Shimamura, a wealthy Tokyo dilettante who, despite being a ballet critic, has never seen a ballet in person, travels on a train in December to visit a hot spring in the "snow country" on the west coast of Japan, intending to see the geisha Komako whom he met and began a romance with on his previous visit. While on the train he notices Yoko, a girl of uncommon beauty, nursing Yukio, a sick young man, and is enchanted by the image of her eye reflected on his window over the outside landscape. After he arrives and meets Komako at his inn, the story flashes back to retell his first visit, when he had captured Komako's heart. His brief pleasure trip over, he neglected to send Komako things he had promised her and did not visit again until half a year later that December. However much Komako doubts that he understands and values her feelings, she continues to visit him in his room when she has time between the parties she entertains as a geisha. Shimamura makes his third visit in the autumn of the next year and stays until the winter comes. Though he and Komako have grown closer during this longer visit, she realizes that he will never be able to understand her struggle as a woman who wants to love but cannot expect anything as a geisha, and he realizes that he cannot continue seeing her. As Shimamura prepares to leave, a fire breaks out at a house in the village at night, and when he and Komako go to see they witness Yoko falling through the flames. Komako drags out her body, and when he accidentally falls backwards, the sight of the Milky Way in the night sky overwhelms Shimamura.