Snow Country

Snow Country Summary and Analysis of Part 2 (pp.89-126)


Shimamura returns to the hot spring a third time in the autumn after his last visit, though he had promised Komako that he would come again in February. Talking with her in his room in the inn, where moths and other small insects fly about, he hears of how Komako had stopped being a geisha and moved to the coast after Yukio's death, but then come back to live in with a family in a small shop as a geisha after the music teacher died. Komako asks him whether he understands her feelings, but he is unable to answer; seemingly accepting this, Komako continues speaking to him and reveals many intimate details about herself, including the fact that there is an older man with whom she has been close to for many years but whose feelings she cannot reciprocate.

Following a night together with Komako, Shimamura walks around the village and sees Yoko threshing beans and singing. The autumn colors and the sight of the silver kaya grass on the mountains around the village shifts him into a very contemplative mood. After going to sleep early that night, he wakes up to find that Komako has snuck into his room by making her way through the cedar grove and garden behind his room. The two go on a walk to the cemetery and receive sharp surprise when they meet Yoko there. At three o'clock that night, Komako stumbles into Shimamura's room drunk, and the two talk while Shimamura helps her undo her coiffure before she leaves to entertain guests.


It is interesting to note one of the characters hidden almost completely in the background of the novel, namely Shimamura's wife. On several occasions he thinks of her and their children but never in any specific terms; as such, it comes as a surprise to us when we almost hear something in her own voice at such an important place as the beginning of the second part: "It was the egg-laying season for moths, Shimamura's wife told him as he left Tokyo, and he was not to leave his clothes hanging in the open" (89). Perhaps we may only glean from this that she is something of a typical Japanese housewife, telling her husband to take care of himself (in somewhat imperious terms), but not infringing upon his wide freedom to go to a hot spring town and engage with the geisha there. One wonders what kind of attention he gives her when he is back in Tokyo; the only other wife mentioned in the story, the wife of the man who built Kikuyu a restaurant, must bear the humiliation of running a restaurant named after her husband's mistress. All in all, the women do not live in very enviable circumstances.

As is described in further detail in the "Symbols Allegories Motifs" section, the insects that Shimamura finds in his room -- especially the moth on the wall -- set the stage for the general decay and passing away that happens in the second part of the novel. Just as the insects are at their most lively and the mountains come to life with autumn colors, Shimamura's and Komako's relationship becomes more intimate, though all things are soon to unravel.

It is worth keeping in mind that however close Komako may grow to Shimamura, their relationship never escapes that of the geisha and her client; recall that the morning of Shimamura's departure from the hot spring at the end of his second visit, the manager of the inn talked with Komako about the bill for her services as geisha, a sharp reminder after a close and emotional night together that their relationship is not one between a man and a free woman. As such, Komako's revealing more and more of her personal background to Shimamura indicates her desire for their relationship to transcend their social restrictions; Shimamura, however, does not ever react with more than casual interest.

Just as he had nonchalantly neglected to send her the dance instructions and letters he had promised before he came for his second visit, before his third visit he misses a promised meeting with her on February 14th for the "bird-chasing festival." Even after Komako confronts him about this, he only apologizes in an ambiguous way: "'I'm sorry.' Shimamura's words could have been either an expression of sympathy [for the music teacher's death] or an apology for the broken promise" (95). As a lover, Shimamura has every reason to feel guilt, but as the patron of a geisha nothing is required of him. He had stated from the beginning that he neither desired nor expected anything lasting from a relationship with a geisha, and despite the extraordinary love and sacrifice of Komako, he never truly changes his mind.

Thus, when Komako abruptly asks him "Do you know how I feel?" after relating the sad story of Kikuyu, an older geisha, Shimamura at first misinterprets her, thinking that she was asking about impressions of the night landscape outside the window she had just opened, and answers "The stars here are different from the stars in Tokyo" (99). The conversation moves on, but a few pages later Komako presses him again, and this time refuses his glib answer: "'Do you understand how I feel?' 'I understand.' 'If you understand, then tell me. Tell me, if you see how I feel.' Again that tense, urgent note came into her voice. 'See, you can't. Lying again… You don't understand at all" (102). Her urgency comes from partly from the fear that she is ruining her own reputation due to their affair but far more so from the sense that she is wasting her love and the blossom of her life. She continues, "I'm very lonely sometimes. But I'm a fool. Go back to Tokyo, tomorrow" (102). As Shimamura too had noticed earlier, it was largely Komako's loneliness that made her fall in love with him for the wonderful conversation that they made together; perhaps it would have been better for both had they stayed friends as Shimamura had originally intended, but the strength of Shimamura's lust and Komako's desire for love made chaste friendship scarcely possible.