Snow Country

Snow Country Imagery

The "Evening Mirror"

While on the train to the hot spring in the beginning of the novel, the imaginative Shimamura makes a heavily symbol-laden move when, using his left forefinger, the part of him to remembers Komako the most vividly, he draws a line across the misted window and sees reflected in the cleared section Yoko's piercing eye, which is superimposed upon the snow country landscape passing by outside. After overcoming his initial surprise and realizing that she could not possibly notice him, Shimamura settles into his familiar comfortable musing on a beautiful image which, just as with his idea of occidental ballet, he has more or less created in his own mind; it is as though that ghostly montage in the mirror-like window is one of the photographs of dancers in the books he reads.

Freight Train Passing the Cemetery

When Shimamura takes a reluctant Komako to the cemetery, they are surprised and somewhat embarrassed to encounter Yoko, whom they had not expected. Before they are able to say much, "a black squall came upon them and threatened to sweep them from their feet. A freight train roared past" (119). As it so happens, Yoko's younger brother is on the train, and so the two call to each other while Komako and Shimamura stand by silently. After the train passes, "They seemed still to hear Yoko's voice, and not the dying rumble of the freight train. It seemed to come back like an echo of distilled love" (120). Other than the beauty of the image, it is also interesting to note that on this occasion Shimamura is not the only one admiring Yoko's voice. This unheard echo of a clear voice comes over a field of flowers that comes into view when no longer obstructed by the train, so that the sound of silence becomes even more poignant.

Komako's Red Under-kimono

Of the several kimonos that a Japanese woman, especially a geisha, wears in layers, the inner kimono is often of a more vivid color than the outside, corresponding to its closeness to the woman's body. As she usually stands and moves about, the under-kimono would be mostly if not completely hidden, so it is only in moments of intimacy when the outer layer falls back and the color of the inner becomes visible. As such, Shimamura finds the flash of red from Komako's under-kimono a detail symbolic of her love and sensual warmth. For example: "Her kimono sleeve fell back from her wrist, and the warm red of the under-kimono, spilling through the thick glass, sank its way into the half-frozen Shimamura" (160).

The Milky Way and Fire

In contrast to the mysterious but unthreatening "evening mirror" that Shimamura sees in the beginning of the novel, the image of the cocoon warehouse burning and casting out smoke, sparks, and light, under an abnormally bright Milky Way impresses itself upon Shimamura in an almost forceful way until at last, "the Milky Way flowed down inside him with a roar" (175). Knowing the original Japanese adds yet more to that final line, because the Japanese word for Milky Way is “ama no gawa,” literally "The River of Heaven"; as opposed to the more static-sounding English "Way," this River seems to churn and move about over his head, occasionally pushing into Shimamura as he struggles in those emotionally intense moments. Kawabata has been widely praised for illustrating in this final scene a kind of heightened emotional state that would otherwise be inexplicable in normal words.