Snow country by Yasunari Kawabata


Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

original title 雪国

Translator – Edward G Seidensticker

Source personnel copy

Well It time for Tony’s Japanese lit month January in Japan and I’m kicking mine of with a short novella from the Poet and Novelist Yasunari Kawabata .Born in 1899 in the early to mid twentieth century he was one of the best known Japanese writers .Orphaned at two he start writing soon after he finished his studies ,this his best known work was published in 1937 and added to ten years later .He was also well-known for writing Haiku poem .He also won the Nobel prize for literature in 1968 .

A girl had been sitting on the other side of the carriage came over and opened the window in front of Shimamura .The snowy cold poured in .Leaning far out of the window , the girl called to the station master as though he were a great distance away .

Shimamura on the train meet ?


Well Snow country is a love story but it is very Japanese story .The book opens with a business man  Shimamura on a train of to the Snow Country a mountain village that has a lot of snow in the winter .He gets off at the station and so do two women the first a traditional Geisha from the village called Komako and the second a younger women coming to car for a sick family member these three form the bases of the book .The Geisha   Komako becomes the women that Shiamura seeks and wants to be with ,but as the story unfolds you see the gaping gap between the village and the way Komako grew up she is very traditional following the old ways and Shimamura has been in Tokyo  is very into western things with an idealized view of traditional Japanese culture  .So he starts to notice the younger women Yoko  the daughter of an innkeeper when with Komako  you see all this unfold from the winter through the spring and summer . This is how the story starts and to see how it goes on is up to you will need to  read it .

See out at the back,

Three pears ,three cedars,

Six trees in all ,

Crows nest below ,

sparrows nest above

And what if they are singing ?

“harkarmairi itcho itcho ya ” *

*means a hundred yards ,a hundred yards again

A song sung later in the novella


The book was published initially as a short story and then as a number of extra stories / chapters afterwards, so you do get a somewhat episodic feel to the tale as we see the romance move on and the pair then … . The other big theme in this book is one of my favourite themes in literature and that is the clashing of changing cultures ,from the urbane Tokyo to the old Japanese values and customs of the village and the Geisha girls in the village .Kawabata language is sparse at times,he has honed his writing craft writing haiku’s so you feel that every word had been thought over and worked to the last drop thus produce something that just works perfectly on the page ,the scene is set but not over set and the character just sketched enough to make you know who they are .Komako is based on a real Geisha that Kawabata  knew from the region the book is set  .So  he is  a great new writer to me as this is the first book by him I have read .Many  thanks for Tony as this may have sat on my shelf for a couple of years otherwise .

Have you read this book ?


26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lynne
    Jan 04, 2013 @ 20:50:15

    I read this years ago and remember its atmosphere more than anything. Whenever Murakami leaves Tokyo in his writing and goes to the countryside, this story comes to mind as well. I should read it again.


  2. parrish lantern
    Jan 04, 2013 @ 20:58:30

    Not read this but have it after reading a couple of others by this wonderful writer.


  3. me.
    Jan 04, 2013 @ 21:24:56

    I read Snow Country some years ago and saw the movie adaption since, think I need to reaquaint myself with this classic . I’ve not read any Kawabata for some time, although I’ve got a copy of The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa put aside to read soon, thanks for posting.


  4. Lisa Hill
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 02:18:08

    Oh, this sounds gorgeous. I have something by him on my TBR but not this one. I will put it on my wishlist at GoodReads now. (I’m trying not to buy any more books whose author’s name begins with K because they won’t fit on the shelf until I’ve read some of the ones I’ve got LOL).


    • winstonsdad
      Jan 05, 2013 @ 12:29:00

      Ha I wish had shelves for alphabetical order mine all over place only ones together are my small collection of old penguns and my anthony burgess books all the best stu


  5. Tony
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 02:24:34

    I read this a while back as my first Kawabata, but I don’t think I appreciated as much as I could have. It’s one of those typical stories which make the reader do all the work, while the prose is simply elegant. Time for a reread 🙂


  6. Rise
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 02:25:05

    One of my favorite Japanese novels. I’d like to read the short story version and see how he built the novel.


  7. JoV
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 09:08:25

    I read this last year. Atmostpheric and subtle in meaning that Kawabata wants to covey. I read A Thousand Cranes after that too.


  8. Vishy
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 11:00:42

    Nice review, Stu! I haven’t read any of Kawabata’s books. I will read this first. I loved your observation on how every word had been thought over and worked to the last drop – so beautifully put!


  9. Alex in Leeds
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 11:55:10

    It’s always lovely to find a gem on your own shelves. 🙂

    I really like the sound of the culture clash between Tokyo experiences and life in the village.


  10. Kelly
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 17:15:46

    Looking foward to seeing what else you’re reading for Tony’s Japanese lit month! I definitely need to expand my horizons and this story looks like it might be a great place to start 🙂


  11. Bina
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 18:01:26

    Sounds like a beautifully written book, I’ll have to look for his works. I knew this challenge would lead to great recommendations 🙂


  12. acommonreaderuk
    Jan 06, 2013 @ 08:44:17

    I could be a little “precious” if the writing is so very well-honed. But it sounds like the writer has made it really meaningful – one to look out for. So much to do so little time!


  13. jacquiwine
    Jan 21, 2013 @ 17:50:59

    Great review. I hadn’t some across Kawataba until your review and Tony’s mention of the book in his ‘novellas’ post from last year. I read this last week and really liked it. I found it very atmospheric and loved his descriptions of the landscape and light. As others have said, it’s very subtle and perfectly-pitched. One to reread at some point.


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January 2013


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