Snow Country Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Yasunari Kawabata

First published: Yukiguni, 1935–1937, serial; 1947, book (English translation, 1956)

Genre: Novel

Locale: A hot-spring resort in Niigata Prefecture, Japan

Plot: Psychological realism

Time: The mid-1930's

Shimamura, an idle man from Tokyo, perhaps in early middle age, who makes a series of visits to a village in Japan's “snow country.” There, he takes advantage of the hot springs and breathtaking scenery. He also strikes up an ambiguously spiritual and sensual relationship with Komako, a young apprentice geisha. Married with children, Shimamura is unable to make a lifetime commitment to Komako. More to the point, he is unable to invest himself emotionally in their affair, such as it is, or, it seems, in any aspect of his life. An amateur writer on classical Western dance, which he experiences only through books, Shimamura notes the “wasted effort” of Komako's life but seems unaware of his own emptiness until the novel's final scene.

Komako, a young geisha with whom Shimamura has a relationship stretching over several years. Komako begins the novel as something less than a full geisha, though in ways she seems older than her years. By the novel's end, the example of another geisha has been used to suggest that Komako will age quickly in her role as a professional entertainer of men. In addition, Komako's personality undergoes change. She becomes cynical and acutely sensitive. Komako's life has been sad. She is forced by financial necessity to give up her interest in dance and work as a geisha. Aside from Shimamura, she has no lover for whom she feels deeply. In addition, a man to whom she may have been engaged becomes ill and dies young. These difficulties never kill Komako's spirit. She faithfully keeps her diary and hones her musical skills. She also has a tendency to drink too much sake and is often confused in her feelings, particularly regarding Shimamura.

Yukio, the son of Komako's music teacher, rumored to have been Komako's fiancé (a rumor she vehemently denies). Yukio returns to the village to die. As he is about to expire, he calls for Komako to be at his side. Komako is seeing Shimamura off at the train station and refuses to return when Yukio's request is brought to her, even though Shimamura urges her to be at the dying man's side. Yukio dies before Komako's return.

Yoko, Yukio's nurse and Komako's friend. Yoko is much younger and more innocent than Komako. She remains devoted to Yukio until his death. Afterward, she spends considerable time mourning at his grave. Shimamura is captivated by Yoko's voice and her apparent purity. Yoko is considering a trip to Tokyo so that she might be trained as a geisha. Komako refuses to answer Shimamura's questions about Yoko, and relations between the two women become strained after Yukio's death. In the final scene, Yoko dies in a fire. Komako rushes forward to carry her lifeless body from the ruins. This display of naked passion brings Shimamura face to face with his own emptiness.

Categories: Characters