repeatedly uses words like "cleanliness" and "purity", everything is increasingly clouded by decay, until the almost otherworldly setting is literally burned down.

Our protagonist is Shimamura, a father and husband from Tokyo who has an affair with Komako, a young geisha in the hot spring town of Yuzawa. Shimamura is an idler who inherited a lot of money, while enigmatic Komako dropped out of school in Tokyo and came back to the mountains where she started working as a geisha - as I learnt, provincial geishas in onsen towns were often not much more than prostitutes with few prospects in life. Passionate Komako is madly in love with Shimamura, drinks way too much and seems to be overcome by self-hatred; Shimamura, on the other hand, is unable to really grasp what drives Komako's actions, he is detached and tends to aestheticise life instead of living it - it's like the cold and the vast snowy landscapes permeate through his skin. Nevertheless, he keeps thinking about warm and caring Koko, a woman he first saw on the train to Yuzawa. While Koko feels pity for Komako, Komako seems to despise Koko - in the dreamlike atmosphere of the text, filled with allegories and strong images, the question arises whether the two aren't one and the same person, torn apart by the centrifugal forces of rising modernity and social pressures.

Much like his friend Yukio Mishima, Kawabata contemplated the consequences of Western influences on traditional Japanese society ("Snow Country" was first published in serialized form from 1935 to 1937). Komako learns to play her Samisen by relying on sheet music and listening to the radio; Shimamura enjoys occidental ballet, partly because he feels like it distinguishes him. In some parts of the text, the air is filled with moths, vibrating and dying, and a cocoon factory plays an important role. Told in sparse, lyrical prose and with many ellipses, the short novel is melancholic and dreamlike, but can also be read as a piece of social criticism: Komako was inspired by a real onsen geisha named Matsuei.

An enchanting, beautiful text that refrains from revealing all of its secrets to the reader, but speaks of emotional truths so subtle and complex that it remains astonishing how Kawabata managed to capture them at all.
Profile Image for Katia N.
586 reviews705 followers
August 5, 2020
Reading this book is like being inside of a painting. He paints such a beautiful imagery with words. Spaces between the words, pauses matter as much as the words. I might not remember the characters very long but I would remember the ambiance of this book and the special kind of buzzing silence it creates.

When it rains

Also he reminded me about one special kind of a fleeting moment I've seen so many times, but never was able to catch on camera. He starts the story when his main character observes the reflection of a woman face on the train's window juxtaposed against the station's landscape at night while the train stops. And the light from a streetlamp overlaps her eye in such a way that it replaces her pupil. It is unforgettable image. In the absence of this, I thought about snow. The feeling of a snow was another strong impression from this book. I got somewhere that his snow is warm. Now, i cannot find where...So just a bit a snow, unfortunately not from a Japanese mountain, but still:

Snow in London suburbs

(the photos are mine)
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews604 followers
September 18, 2015
Gray, the color of loneliness and dissatisfaction, of a heart torn by guilt and shame. Long, gray winters and snow-covered mountains, snow as high as his knees, snow to bury his secret rendezvous. Gray, the color a person sees, when he thinks the grass is greener elsewhere. Black and white forms gray in Kawabata's fictional creation, where the mountains are "black," but "brilliant with the color of the snow." Perhaps gray is the color of unrequited love, or of "wasted effort."
He was conscious of an emptiness that made him see Komako's life as beautiful but wasted, even though he himself was the object of her love; and yet the woman's existence, her straining to live, came touching him like naked skin. He pitied her, and he pitied himself.

Dispirited and longing for something that is implied but not spoken, Shimamura courts this symbolic world of darkness and cold, where there is "drab poverty…and yet under it lay an urgent, powerful vitality," and in it he finds "inexpressible" beauty.

Snow Country is where he goes to escape the wife and children; he seeks solitude in the land of the hot springs, where he becomes a different person with his hot-spring geisha: "The hot spring geisha must go on entertaining weekend guests, and the pretense that she is an artist and not a prostitute is often a thin one indeed." Komako sees her dreams and happiness within Shimamura, those dreams of the city and its cultured ways, and yet she knows that they can never be, that she can never be more than a geisha.

Komako is not the typical geisha. She is educated and refined in her approach, Shimamura notices at first. She reads a lot, and writes reviews within her journal, yet he also notices that her attitude has been plagued by the geisha life. He doesn't want to insult her at first, this gesiha who seems so courtly, so he asks for another geisha, but that geisha only reminds him of all that Komako is not. Soon, he notices how damaged and fragile she really is. Yet Shimamura still has eyes for the stereotypical geisha: Yoko. As they say, there is something about the eyes that impress.

I could feel the stillness of Kawabata's words, like the silence of the winter nights he portrays, but they also have sudden flashes of insight. This type of motion and fusion allures, but the dialogue is hollow and centers around random talk between these two characters, and yet the characters never get too close to be felt. I found myself waiting, waiting to be taken deeper into the soul of the story and characters, deeper into theme. Also, if one does not know about the geisha life, one should not expect to get backstory (except for what is in the introduction). Luckily, I've read Memoirs of a Geisha and its nonfiction counterpart, Geisha, a Life.

Other readers may find that they enjoy the idea of much being imparted, and much being inferred. I only wish I'd been able to wrap myself within its embrace. Like a Haiku, figurative language and terse prose encapsulate love and desire, loneliness and angst, secrets and lies, tragedy and pain.

Gray must be the color of dysphoria and anhedonia.

Profile Image for Marc.
3,109 reviews1,175 followers
October 9, 2021
Unlike the other two works by Kawabata I read (House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories and Thousand Cranes), this one didn’t captivate me. Yet, the opening pages are of unparalleled beauty: a man in a train carriage at night observes his fellow travelers through the reflection in the steamed glass, which at the same time shows majestic snow-capped mountains in the background. But what follows is a sequence of rather bizarre scenes in which the man interacts with a fickle girl, a geisha in a mountain resort, who is attracted to him but at the same time repels him, and who also evokes both resistance and attraction in him. I struggled to get a grip on the story, but I have the impression that this book wasn't about that at all. Quite the contrary, perhaps Kawabata wanted to highlight the elusive and enigmatic of reality, as he did so sublimely in 'House of Sleeping Beauties'. Only, here it didn't work. Maybe it was the old Dutch translation I was reading, but also his precise, very descriptive style didn't quite come into its own here. Perhaps I have missed the right reading keys to appreciate this.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,486 followers
July 24, 2018
Why the fuck did no one tell me about kotatsus?

Do you know what this is?! It's got a stove in there! It's a heated tablebed! It's, like, you know how 20-somethings with instagram accounts call clumsy panda memes "everything"? but this is actual everything. I think we can all agree that the word "cozy" has had its day but fuck my puppies if I couldn't curl up and die in one of these things.

Anyway we've been talking about the "thin sheet of paper," as Jun'ichirō Tanizaki calls it, between the words and the world. We've been debating the elusive nature of these quietly devastating Japanese novels, which, some of them anyway, do this thing where you're reading them and thinking "but nothing is even happening," and then you finish them and realize that everything has happened. It's not exactly "vague," is it? Vague is the word prolific Japanese translator Edward Seidensticker uses, but it implies...it implies a lack of precision, and that's the opposite of what either Tanizaki or Kawabata are up to. Every page in these slim books says exactly what it intends to. Snow Country gets compared to haiku: stark, with unexpected vistas. Here's one by Basho, the master of haikus:
None is travelling
Here along this way but I,
This autumn evening.

Here's one I wrote for my roommate in college:
Crabs scuttle along
the wavering dark shoreline
of your mom's panties

We used to write a lot of haikus. College, man.

Which, I know, you're like the whole thing with a haiku is that it's super short, and this is super short for a novel, but that's still relatively long, isn't it? If you wanted to write a haiku you've wasted like 174 and a half pages. But waste is the theme of this book. There's this fabric called chijimi that they make in the snow country. It's beautiful and lush and it's so hard to make that there's really no way to recoup your time; it's an impractical business.

Shimamura is a dilettante. He studies ballet but he's never actually seen one. He has a geisha lover named Komako in snow country in the mountains. Geishas in the mountains aren't like the romantic, cultured Tokyo geishas; they're just hookers. Komako hopes Shimamura will take her away. He won't.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,529 reviews978 followers
April 4, 2016
- The snow is that deep?
- They say that in the next town up the line the schoolchildren jump naked from the second floor of the dormitory. They sink out of sight in the snow, and they move around under it as though they were swimming.

A train rushes into the evening, away from the city, toward a distant country, over the mountains, where winter snows are so high people dig tunnels to move from one side of the street to the other and telegraph poles are buried right up to the wires. Here are hot springs where affluent gentlemen retreat for contemplation of the beauty of nature and maybe for a tryst away from family duties in the company of the local geishas. One such gentleman of leisure is Shimamura, a man of private means and artistic inclinations. As the lights in the train compartment are turned on in the evening, the windows become mirrors against the dark background, reflecting Shimamura placid face side by side with the beautiful and intriguing visage of the young girl sitting across from him. Such ordinary moments become, under the expert pen of Kawabata loaded with poetry and meaning, symbols of secret undercurrents of yearning and loneliness that require the rhythms and the conventions of classical haiku poetry to be captured when ordinary words prove themselves insufficient:

In the depths of the mirror the evening landscape moved by, the mirror and the reflected figures like motion pictures superimposed one on the other. The figures and the background were unrelated, and yet the figures, transparent and intangible, and the background, dim in the gathering darkness, melted together into a sort of symbolic world not of this world. Particularly when a light out in the mountains shone in the center of the girl's face, Shimamura felt his chest rise at the inexpressible beauty of it.


In coming to the snow country, Shimamura leaves his regular life behind, becomes a blank page, a tourist in a foreign land, a spectator of a voiceless Noh drama, absolved of responsibility and worry. The face of the young girl inspires flashbacks from his previous summer, when he became acquainted in one of the mountain villages with a local geisha. Memory and present are superimposed like the double exposure image in the train window, and come together when both Shimamura and the girl descend in the same village from last summer, now waiting for the first heavy snow of winter.

Shimamura abandoned himself to the fancy that he had stepped into some unreal conveyance, that he was being borne away in emptiness, cut off from time and place. The monotonous sound of the wheels became the woman's voice.

"Snow Country" is a love story of sorts, a melancholy one that transports the reader into the sort of surrealist landscape that mirrors the inner workings of the soul, something between "L'annee derniere a Marienbad" and "Lolita". The comparison to Nabokov may be a little forced, because, beside the surface similarities of a middle aged aestete fascinated by a young woman and a stylistic interest in the turn of a beautiful phrase, there is very little to recognize in the personalities of Shimamura and Humbert Humbert. I found the Japanese man to be cold-hearted and bland, his interest in beauty and in language a sterile and self-serving one. Komako is a mystery that can be unlocked by a reader familiar with the wealth of Japanese symbols and conventions, where the fold of an obi, the angle of the neck bowed in submission, the invitation to tea or to a hot bath tell us more about her life than a thousand words. Shimamura is most probably well equiped to read the signs of the woman's love, but he shies away from commitment, from real life, preferring instead his flights of fancy and his personal comfort.

In order to give us a clue to Shimamura's personality, Kawabata explores the artistic interests of the man, a self-described specialist and researcher of western ballet, who has never watched an actual spectacle put on the stage:

A ballet he had never seen was an art in another world. It was an unrivaled armchair reverie, a lyric from some paradise. He called his work research, but it was actually free, uncontrolled fantasy. He preferred not to savor the ballet in the flesh; rather he savored the phantasmes of his own dancing imagination, called up by Western books and pictures. It was like being in love with someone he had never seen.

If the point was not clear enough, the author takes the reader to the next logical step: ... it was also possible that, hardly knowing it, he was treating the woman exactly as he treated the western dance.

The contrast between the two lovers could not be made clearer : the woman of the snow country is burning with passion (there are repeated references to her red blushing skin, something that Shimamura finds extremely appealing), while the big city man remains distant and cold hearted, like an enthomologist studying an insect under a magnifying glass. ( Like a warm light, Komako poured in on the empty wretchedness that had assailed Shimamura. as oppossed to: He spent much of his time watching insects in their death agonies. ) The clues to unlocking the secrets in the hearts of Shimamura and Komako are mostly unspoken, relying more on glances, body movements and remarks on the vagaries of the weather over the mountain ranges, nature expressing in its plays of light and shadow the inner turmoil of the actors. A triangle of sorts develops as Shimamura continues to be intrigued by the girl from the train, with the mysterious juxtaposition of Yoko's face over the blurring landscape.

The window began to steam over. The landscape outside was dusky, and the figures of the passengers floated up half-transparent. It was the play of that evening mirror again.

For a novel relying heavily on metaphor and contemplation, "Snow Country" does a surprisingly effective job of social criticism, revealing the subservient and abused situation of the women of pleasure traditionally welcoming visitors to the hot springs. Komako and Yoko see their youth wasted away in sterile drunken parties with guests from the big city, dreaming of escaping from the isolation of mountains and poverty, of saving money to buy a business or of finding a rich protector for their older years. Komako studies music, reads all the books and magazines she can find and dreams of moving to a high end Tokyo house where women are treated as artists instead of prostitutes. Yoko begs Shimamura to take her away from her village when he finally goes back to the city. As with other themes in the novel, Kawabata finds a metaphor in the traditions of the region to express the drama of the young women. The snow country is famous not only for its 15 feet thick winter blanket of snow or for its hot springs, but also for the rare and much appreciated Chijimi weaving. During the long winter months, young maidens make the whitest and coolest kimono fabric from a special grass growing in the valley. The weaving and the bleaching in the snow of the Chijimi fabric are painstakingly laborious and time consuming. In the old times, the girls proudly presented their cloth as their trusseau or their wedding dresses, but in recent times their wares go to wealthy buyers in the metropolis:

The labor into which a heart has poured its whole love - where will it have its say, to excite and inspire, and when?

Between Shimamura and Komako, all my sympathy went to the girl Komako, only nineteen years old, yet burdened with a sadness and despair wel beyond her age. At first glance, Komako is weak, easily tempted into drunkennes, inconsistent in her coy reticence to spent the night in a man's room. But all these exterior manifestations of her personality are the role of the geisha that the world has imposed on her. The true Komako is the passionate lover of a mystery man who is dying of consumption, the woman ready to give her heart to a stranger that can take her away from her current life, the singer who studies on her own ancient love ballads for samisen:

The air was different. There were no theater walls, there was no audience, there was none of the city dust. The notes went out crystalline into the clean winter morning, to sound on the far, snowy peaks.


There is a purity and an innocence in her dissolute existence that deserves better than the analytical and conservative Shimamura is ready to offer, and I for one hoped Komako will see behind the mask of the cosmopolite man and ultimately reject his attentions:

She reads all books that travellers abandoned at the inn, fashion and women magazines, and everything else that fell into her hands, indiscriminately. There was something lonely, something sad in it, something that rather suggested a beggar who had lost all desire. It occured to Shimamura that his own distant fantasy on the western ballet, built up from words and photographs in foreign books, was not in its way dissimilar.

All my previous remarks might explain why I intellectually appreciate the work of Kawabata, but it falls short of revealing the way some stories reach right into my inner core and take residence there among my personal friends and favorites. Some of the reasons are personal, and deal with my own past mistakes in regard to the women I loved and lost. Others are the echo of a line of poetry that brings together nature and soul, the same wizard's trick that pushed Tarjei Vesaas close to the top of my favorite authors list. Kawabata the poet is probably at his best in this present novel (at least according to other sources and reviewers, I haven't read all his books), and most of the remaining quotes that I have bookmarked in the text are examples of his traditional (haiku) approach to writing:

The train moved off into the distance,
its echo fading into a sound as of the night wind.
Cold air flooded the room.


It was a stern night landscape. The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void. As the stars came nearer, the sky retreated deeper and deeper into the night color.


"Here in our mountains,
the snow falls
even on the maple leaves."


All of Komako came to him, but it seemed that nothing went out from him to her. He heard in his chest, like snow piling up, the sound of Komako, an echo beating against empty walls.


The final lines of the novel are the ones that made me draw a link to Nabokov and his closing lines for "Lolita". In the end, the universe is beauty and sadnes, rust and stardust, ice and fire, mountain and starlight, shining equally on the Japanese and the Russo-American landscapes:

And the Milky Way, like a great aurora, flowed through his body to stand at the edge of the earth. There was a quiet, chilly loneliness in it, and a sort of voluptuous astonishment. [...] The Milky Way spread its skirts to be broken by the waves of the mountain, and, fanning out again in all its brilliant vastness high in the sky, it left the mountain in a deeper darkness.
Profile Image for Jibran.
224 reviews664 followers
August 25, 2016
A metaphor of rotting and unappreciated beauty. Deep in the frozen reaches of the Snow Country a Geisha waits out her days for a man who would give her a life of love and dignity that she believes is her right.

Geishas in the Japanese society were connoisseurs of culture and art; they exerted political influence through their patrons; they decided the fates of people who desired their services; they made and broke marriages – they were a soft power centre in the Japanese society.

But in the backwater of the Snow Country only a perception of this power remains. The Geishas there live under crushing poverty and hopeless surrender, maintaining a façade of self-importance but in reality are no more than prostitutes offering affordable services to travelling men.

This novel is a heart-rending portrayal of that life, told through the story of a Snow Country Geisha, Komako, who meets a rich idler from Tokyo, Shimamura, who comes to the town to enjoy the hot springs the area is famous for. Shimamura knows immediately when he sees Komako that she is unlike other Geishas of the town. They develop a relationship but it never goes anywhere. The rich city idler is as though unable to reciprocate the love of Komako who, despite something special in her, is only a hot spring Geisha in his ignoble eyes. He tries to involve himself emotionally but can’t stop himself from looking down upon her.

It reads like a dream with disjointed and abruptly changing scenes fusing into one another. The writer's stylistic method is to juxtapose two opposing and contrasting elements: light against dark, sound against silence, being a sex selling Geisha who has a clean and fresh countenance, the whistle of the teapot against the continuous sound of the silence, the shine of the snowy peaks against the darkness of the room....and there are beautiful evocations of the stark beauty of the Snow Country and the frugality of its people, their lifestyle, travails and their aspirations.

I loved the way the story builds up into high emotion in so imperceptible a way, without any loud noise-making plot twists. All in all a terrible and disheartening story which is so beautiful that it is almost lonely and sad.


Originally posted 03/01/15
Profile Image for Noel.
50 reviews114 followers
January 8, 2023
“In the depths of the mirror the evening landscape moved by, the mirror and the reflected figures like motion pictures superimposed one on the other. The figures and the background were unrelated, and yet the figures, transparent and intangible, and the background, dim in the gathering darkness, melted together into a sort of symbolic world not of this world. Particularly when a light out in the mountains shone in the center of the girl’s face, Shimamura felt his chest rise at the inexpressible beauty of it.”

I honestly don’t know what to make of this book. Could it be due to cultural differences? That couldn’t be the only reason… I couldn’t make sense of Shimamura’s apparent indifference toward his wife and children (who are rarely mentioned, and never by name), and even toward his lover. “Indifference” probably isn’t the right word since it implies a capacity for concern Shimamura doesn’t seem to have. He’s a passive observer of his own life, never fully committing to anything—even his own feelings. I couldn’t make sense of Komako’s drinking and erratic behavior, her constant alternation between hostility and seeking affirmation of her worth, and her confusion about what she really wants from the man she’s sleeping with. Not that I can’t relate to this experience (sigh), I was just left feeling frustrated by the terse, somewhat cryptic way Kawabata describes it. I couldn’t make sense of Shimamura and Komako’s relationship, which remains stagnant for the entire novel, adding nothing of substance to their lives and seeming to be only maintained out of habit. And I couldn’t make sense of Shimamura’s interest in Yoko—who I suppose is an embodiment of innocence and purity, since she remains untouched the (implicit) sexuality that pervades the novel, but whatever significance her life holds for him completely eluded my grasp.

I do admire Kawabata’s delicate, almost fragile writing style—much like the moths in the novel that have lost their way, circling lights and clinging fast to screens even after death. He’s become one of my models for how I want to write (as well as Chekhov and Proust—a guy can dream, can’t he?). So I’ll certainly be reading more of Kawabata’s writing—even though now I’m almost afraid to, since this is generally considered his masterpiece. I just hope his other books make sense to me and help me make sense of this one.

Combing Hair (Kamisuki), by Torii Kotondo.
Profile Image for Loretta.
319 reviews162 followers
June 17, 2021
In my pursuit to read Japanese Literature/Fiction I must admit I picked this book up solely on the pretty cover (big mistake, as usual). Having tried to read The Master of Go, by the same author a few years back, (tried reading, never finished) I didn’t expect much but I did go into it with an open mind but sadly my mind closed pretty quickly because it was so tediously boring! I felt like I was re-reading chunks of the book, which for me, indicates a big waste of my valuable reading time. There was nothing really happening in the book until the end and by that time I was just so bored that I just didn’t care.

I think I’m pretty much done with Yasunari Kawabata.
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,070 followers
April 3, 2011
I read the other reviews of Snow Country before I read the book. I'm nervous to look at any more right now, before I begin writing my own review (erm technically I'm writing it right now). It's like when you mishear lyrics in a song and find out the line that killed you wasn't what they were singing at all. Lights turned on and it's not as beautiful when it's the real world in day time? So the introductions I've read... I didn't read Snow Country as a love triangle. I don't want to.

Yukio Mishima's introduction of The House of the Sleeping beauties says this: "There would seem to be, among the works of great writers, those that might be called of the obverse or the exterior, their meaning on the surface, and those of the reverse or interior, the meaning hidden behind; or we might liken them to exoteric and esoteric Buddhism. In the case of Mr. Kawabata, Snow Country falls in the former category, while "House of the Sleeping Beauties" is most certainly an esoteric masterpiece.
In an esoteric masterpiece, a writer's most secret, deeply hidden themes make their appearance. Such a work is dominated not by openness and clarity but by a strangling tightness. In place of limpidness and purity we have density; rather than the broad open world we have a closed room. The spirit of the author, flinging away all inhibitions, shows itself in its boldest forms."

He sure sounds smart and shit. But fuck that. (Sorry to keep picking on you Mishima! I'm going to read two more of your books soon.)

I say that Snow Country is attaching oneself to a significant expression in life or death desperate hopes that it is going to light up the unreal times. I really, really wish I could be poetic about this. I can't hold it in my hands. The most is maybe holding onto the burned on images on the backs of my eyeballs. Soaring (with will or no) on the images/ideas/brain waves and the tops of the life, your house, everyone you know and don't know, everything is seen all down below. It all looks small as shit too. Floating, or swimming, against the tide. Going to where you've already been? What's exterior about that? Only the need for it... I don't know how to connect the unreal times that feel realer than most else to things that I CAN see in my life.

Leave Mishima alone, Mariel! (I'd post a photo of him looking sad if I were the Mariel reviewer of two months ago.)

Shimamura came into money. He doesn't really have to do anything like work, or think about his wife and kids. I see him as a guy who lives for those eyelid image times. He wouldn't want them to be burned on. If anything, he is a tight rope walker of avoiding anything burned in favor of, say, a haunting melody that would bring forth vague nostalgia for times past. Enough to hurt just a little. (I like it when it's a little cold because I feel more alive being concious of my skin. To myself I call it the slightly cold feeling. Mariel circa age 15!)

Yoko is uncomplicated (to Shimamura!) eyelid image with a promise of more gravity. She could possibly pull to something. When Shimamura first sees her she is taking care of a dying man on a train. It's only a moment, a fleeting idea, in his mind. Nothing to him but that moment (and everything to Yoko. Probably the foundation of everything to Komako the geisha, as well. With this man, at least, they are not observers). Yoko appears in moments tied to nothing but more weightier ways of floating (a mother's embrace, not dying alone...).

Shimamura and the geisha Komako have a relationship like I feel I have with my stories, songs, a walk through the rain after a storm (my absolute favorite times ever). Shimamura feels about everything that is Komako's life is a "wasted effort". These are not heavy floating times, yet feel more dangerous all the same for being less able to pin down to a single idea. Shimamura has difficulty recalling Komako when they are apart.

Her wasted efforts are mine. Lots and lots of staying up all night scribbling impressions on something like Snow Country that touched me. No, it isn't going to change anything. The point is the effort. I wonder if Yoko made an effort... I feel more wonder about Komako's dreaming because there is potential in not knowing what it will look like down at the bottom.

Komako feels about Yoko that she is the weight on her chest. I know the weight on the chest. It's the miscommunication. Guilt for maybe owing each other something more than moments. Shimamura is afraid of being tied and Komako is very much tied to the other woman because of a mutual past they share with the dying man from the train (the past isn't clear). I'd call it the fear of looking down if you're afraid of heights. That fear is probably why they live so much in wasted efforts/unreal times...

The wasted effort isn't too long. But what about the time inbetween? I don't know if it is knocked wind out of me that Komako was really in love with Shimamura. He's the wasted effort, right? The unreal life of travel (as he's a tourist). The rules and regulations that come with the territory of being a geisha. It's a stage play, right? And the stage lights are the strange twilights casting all kinds of shadows of ideals to become wasted efforts in the morning. Yeah, I can see a lot from up here and I did fall to my death when the morning came. Maybe they shouldn't have tried to ride that too high... (Poetical people are so lucky. They can make these wasted efforts for themselves whenever they want.)

I've been craving more Kawabata.
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