Authors: Yasunari Kawabata

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Japanese novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Izu no odoriko, 1926 (The Izu Dancer, 1955)

Asakusa kurenaidan, 1930

Matsugo no me, 1930

Kinjū, 1933 (Of Birds and Beasts, in The House of the Sleeping Beauties, and Other Stories, 1969)

Yukiguni, 1935-1937 (serial), 1947 (book; Snow Country, 1956)

Hana no warutsu, 1936

Hokura no nikki, 1940 (The Mole, 1955)

Meijin, 1942-1954 (serial), 1954 (book; The Master of Go, 1972)

Utsukushii tabi, 1947

Otome no minato, 1948

Sembazuru, 1949-1951 (serial), 1952 (book; Thousand Cranes, 1958)

Yama no oto, 1949-1954 (serial), 1954 (book; The Sound of the Mountain, 1970)

Asakusa monogatari, 1950

Hi mo tsuki mo, 1953

Saikonsha, 1953

Suigetsu, 1953 (The Moon on the Water, 1958)

Kawa no aru shitamachi no hanashi, 1954

Mizuumi, 1954 (serial), 1955 (book; The Lake, 1974)

Tokyo no hito, 1955

Nemureru bijo, 1960-1961 (serial), 1961 (book; The House of the Sleeping Beauties, in The House of the Sleeping Beauties, and Other Stories, 1969)

Utsukushisa to kanashimi to, 1961-1963 (serial), 1965 (book; Beauty and Sadness, 1975)

Kyoto, 1962 (The Old Capital, 1987)

Kataude, 1965 (One Arm, 1967)

Shōsetsu nyumon, 1970

Aru hito no sei no naka ni, 1972

Tampopo, 1972

Short Fiction:

Shokonsai ikkei, 1921

Suishō gensō, 1934

Jōjōka, 1938

Shiroi mangetsu, 1948

Maihime, 1951

Bungei tokuhon Kawabata Yasunari, 1962

The House of the Sleeping Beauties, and Other Stories, 1969

Kōgen, 1969

Tenohira no shōsetsu, 1969

Shui yueh, 1971

Honehiroi, 1975

Tenjū no ko, 1975

Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, 1988

Nonfiction:

Jurūkosai no nikki, 1925

Shinshin sakka no shinkeikō kaisetsu, 1925

Bungakuteki jijoden, 1934

Rakka ryusui, 1966

Bi no sonzai to hakken/The Existence and Discovery of Beauty, 1969 (bilingual)

Utsukushii nihon no watakushi/Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself, 1969 (bilingual)

Isso ikka, 1973

Nihon no bi no kokoro, 1973

Translations:

Ocho monogatari shū, 1956-1958 (of ancient Japanese stories)

Isoppu, 1968 (of Aesop’s fables)

Miscellaneous:

Kawabata Yasunari zenshū, 1948-1969

Fuji no hatsuyuki, 1958 (8 stories and one play; First Snow on Fuji, 1999)

Biography

The Nobel Prize-winning novelist Yasunari Kawabata (kah-wah-bah-tah) is probably Japan’s most sophisticated stylist and certainly its most celebrated author in the twentieth century. The son of a physician, Kawabata as a boy acquired the nickname “master of funerals” as a result of losing many near relatives at an early age. His father died when he was two years old, his mother the next year, his grandmother when he was seven years old, his elder sister when he was ten, and his grandfather six years later. He attended various private schools but did not go to college, and in 1921 his first story was published, the style of which was distinctly modernist and would gain for Kawabata entry into the ranks of the Japanese Shinkankakuha (neoperceptionist) school of writing that was then current in Japan. In the same year his fiancée rejected him, a shock that stayed with him for years.{$I[AN]9810001112}{$I[A]Kawabata, Yasunari}{$I[geo]JAPAN;Kawabata, Yasunari}{$I[tim]1899;Kawabata, Yasunari}

Yasunari Kawabata

(©The Nobel Foundation)

Kawabata experimented and composed works in the modernist vein of the neoperceptionists throughout the 1920’s and early 1930’s, although his allegiance to this school was not absolute. In fact, his most well-known novel, The Izu Dancer (which also appeared in an abridged form), was written in a very traditional style. Thoroughly modernist in tone were Asakusa kurenaidan and stories that employed a stream-of-consciousness technique that Kawabata had learned from reading James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) in translation. Kawabata had always been a very private person, but by 1933 he had begun to participate more actively in the Japanese literary world and had joined the staffs of a number of literary magazines. He gained national prominence as a novelist with the publication of Snow Country, a novel that marked his return to Japanese tradition and beauty and his renewed interest in the Japanese woman.

After Snow Country he no longer needed to write monthly reviews, as he had done since 1922. He did, however, continue to write works of popular fiction, which, unlike his serious fiction, appeared in women’s magazines. The defeat of Japan in World War II profoundly affected Kawabata, and he declared that henceforth he would concentrate even more on the traditions of Japanese beauty. Thousand Cranes, The Master of Go, and The House of the Sleeping Beauties followed. Kawabata remained very active in the public arena, founding a publishing company that helped bring to light such writers as Yukio Mishima. He was elected president of the Japanese PEN Club in 1948 and traveled around the world on its behalf. Upon winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968 he traveled to Sweden to deliver his acceptance speech, which he entitled “Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself.” He died by suicide in a city near Tokyo, Japan, on April 16, 1972.

Kawabata’s art gradually resolved itself into a discovery of beauty and meaning in every aspect of the world around him. He especially appreciated the ideal Japanese woman, who for him was an unattainable young girl. Most of his works, beginning with his work The Izu Dancer in 1926, include male/female relationships that remain unfulfilled or unconsummated. A further refinement of this idea was his special interest in the sadness and beauty of human dedication. There are many examples of this interest in Snow Country, whose heroine, Komako, a geisha living in an isolated mountain resort town, is admired because she has worked so hard for no logical reason. Kawabata was especially fascinated by human effort that was eventually shown to have been in vain.

Kawabata wrote in an unstructured style that depended heavily on suggestion and evocation. Although at first influenced by avant-garde European theories of writing, he later returned to the Japanese tradition, especially the haiku, to achieve the desired effects. Many of his novels display varying degrees of ambiguity, while some, as in the case of The Sound of the Mountain, consist largely of a series of haikulike images–many paragraphs are only one sentence long–rather than a straightforward narration. His preferred method of publication, serialization, perfectly suited this deemphasis of straightforward narration and plot. Not only were most of his novels serialized in literary magazines, but different installments might appear in different magazines without the expectation that readers would necessarily have seen a preceding part.

Kawabata began writing in the 1920’s, a period that saw some Japanese writers enthusiastically copying then current Western ideas of expressionism, Dadaism, and Symbolism. He demonstrated that the Japanese tradition, especially the poetic tradition, provided ample resources for revitalizing and modernizing the Japanese novel. His later works, as of Snow Country, are amazingly progressive in style and effect, though they owe their inspiration far more to Japanese poetic tradition than to avant-garde European manifestos.

BibliographyGessel, Van C. Three Modern Novelists: Soseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata. New York: Kodansha International, 1993. Concentrates on Kawabata’s detachment from modernity. Contains excellent biographical background and detailed notes but no bibliography.Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984. Fifty-nine pages by this eminent critic and translator of Japanese fiction are devoted to Kawabata. Traces many of Kawabata’s themes to his childhood experiences and gives the circumstances of publication and reception of his major works. Keene believes that Kawabata’s main preoccupations were Japanese landscapes, Japanese women, and Japanese art. Contains a bibliography and extensive notation.Morris, Mark. “Orphans.” The New York Times, October 12, 1997. A review of The Dancing Girl of Izu, discussing the title story and the “palm-of-hand” stories in the collection; generally praises the stories as excellent examples of Kawabata’s early short fiction.Napier, Susan J. The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature: The Subversion of Modernity. New York: Routledge, 1996. See chapter 3, “Woman Lost: The Dead, Damaged, or Absent Female in Postwar Fantasy,” and especially the separate discussion of “Sleeping with the Dead: Kawabata’s House of Sleeping Beauties and One Arm.”Palmer, Thom. “The Asymmetrical Garden: Discovering Yasunari Kawabata.” Southwest Review 74 (1989): 390-402. Discusses Kawabata’s small fictions called “palm-of-the-hand stories”; asserts they are stylized, intuitive studies of the tension, mystery, and beauty of being alive in an “ephemeral, unfathomable universe.”Petersen, Gwenn Boardman. The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1979. An excellent critical study, emphasizing nuances of Japanese style and culture. Includes a chronology, a bibliography and explanatory notes.Starrs, Roy. Soundings in Time: The Fictive Art of Kawabata Yasunari. Richmond, England: Japan Library, 1998. A good study of Kawabata’s fiction.Swann, Thomas E., and Kinya Tsuruta. Approaches to the Modern Japanese Short Story. Tokyo: Waseda University Press, 1982. Analyzes “The Izu Dancer,” The House of the Sleeping Beauties, and “One Arm.”Tsuruta, Kinya, and Thomas E. Swann, eds. Approaches to the Modern Japanese Novel. Tokyo: Sophia University, 1976. See Makota Ueda’s essay, “The Virgin, the Wife, and the Nun: Kawabata’s Snow Country.”Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1976. Devoting forty-five pages to Kawabata, this distinguished Japanese scholar emphasizes the elements of positive thought and action, vitality, beauty, and purity in Kawabata’s work. Complemented by a bibliography and an index.
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