Snow Country

Snow Country Summary and Analysis of Part 1 (pp.65-87)


When Komako comes to his room the evening after he hears from the blind masseuse, Shimamura asks her about the rumor; she explains that the two of them were childhood friends and that she is not engaged to him, though he wanted to marry her. She then performs several pieces on the shamisen with singing, which at first startle Shimamura impressively with their emotional intensity but then calms him, making him feel more intimate with her.

After her many overnight stays, Komako eventually does not try to leave in the morning and even plays with the young daughter of the owner of the inn. However, the night before Shimamura is to return to Tokyo Komako struggles emotionally before him, in love but reluctant to become too involved since he is but a traveler.

The following morning, as Komako walks with Shimamura to the station, Yoko suddenly appears and tells her that she is needed at home because Yukio's illness has taken a turn for the worse; painfully, Komako insists that she must accompany her guest, Shimamura, but he tries to convince her to go. In the end she says goodbye to him from the station waiting house, and Shimamura pulls away wondering whether she would return home in time. On the train he is saddened by the sight of a man getting off the train and parting from a woman he was talking to intimately, having supposed that they were a couple.


Through the story, in which so much is told implicitly or in very indirect language, Komako's backstory is never very clearly presented. Shimamura learns a rumor about her being engaged to Yukio from the blind masseuse, but it turns out to be false. Nevertheless, on at least two later occasions in the book, once with Komako and once with Yoko, Shimamura will bring up the engagement again, since it is not so much the actual happening that matters as the implications of that idea; that is to say, though Komako was never engaged to Yukio, on account of the music-teacher's having imagined the engagement in her mind it became as though she were engaged.

One very probably interpretation of what Komako says of the situation is that she was forced into selling herself as a geisha to pay the doctor's bills for a man whose love she did not reciprocate. Because of this, she harbors a deep resentment against Yukio, to the point that she refuses to see him on his deathbed despite Yuko and Shimamura's pleas for her to do so. One very dramatic moment from that scene reveals something of Shimamura's thinking: just after Komako refuses once again to go back to see Yukio at home, "For an instant Shimamura felt something very near physical revulsion" (83). It seems as though Shimamura has from the very beginning identified himself with Yukio since, at least, they share the same position on love triangles with Komako and Yoko. Therefore, Komako's refusal to comfort Yukio in his death pains is felt almost bodily by Shimamura.

He is even more so startled by Komako earlier when she plays samisen for him.

"A chill swept over Shimamura. The goose flesh seemed to rise even to his cheeks. The first notes opened a transparent emptiness deep in his entrails, and in the emptiness the sound of the samisen reverberated. He was startled--or, better, he fell back as under a well-aimed blow" (71).

Given the importance of senses, whether in reaction to nature or a lover, in this highly lyrical novel, this "chill" recalls the winter cold of the beginning and end of the novel; regarding Komako, it reminds us of how Shimamura found her hair unusually cold and contrasts against the warmth that he almost always associates with her. Coldness would also seem to suggest Yuko, though in this passage Komako is associated with powerful, sensual water that threatens to sweep Shimamura "off where Komako would take him," while Yoko is much more immaterial, a piercing light or airy sound (71).

The "emptiness" within Shimamura is the very crux of his personality; engrossed with only the fantasies he fashions to amuse himself, he himself becomes a kind of ghost incapable of the same richness of feeling that Komako impresses upon him through her playing. He feels himself losing this emotional battle and wonders whether he has underestimated the woman: "She was a mountain geisha, not yet twenty, and she could hardly be as good as all that, he told himself" (71).

The more he is drawn into her music, the more desperate he becomes to deny its power in an attempt to extricate himself; so he "rolled over and pillowed his head on an arm, as if in bored indifference" (72). By the end of her playing, he has turned his attention back towards her idealized physical features, and the first words of his mouth is a glib repetition of the question he had asked the blind masseuse earlier: "Can you always tell which geisha it is from the tone of the samisen?" (72.) It is all the more ridiculous considering how intensely and personally her playing moved him.

On another occasion Komako confronts Shimamura with her conflicted feelings about him: "But it's not easy for me. Go on back to Tokyo. It's not easy for me" (78). However, when he responds, "As a matter of fact, I was thinking of going back tomorrow," she cries out, "No! Why are you going back?" (78.) On one hand, she feels a lover's attachment to him, but on the other she knows that their relationship can come to nothing and will only sap her life by letting her feelings go to waste. Despite this awareness, however dim, of the futility of her love, Komako continues to harbor hope and so becomes very hurt and emotional whenever Shimamura makes casual remarks such as, "What can I do for you, no matter how long I stay?" (79.) Her illusions will finally be broken when he says "You're a good woman," and he will repeat that he cannot do anything for her during his talk with Yoko.