Snow Country

Snow Country Summary and Analysis of Part 1 (pp. 33-65)


The night after their meeting in the cedar grove, the woman, heavily drunk from a party she hosted, stumbles into Shimamura's room calling for him. Despite her struggling with the pain of a headache she refuses to go home, and then after some hesitation from Shimamura's advances gives in to him. The morning after the two make love, the woman leaves early to avoid being seen.

As the story moves back to the time of Shimamura's second visit in December, the woman counts to Shimamura the one-hundred ninety-nine days since his first visit in May, which she remembers because of the diary she keeps. She also mentions a catalog she keeps of the novels and short stories she has read, and unworriedly voices her agreement with Shimamura's evaluation of it as a "waste of effort." The two go to the bath and then spend the night together.

Early the next morning as the woman dresses herself, Shimamura becomes fascinated with the image of the redness of her cheeks contrasting against the whiteness of the snow-capped mountains in the mirror she uses. Going out for a walk through the village after she has left, he inadvertently walks past her in a group of geisha, leading to both him and her flushing red. Just that morning he had learned from a maid at the inn that her geisha name is Komako, which she is thenceforth referred to as.

Komako catches up to him and invites him to the music teacher's small old house, where she has an upper-floor room that used to house silkworms. While he is there with Komako, Yoko comes in briefly and startles Shimamura with the sort of intense eye he had seen on the train.

Afterwards, he hires a blind masseuse and hears from her of Komako's skill playing the shamisen and of a rumor that Komako sold herself as a geisha to pay the doctor's bills of the music teacher's sick son, to whom she is supposedly engaged.


Although Komako is from the beginning honest about her feelings and becomes progressively less embarrassed to be seen publically at Shimamura's side, it is during her drunken visits to his room late at night when she most directly displays her love and torment. Swaying back and forth between the giddy exuberance and wracking pain that both drink and her heart inspires in her, she embodies a passionate feminine force that Shimamura at times accepts into his arms, in a way taking advantage of her, but at other times frightens him with its directness. In such a way, when he hears her loud voice calling his name from the hallway outside his room, he is shocked into realizing the intensity of her feelings: "It was, with no attempt at covering itself, the naked heart of a woman calling out to her man. Shimamura was startled" (34). He of course only ever waits quietly in his room, whether having asked for her to come or expecting her without having asked. He is soon after startled again when she bites deeply into her half-numb arm, trying to resist his hands reaching over his body.

While he moves quietly, almost nonchalantly to take her for satisfying her desires, she fights a heated battle within herself that, intensified by her inebriation, provides the most dramatic descriptions in the passage (e.g. "writhing," "delirium," "trance"). Her protestation of "I'm going home. Going home," becomes a line that she repeats during most of her subsequent visits, even when both expect that she will stay the night; Shimamura even makes fun of this at a later point, but it is important in illustrating her conflict between staying true to her feelings and facing a harsh reality (35).

In the end she does give herself over to Shimamura, though she tells him significantly, "I won't have any regrets. I'll never have any regrets. But I'm not that sort of woman. It can't last. Didn't you say so yourself? [...] It's not my fault. It's yours. You lost. You're the weak one. Not I." (37) Committing herself to a romance without any illusion that it could extend past the briefest of moments, Komako makes a bold and tragic move which she does not want Shimamura to misunderstand and trivialize by mistaking her emotional desire for the lust of a prostitute ("that sort of woman"). Rather, it is he who has not acted with meaningfulness and has pursued a shallow object.

When Komako begins opening her personal life to him by telling him about her diary and the catalog of novels and short stories that she has read, Shimamura judges it "a waste of effort" and then grasps a certain melancholy beauty in it, the kind which suffuses the entire novel (41). "He knew well enough that for her it was in fact no waste of effort, but somehow the final determination that it was had the effect of distilling and purifying the woman's existence" (42).

This "final determination" is of course one that comes about in Shimamura's own mind, and one may compare this desire of his to idealize the geisha to his earlier idealization of Yoko in the "evening mirror" that he created on the misted window. In the end Yoko's fall through the burning cocoon warehouse and Komako's frenzied rescue of her from it will appear to him in very much the same way, as something tragic but distant, an unseen ballet stage of the imagination. He can feel her longing and excitement for the city and the arts there when he converses with her, but he would rather enjoy the sad image of its non-fulfillment than disrupt it by giving her what she desires. However, an important note: in defense of Shimamura, in his role as patron of the geisha none of this is anywhere near required or expected of him. The reader may prefer that he show more sympathy for Komako, but it would be useless, since such is the nature of their relationship.