Snow Country

Snow Country Kawabata's Nobel Lecture

Kawabata delivered the lecture for his 1968 Nobel Prize in Literature on December 12, titling it "Japan, the Beautiful and Myself." He begins by quoting two classical Japanese poems close to his heart, which he writes when asked for samples of his calligraphy, the first written by the Zen priest Dogen and the second by the priest Myoe:

"In the spring, cherry blossoms, in the summer the cuckoo.

In autumn the moon, and in winter the snow, clear, cold."

"The winter moon comes from the clouds to keep me company.

The wind is piercing, the snow is cold."

By elaborating on these and several other related poems, Kawabata presents his idea of the gentle and quiet yet warm and passionate quality of the Japanese spirit, one which, as written in the second poem, considers nature a close companion and at times identical with the human self. Moving nimbly through the various traditional Japanese arts, covering flower-arranging, tea ceremony, ceramics, landscaping, and literature, he paints the Japanese idea of beauty in comprehensive and evocative colors, speaking about such things as mono no aware, the poignant awareness of the beauty of things and their passing; the use of plain words in poetry to evoke the wordless; and, very importantly to his own work, the embrace of a nothingness which is quite unlike its Western counterpart in that it has much more to do with becoming one with the world instead of pessimism.

As the first Japanese to win the prize, Kawabata clearly meant to present his country's unique aesthetic and spiritual character to the world through his lecture, and though he only makes several brief mentions of his own work, one will easily find that what he says of, for example, the classical Heian period literature reveals much about his novels. A link to the lecture transcript is included in the "Related Links" section, and reading the lecture is of course highly recommended and highly relevant to Snow Country.