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In Japanese the term “Yukiguni”, or in English “Snow Country”, is used to describe those areas between the mountains of western Honshu and the Sea of Japan, which receive huge amounts of snow during the winter months. It is within this area where this novel is set.
The story takes place during the 1930s. The main protagonist, Shimamura, is a wealthy married man from Tokyo who Kawabata describes as a shallow dinette and a playboy. Tired of the city Shimamura takes a train to a rural hot spring resort in the depths of the mountains. On the train his eye catches a beautiful girl, Komako, who is a local geisha in which he engages in an affair with her.
The hot spring resort in this novel is not the typical family holiday resort that Westerners have come to expect. Rather the tradition in Japan, as shown in this novel, is that hot spring resorts in the Snow Country were expected to cater lone travelling males who are in search for female companionship. Geishas within these rural resorts differ from those who are found in major cities, such as Tokyo, where their primary role is to provide entertainment. Geishas from hot springs were expected to provide a more involved form of entertainment for their male patrons. Insert quote. The twisted relationship between Shimamura and Komako which is meant to be a romance is doomed from the very start. While Komako is in love with Shimamura he is not in love with her. He is only in love with her beauty and her arts which most certainly different then being in love.
A telling detail of his shallow dilettante and play boy character is that he claims to be an expert in Western ballet he has not once seen an actual ballet performance in his life. His entire knowledge on the subject is derived from books. This act is a type of symbolism that shows the reader that Shimamura is on purposely distancing himself from life and reality.
A second characteristic of Japanese culture that has a heavy presence in this novel is the term the Japanese call ‘mono no aware’ which translates to insert quote. An example of this is that our female protagonist, Komako, is described as “a particularly poignant symbol of wasted, decaying beauty” right at the beginning of the novel. On top of this many of the natural phenomena, such the autumn leaves and the prominent snow, are noted for their fleeting and transient character which reflect that this idea of romance within the novel will also wither away in the end.
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