Nobel Laureate novelist Yasunari Kawabata
Literature Desk :
ovelist Yasunari Kawabata was the first Japanese novelist, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature (1968). Many of Kawabataâ€™s books explore melancholically the place of sex in culture and peopleâ€™s lives. His works combine old Japanâ€™s beauty with modernist trends, realism with surrealistic visions. Over the course of his life, Kawabata wrote more than a hundred â€˜palm-of-the-handâ€™ stories-as the author called them. They were usually two or three pages long, and expressed according to Kawabata the essence of his art.
In one of the stories, â€˜Up in the Tree,â€™ Michiko and Keisuke, both fourth graders, share a secret. Keisuke tells her that his parents quarrel, and his father has another woman.
He once climbed a tree in the garden so that his mother couldnâ€™t take him and go back to her parentsâ€™ house. Since then he has been up in the tree a lot.
â€œThe â€˜secretâ€™ of their being up in the tree had continued for almost two years now. Where the thick trunk branched out near the top, the two could sit comfortably. Michiko, straddling one branch, leaned back against another. There were days when little birds came and days when the wind sang through the pine needles. Although they weren't that high off the ground, these two little lovers felt as if they were in a completely different world, far away from the earth.â€ (from â€˜Up in the Treeâ€™)
Yasunari Kawabata was born in Osaka into a prosperous and cultured family. He learned to know loneliness and rootlessness early -- he was orphaned at age of three, his grandmother died when he was seven, and his only sister when he was nine.
The family deaths deprived Kawabata of normal childhood and some critics have seen that these early traumas formed the background for the sense of loss and regret which run through his writing. In 1920, he started his literature studies at Tokyo Imperial University, and graduated in 1924.
With a group of young writers, Kawabata founded the journal Bungei Jidai (Contemporary Literature). It was an advocate of the Neo-Sensualist movement, which opposed dominating realistic school of writing and was interested in European avant-garde literature. Kawabata wrote also the film script for Kinugasa Teinosukeâ€™s expressionist A Page of Madness (1926).
Kawabata gained his first success in 1925 with the novella IZU NO ODORIKO (The Izu Dancer). The autobiographical work recounted his youthful infatuation with a fourteen-year-old dancer, whose legs stretched â€˜up like a paulownia sapling.â€™ The story ends with a separation. Young women appeared also in other Kawabataâ€™s works, such as NEMURERU BIJO (1961, Sleeping Beauty) and the short novel TANPOPO (Dandelion, posthumous).
The fragmented ASAKUSA KURENAIDAN (1930) was set in the district east of Tokyo, famous for its geisha houses, dancers, bars, prostitutes, and theaters. Noteworthy, the novel was serialized in the newspaper Asashi Shimbun, making modernist, experimental fiction known also to a wider audience. After marriage in 1931 Kawabata settled in the ancient samurai capital of Kamakura, north of Tokyo, spending the winters in Zushi. During World War II Kawabata remained neutral. He travelled in Manchuria, and studied The Tale of Genji, an eleventh-century Japanese novel. In 1954, appeared Kawabataâ€™s perhaps best work, YAMA NO OTO (The Sound of the Mountains), which depicted family crisis in a series of linked episodes. The protagonist, Shingo, represents traditional Japanese caring of human relationships and nature. He is concerned about the marital crises of his two children. Scenes from the heroâ€™s daily life are interwoven with poetic descriptions of nature, dreams, and recollections.
In the 1960s, Kawabata made a tour in the United States, lecturing in universities. In the late 1960s Kawabata became socially active. He campaigned for conservative political candidates and signed with Yukio Mishima and other writers an address condemning Cultural Revolution in China. He was also president of the Japanese PEN club and actively helped aspiring writers. Kawabata condemned in his Nobel acceptance speech suicide, perhaps remembering several of his fellow writers who had died by their own hands. However, Kawabata had long suffered from poor health and on April 16, 1972, two years after Mishimaâ€™s suicide, Kawabata committed suicide in Zushi by gassing himself. He left no note.
Kawabata combined Japanese refined aesthetics with psychological narrative and eroticism. In his early works Kawabata experimented with surrealistic techniques. His naturalistic style became later more impressionistic. Among Kawabataâ€™s famous works after World War II is The Snow Country (finished 1948), the story of a middle-aged aesthete, Shimamura, and an aging geisha, Komako. As a background of their sporadic affair is a distinct isolated location, a hotspring resort west of the central mountain range, where winters are dark, long and silent. â€œAfter all, these fingers keep a vivid memory of the woman I am going to see,â€ Shimamura thinks when he travels to the snow country by train. It takes him to another place, away from his ballet book he is writing. But this far-off destination gives him only a temporary home, a reflection of something else when the night transforms the coach's window into a mirror. Komako is violently in love with him, and she is not a reflection, created according to Shimamura's aesthetic vision. Kawabata later told that he modelled her after a real character.
Thousand Cranes, which appeared in 1952, used the tea ceremony as a background and was based on the classical work The Tales of Genji. In Beauty and Sadness (1965) Kawabata told of the reunion of an elderly man and a woman artists, and the revenge of the artist's young protÃ©gÃ©e. In this work, as in other late works, Kawabata's approach was open-ended: the tale do not reveal itself fully, more is implied, left to the imagination of the readers, then made explicit.
The Master of Go (trans. 1972), one of his less-well-known novels, was a fictionalized account of a 1938 go match between an old champion and a young challenger. Go is Japanâ€™s ancient game of strategy and finally, when the players emerge from isolation, the tradition itself has lost.