Snow Country

Snow Country Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Chijimi cloth (Allegory)

Though it may at first seem like a mostly irrelevant interlude to the story of Shimamura's and Komako's romance, the reflection on Chijimi cloth, its production, and eventual use by worldly men such as Shimamura encapsulates the meaning of the whole story. The young women living in the long, desolate winters of the snow country who made Chijimi would have had little other opportunity to expend their energies and attain some sense of fulfillment other than making the beautiful cloth; but this in turn would end up as the playthings of wealthy men, who would find the cloth attractive for its light coolness but not be able to discern its weighty emotional background. Shimamura is in the unique position, as an intellectual, of being aware of the entire history, and yet by his dilettante personality, he is unable to return any feeling. And so Komako's love, like a piece of Chijimi, is worn and then discarded; Shimamura himself is struck by the thought that the cloth must last much longer than most romances.

Moth on the Screen (Symbol)

The novel's second part begins with Shimamura in his room observing the early autumn insects that have entered it. Of particular importance is the moth: "The moth did not move. He struck at it with his fist, and it fell like a leaf from a tree, floating lightly up midway to the ground" (90). Shimamura had disturbed it to figure out whether it was alive or dead, and on a subdued but happy note it is revealed that it is alive. However, we the readers understand that a leaf that falls from the tree, even if lifted briefly on a breeze, must eventually touch the ground. Thus, on this, Shimamura's last and longest visit to the hot spring, autumn cools into winter and things begin to pass away, including the moth and what it represents, namely Shimamura's and Komako's love: "A moth on the screen was still for a very long time. It too was dead, and it fell to the earth like a dead leaf" (132).

Komako's Inebriation (Motif)

Since she is usually on her way from a party when she visits Shimamura in his room late at night, Komako is often drunk, sometimes to the point of giving her severe headaches. On the one hand the drink makes her more sensual and open to Shimamura, but on the other her torments and insecurities emerge with her physical pain; Shimamura is only ever able to take advantage of the former, though he is never truly able to understand and assuage the latter.

Komako's Warmth (Motif)

Usually when touching or embracing Komako, Shimamura notices or is even struck by the warmth that comes from her body, which is a kind of indication of her powerful vitality and desires. This warmth contrasts with the coolness that Shimamura associates with Yuko and, in one instance, the elaborate Japanese coiffure which Komako must wear her hair in as a geisha.

Burning House (Symbol)

The climactic ending of the novel is set at the burning cocoon warehouse where a film was being shown. The burning house could be if not a direct allusion then at least an association with the famous Buddhist metaphor that people who are attached to worldly things are as though in a burning house, trapped and tormented by things which cannot but bring suffering. For Komako and Yuko, the fire is an expression of their immense pain and a trigger that seems to drive them both to insanity.