Snow Country

Snow Country Study Guide

One of the three novels by Yasunari Kawabata that the Nobel Committee cited in awarding him the Nobel Literature Prize in 1968, Snow Country is one of the famous writer's best and most well known works. Set in a remote hot spring town in the "snow country," an area of the western Japanese coast which receives an extraordinary amount of snowfall, the novel tells the tale of the failed love between Shimamura, a wealthy Tokyo dilettante who though a ballet critic has never seen a ballet in person, and Komako, a sensual and passionate geisha who wants to love beyond restricted life of a professional entertainer. It is a story told in very spare and lyrical prose, in which many things are only conveyed indirectly and nature, especially the passing of the seasons, holds a position of paramount importance.

Kawabata wrote Snow Country between 1934 and 1937, publishing it piecemeal in various literary magazines and then in its entirety in 1937. However, he did not consider the novel completed and wrote two pieces that would become the final chapter in 1946 and 1947. The novel was then translated, including the final chapter, into English by Edwin Seidensticker in 1957.

To this day, the novel holds a prominent position not only in Japanese literature but in the popular imagination; almost any Japanese would recognize its opening line, "The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country," which he or she would have learned as a schoolchild.