Nobel prize-winning Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata lived and worked in the 20th century. Born on 14 June 1899 in Osaka, Japan to a renowned physician father, Kawabata was orphaned at the age of four. …
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After his parents’ untimely deaths, he came to be raised by his maternal grandfather. He lost his grandparents at a young age either and by the time of his teens, was bereft of most of his close relatives. While graduating from the Tokyo Imperial University, Kawabata contributed to the magazine Bungei Shunju, which brought him to the attention of editors and well-known writers of that time, including author Kan Kikuchi. He went on to become one of the founders of Bundei Jidai (or ‘the artistic age’), a publication that became the medium for a new movement in modern Japanese literature. Kawabata also worked for a time as journalist and claimed himself to be deeply moved by World War II, which was apparently one of the greatest influences on his work. Kawabata allegedly committed suicide in 1972 by gassing himself, although this has not been conclusively proven. It is certain however that the early loss of his family and, by his own admission, the horrors of the war, left his work with a tinge of melancholy and sense of insecurity and loss. He was the first of two Japanese Nobel laureates – Oe Kenzaburo being the other – and is perhaps globally, the best-known Japanese writer in contemporary times, although his status in his native country as an author is still widely debated among critics (Miyoshi). Kawabata’s literary style is characterized by its free flowing imagery. He uses surprisingly original and unusual images in his stories that emphasize the poetic quality of his writing. In Yukiguni (Snow Country) for instance, the imagery employed is especially effective and beautiful in telling the emotionally charged love story of the geisha and the dilettante from Tokyo. Masao Miyoshi, in his review of Yasunari Kawabata talks about this ‘dependence of visualization’ as a result of his being essentially a short-story writer. Reiko Tsukimara in ‘A Thematic Study of the Works of Kawabata Yasunari’ identifies ‘ryoshu’ and ‘aishu’ as two primary elements in Kawabata’s work. Ryoshu is described as an ‘intense emotional realization that you have found a home of your soul’ and aishu translates to ‘sorrow’ (Tsukimara 23). According to Tsukimara, these two emotions recur in Kawabata’s writing most persistently. They appear together as the recognition of finding a home for one’s soul or ryoshu is accompanied by a sense of profound sorrow or aishu as well. This paper will seek to explore what previous scholars have already commented on Kawabata’s writing technique and thematic concerns and test them on what has been called his masterpiece by Edward G. Seidensticker, Yukiguni or Snow Country. The paper will also explore if there are departures from his usual style and from what scholars like Tsukimara and Miyoshi assert. And finally, it will attempt to make fresh observations on Kawabata’s style through the study of Snow Country. Snow Country began as a short story that was published in 1935 in a literary journal. It was published serially, with Kawabata reworking later, between 1935 and 1937. A new ending and a collation of seven pre-existing versions appeared in 1937. Kawabata again worked on the story and between 1940 and 1941 the story was again published in journals in two sections. These two sections were merged by Kawabata in 1946, with another piece added in 1947. The book as it stands today was the result of combining nine previous versions, published in 1948 (Seidensticker). This complex and long publication history of the story and the its ‘piecemeal’ nature as Seidensticker calls it in his introduction to Snow Country’s translation reiterates the idea of Kawabata as being primarily a short-story writer. The repeated editing and elaborating of what began as a
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