Kawabata, Yasunari (14 June 1899 - 16 April 1972)
Yasunari Kawabata (14 June 1899 - 16 April 1972)
Van C. Gessel
Brigham Young University
This entry was expanded by Gessel from his Kawabata entry in DLB 180: Japanese Fiction Writers, 1868–1945.
BOOKS: Kanjō sōshoku (Tokyo: Kinseidō, 1926);
Izu no odoriko (Tokyo: Kinseidō, 1927); translated by Edward G. Seidensticker as The Izu Dancer (Tokyo: Hara Shobō, 1964);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Shinshin Kessaku Shōsetsu Zenshū series (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1929);
Boku no hyōhonshitsu, Shinkō Geijutsuha Sōsho series (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1930);
Hana aru shashin, Shinkō Geijutsuha Sōsho series (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1930);
Asakusa kurenaidan (Tokyo: Senshinsha, 1930); translated by Alisa Freedman as The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005);
Keshō to kuchibue (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1933);
Suishō gensō, Bungei Fukkō Soshō series (Tokyo: Kaizōsha, 1934);
Kawabata Yasunari shū (Tokyo: Kaizōsha, 1934);
Jojōka (Tokyo: Takemura Shobō, 1934);
Kinju (Tokyo: Noda Shobō, 1935);
Junsui no koe (Tokyo: Sara Shoten, 1936);
Hana no warutsu (Tokyo: Kaizōsha, 1936);
Yukiguni (Tokyo: Sōgensha, 1937; revised, 1948); translated by Seidensticker as Snow Country (New York: Knopf, 1957);
Musumegokoro (Tokyo: Takemura Shobō, 1937);
Josei kaigan (Tokyo: Sōgensha, 1937; revised edition, Tokyo: Eikōsha, 1947);
Kyūchō no tantei (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1937);
Otome no minato (Tokyo: Jitsugyō no Nihonsha, 1938);
Tampenshū, Hakushoku Sōsho series (Tokyo: Sunagoya Shobō, 1939);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Shin Nihon Bungaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Kaizōsha, 1940);
Shōgatsu sanganichi (Tokyo: Shinseikaku, 1940);
Negao, Yūkō Meisaku Senshū series (Tokyo: Yūkōsha, 1941);
Shōsetsu no kōsei (Tokyo: Mikasa Shobō, 1941);
Aisuru hitotachi (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1941);
Bunshō (Tokyo: Tōhō Shobō, 1942);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Saidai Meisaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō, 1942);
Utsukushii tabi (Tokyo: Jitsugyō no Nihonsha, 1942);
Kōgen (Tokyo: Kōchō Shorin, 1942);
Ai (Tokyo: Bitokusha, 1945);
Komadori Onsen (Tokyo: Shōnan Shobō, 1945);
Asagumo (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1946);
Hijaku (Tokyo: Shinkigensha, 1946);
Yūbae shōjo (Tokyo: Tanchō Shobō, 1946);
Onsenyado (Tokyo: Jitsugyō no Nihonsha, 1946);
Gakkō no hana (Tokyo: Shōnan Shobō, 1946);
Chirinuru o (Tokyo: Maeda Shuppansha, 1946);
Issō ikka (Tokyo: Seiryusha, 1948);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, 2 volumes (Tokyo: Hosokawa Shoten, 1948);
Shiroi mangetsu (Tokyo: Rotte Shuppansha, 1948);
Aishū (Tokyo: Hosokawa Shoten, 1949);
Nihon shōsetsu daihyōsaku zenshū (Tokyo: Koyama Shoten, 1949);
Asakusa monogatari (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1950);
Kageki gakkō (Tokyo: Himawarisha, 1950);
Shin bunshō tokuhon (Tokyo: Akane Shobō, 1951);
Maihime (Tokyo: Asahi Shimbunsha, 1951);
Kawabata Yasunari shū (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1951);
Shōsetsu nyūmon (Tokyo: Kaname Shobō, 1952);
Sembazuru (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1952); translated by Seidensticker as Thousand Cranes (New York: Knopf, 1958);
Tenohira no shōsetsu hyappen (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1952);
Saikonsha (Tokyo: Mikasa Shobō, 1953);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Shōwa Bungaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1953);
Hi mo tsuki mo (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1953);
Matsugo no me (Tokyo: Sōgensha, 1953);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Chōhen Shōsetsu Zenshū series (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1953);
Kawa no aru shitamachi no hanashi (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1954);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Gendai Bungō Meisaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō, 1954);
Yama no oto (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1954); translated by Seidensticker as The Sound of the Mountain (New York: Knopf, 1970);
Meijin (Tokyo: Bungei Shunjū Shinsha, 1954); translated by Seidensticker as The Master of Go (New York: Knopf, 1972; London: Secker & Warburg, 1973);
Dōyō (Tokyo: Tōhōsha, 1954);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Nihon Shōnen Shōjo Meisaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō, 1954);
Izu no tabi (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1954);
Niji ikutabi (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō, 1955);
Shin’yū (Tokyo: Kaiseisha, 1955);
Tōkyō no hito, 4 volumes (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1955);
Mizuumi (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1955); translated by Reiko Tsukimura as The Lake (Tokyo & New York: Kodansha International, 1974; London: Peter Owen, 1977);
Kawabata Yasunari shū (Tokyo: Tōzai Bunmeisha, 1955);
Shōsetsu no kenkyū (Tokyo: Kaname Shobō, 1955);
Tamayura (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1955);
Tsubame no dōjo (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1955);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Gendai Nihon Bungaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1955);
Onna de aru koto, 2 volumes (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1956–1957);
Fuji no hatsuyuki (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1958);
Kaze no aru michi (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1959);
Nemureru bijo (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1961); translated by Seidensticker as “House of the Sleeping Beauties,” in House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories (Tokyo & New York: Kodansha International, 1969; London: Quadriga, 1969);
Koto (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1962); translated by J. Martin Holman as The Old Capital (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987);
Jūnin hyakuwa (Tokyo: Mainichi Shimbunsha, 1963);
Kawabata Yasunari tampen zenshū (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1964);
Koto no fu (Tokyo: Yuyudō, 1964);
Utsukushisa to kanashimi to (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1965); translated by Howard Hibbett as Beautyand Sadness (New York: Knopf, 1975; London: Secker & Warburg, 1975);
Kataude (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1965); translated by Seidensticker as “One Arm,” in House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories;
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Nihon Bungaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō, 1966);
Kawabata Yasunari jisenshū (Tokyo: Shūeisha, 1966);
Rakka ryūsui (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1966);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Gendai Nihon Bungakukan series (Tokyo: Bungei Shunjū, 1966);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, 2 volumes, Nihon Bungaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Shūeisha, 1966–1967);
Kawabata Yasunari, 2 volumes, Karāban Nihon Bungaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō, 1967–1970);
Gekka no mon (Tokyo: Yamato Shobō, 1967);
Kawabata Yasunari sakuhinshū (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1968);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Gendai Nihon Bungaku series (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1968);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Shinchō Nihon Bungaku series (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1968);
Kawabata Yasunari shōrten shōjo shōsetsu shū (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1968);
Utsukushii Nihon no watakushi–sono josetsu (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1969); translated by Seidensticker as Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself: The 1968 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech (Tokyo & New York: Kōdansha International, 1969);
Kawabata Yasunari, Gendai Chōhen Bungaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1969);
Kawabata Yasunari, Nihon Bungaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1969);
Kawabata Yasunari, Gendai Nihon no Bungaku series (Tokyo: Gakushū Kenkyūsha, 1969);
Bi no sonzai to hakken, translated by V. H. Viglielmo as The Existence and Discovery of Beauty (Tokyo: Mainichi Shimbunsha, 1969);
Kawabata Yasunari shū, Akatsuki Meisakukan Nihon Bungaku Shiriizu series (Tokyo: Akatsuki Kyōiku Tosho, 1970);
Kawabata Yasunari, Nōberu Bungaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Shufu no Tomosha, 1971);
Teihon Yukiguni (Tokyo: Bokuyōsha, 1971);
Kawabata Yasunari, Nihon Bungaku Zenshū series (Tokyo: Shūeisha, 1971);
Taidan Nihon no bungaku (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1971);
Aru hito no sei no naka ni (Tokyo: Kawada Shobō Shinsha, 1972);
Tampopo (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1972);
Nemureru bijo / Yukigunishō (Tokyo: Horupu Shuppan, 1972);
Take no koe momo no hana (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1973);
Nihon no bi no kokoro (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1973);
Kotsuhiroi: Tenohira no shōsetsu (Tokyo: Yumanite, 1975);
Tenju no ko (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1975);
Sansai ryokuyū kaiyū, by Kawabata, Tetsuzō Tanikawa, and Shichi Narasaki (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1976);
Tokoname atsumi sanage, by Kawabata, Tanikawa, and Narasaki (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1976);
Shigaraki bizen tamba, by Kawabata, Tanikawa, and Narasaki (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1976);
Seto minō, by Kawabata, Tanikawa, and Narasaki (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1976);
Nāshissasu (Tokyo: Tōjusha, 1977);
Konrei to sōrei (Tokyo: Sōgensha, 1978);
Maihime no koyomi (Tokyo: Mainichi Shimbunsha, 1979);
Umi no himatsuri (Tokyo: Mainichi Shimbunsha, 1979).
Collections: Kawabata Yasunari senshū, 9 volumes (Tokyo: Kaizōsha, 1938–1939);
Kawabata Yasunari zenshū, 16 volumes (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1948–1954);
Kawabata Yasunari zenshū, 10 volumes (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1956);
Kawabata Yasunari zenshū, 12 volumes (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1959–1961);
Kawabata Yasunari zenshū, 19 volumes (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1969–1974);
Bungei jihyō (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2003).
Editions in English: Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, translated by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1988; Tokyo: Tuttle, 1988; London: Picador Classics, 1989);
The Dancing Girl of lzu and Other Stories, translated by Holman (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1997);
Tales with Two Souls: A Variety in Time and Culture, translated by Peter Metevelis (Pittsburgh: Dorrance, 1999);
First Snow on Fuji, translated by Michael Emmerich (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1999).
OTHER: Gendai jidō bungaku jiten, edited by Kawabata, Mimei Ogawa, and Tsunatake Furuya (Tokyo: Hōbunko, 1955);
Mizuumi, edited by Kawabata (Tokyo: Yuki Shobō, 1961);
Kyōto jiten, edited by Kawabata (Tokyo: Jinbutsu ōraisha, 1967);
Gakushō shin kokugo jiten, edited by Kawabata and Umetomo Saeki (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1968);
Aesop, Isoppu, translated by Kawabata (Tokyo: Fureberu-kan, 1968);
Bunshō no gihō, edited by Kawabata, Sen’ichi Hisamatsu, and Yoshimoto Endō (Tokyo: Meiji Shoin, 1970);
Ōchō monogatarishū, 2 volumes, edited by Kawabata (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 1971–1972);
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter / Taketori monogatari, modern retelling by Kawabata, translated by Donald Keene, bilingual edition (Tokyo: Kōdansha International, 1998).
Yasunari Kawabata was the first (and, until 1994, the only) Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he won in 1968. His writings attracted a worldwide audience who saw in them expressions of the traditional beauty and aesthetic values of Japan as well as some of the exoticism that was expected in books about the country. Yet, Kawabata’s work is much more complex and multidimensional than such a reading suggests. His writings, particularly those of the postwar years, certainly celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Japan, but a careful reading reveals that his preoccupation with the past resulted less from a desire to preserve tradition than from a desire to indulge in the pleasures of the past precisely because they were unattainable. One motif common to most of Kawabata’s works is that of distancing: characters rush away from becoming involved with others; men and women, though always attracted to one another, seem like identical magnetic poles in pushing away from those for whom they yearn. Only if one admires beauty from a distance can it remain unspoiled, and both one’s appreciation of that remote beauty and one’s resignation in recognizing that it can never be intimately embraced can preserve such unspoiled beauty. The intricate, sometimes enigmatic aesthetic values in Kawabata’s writings are intriguing, but they, like his characters, are not easily approached and apprehended.
Yasunari Kawabata was born in Osaka on 14 June 1899, the second of two children (Yoshiko, his sister, was four years older than he). His family, while not particularly well-to-do by the time of his birth, could trace its heritage to the third military regent of Japan in the early thirteenth century, and this lineage gave the family some status in the village. His ancestors had erected a temple of the Obaku Zen sect of Buddhism in town, and Yasunari’s father, Eikichi Kawabata, had obtained a medical license and become assistant director of a clinic in Osaka. His father had also studied Confucian philosophy, Chinese poetry, and painting in addition to pursuing his medical interests; but he was a man of feeble constitution, and his children inherited his respiratory problems. Kawabata wrote that his family was convinced he would not survive childhood. His father succumbed to tuberculosis when Yasunari was only two years old, and less than a year later his mother, Gen Kawabata, died from the same illness. Yoshiko was taken to live with her maternal aunt, and Yasunari joined his grandparents, Sanpachirō and Kane, in a farming village on the outskirts of Osaka.
Kawabata’s grandfather was essentially blind by this time, but he encouraged the boy to pursue his interest in painting. In fall 1906 Kawabata’s grandmother died, the third close relative that the boy had lost in five years. Three years later his sister, Yoshiko, died at age fourteen. Kawabata had seen her only twice in the seven years since they had been separated, and he felt detached when the news of her death arrived. Living alone with his blind grandfather, Kawabata developed a lifelong habit of staring mutely, for long periods of time, into the faces of people around him, often to the dismay of those who did not understand the reason for his stares. He also became a voracious reader, even struggling through demanding classics of the Heian period (794–1185) such as Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon. Kawabata later claimed that his reading of these ancient texts by women had profoundly influenced his use of language and his literary sensibilities. He had read every volume in the library of his elementary school by his last year there.
Kawabata entered the Ibaraki Middle School in 1912, and before long he decided to become a writer rather than a painter, a shift in career interests that pleased his sightless grandfather. His grandfather soon had him write a letter to an uncle who was providing them with a monthly stipend from the estate: Grandfather, the letter said, was surviving on a few swallows of soup each day, and the boy was contributing to his own sickly nature by eating only pickled plums by day and vegetables before bedtime. Kawabata also began writing essays and poetry, the latter in the new style and colloquial diction made popular by Tōson Shimazaki.
In spring 1914 Kawabata’s grandfather, his last surviving relative, was confined to his bed, and during the final month of the old man’s life Kawabata began writing a diary recounting his ministrations to the dying man. The toll on the psyche of the sixteen-year-old boy was heavy, and at times he would flee from the house and abandon the old man until after dark. The respite was fleeting, however, for Kawabata then felt guilty that his grandfather might die while he was absent. On the evening of the state funeral for the widow of Emperor Meiji in late May 1914, Kawabata’s grandfather died. Following all the deaths of his family members, others began to apply the title “master of funerals” to Kawabata. The boy spent a short time with an uncle and then the following January moved into the middle-school dormitory, where he remained until he graduated.
At school he began to read contemporary Japanese and Russian literature, but he remained under the sway of The Tale of Genji. A small local paper published some of his poems, essays, and short pieces of fiction, and after the unexpected death of his English teacher, Kawabata wrote “Shi no hitsugi o kata ni” (With Our Teacher’s Casket on Our Shoulders), his first story to be published in a literary journal when it appeared in Dan’ei in 1917. During his final year at the school he had a fleeting homosexual affair with another young man in his dormitory, a relationship that Kawabata claimed had “warmed and purified and saved me,” presumably from his loneliness.
Partly in the hope that he could at least pursue a career as a literary scholar if he were unable to succeed as a writer, Kawabata applied for admission to and was accepted by the English Literature Department of the First High School in Tokyo, one of the most prestigious public schools in the country. But he paid virtually no attention to the study of his major subject and in fact read mostly the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky and other Russian authors. Lacking confidence in his writing talents, loathing his new dormitory environment in Tokyo, and feeling sorrow at the end of his homosexual affair, Kawabata felt that his personality had been warped by what he called his “orphan’s disposition.”
To assuage his grief, in late autumn 1918 he set out on a walking tour across the Izu Peninsula, where he encountered a troupe of traveling entertainers and spent several days in their company. Judging from “Izu no odoriko” (1926, The Izu Dancer), the story he eventually wrote about the experience, the time he spent with these simple but honest country folk restored his sense of self-worth and his desire to continue his literary pursuits. The following year Kawabata published an account of his journey in the high-school journal, and he began frequenting a Tokyo restaurant known for its attractive young waitresses. He quickly developed a crush on one waitress, and by 1920, when he moved on to the English Literature Department at Tokyo Imperial University, he had fallen desperately in love with her.
At the university, he and a group of colleagues founded their own literary magazine with the support of Kan Kikuchi, the influential editor of Bungei Shunjŭ. Kikuchi praised highly the first story that Kawabata published in this coterie journal, and the editor continued to be an important literary and personal supporter of the young writer. Kawabata repaid this support by publishing much of his fiction in Bungei Shunjŭ, and Kikuchi also introduced Kawabata to Riichi Yokomitsu and several other writers who became his close friends and literary allies throughout his career.
Although the waitress whom Kawabata was romancing had only recently turned fifteen years old, Kawabata was determined to marry her. Kikuchi promised to provide some financial support; Kawabata visited the father of his fiancée in the “snow country” of northern Japan to gain his permission for the match; and all preparations were completed, but the young woman sent Kawabata a letter announcing that an unspecified “catastrophe” had occurred and that she could never see him again. He was crushed, for through his relationship with her Kawabata had hoped to regain the “heart of a child” that he had lost through the deaths of his family members. He avowed throughout his relationship with the girl that their relations had always been pure, that he had “never laid so much as a finger on the girl”; and one of his closest friends corroborated this claim by insisting that Kawabata “did not have a whit of sexual passion, sensuality, or carnality in him.”
Taking refuge in his writing, Kawabata started publishing reviews of contemporary fiction in a well-known monthly magazine, a pursuit that he continued for twenty years. Although other writers were founding and joining ideological and artistic camps and praising only their comrades, Kawabata became one of the most generous, unbiased critics of the modern period. By joining so many diverse artistic groups that none could claim his undivided loyalties, he remained aloof from literary factionalism and wrote his reviews based on what he saw as the intrinsic merits of the writing rather than on any affiliations the author might have.
After a year in the English Literature Department, Kawabata switched his major to Japanese literature–primarily, he claimed, because the Japanese Literature Department required less of its students, and the professors never took roll. By this time he had published translations of some stories by John Galsworthy, Lord Dunsany, and Anton Chekhov. Three years of study was the usual amount of time required to graduate from college, but after four years Kawabata still lacked enough credits in his major field to graduate. His professors took pity on him, and, perhaps hoping that he might develop into a writer, they allowed him to receive a diploma in 1924.
Soon after Kawabata had left the university, he and his friend Yokomitsu launched Bungei Jidai (The Age of the Literary Arts), a bold new literary journal that they hoped would be an outlet for a new kind of writing that followed the modernist experiments in Europe. The first issue of the journal appeared in October 1924, and the writing was so fresh and challenging that critics labeled the coterie as members of the Shinkankakuha (Neo-Perceptionist School). The authors associated with the movement had wearied of the dull, quasi-confessional narratives by writers of the Naturalist School and were yearning for new ways to express feelings and present human interactions. Although the movement was short-lived and produced only a few enduring works (mostly by Yokomitsu), the influence of this movement on Kawabata’s work was tremendous.
In the form of what he called “tenohira no shōsetsu” (palm-of-the-hand stories), brief sketches of human experience that he compared to the poetry that most authors produce in their youth, Kawabata published his earliest significant fiction in Bungei Jidai. Throughout his career he continued to write these stories, which total more than 140, and he also published a recast version of his account of his grandfather’s death as “Jūrokusai no nikki” (1925, Diary of My Sixteenth Year). As his fame increased, Kawabata moved about with great frequency between Tokyo and a hot springs resort on the Izu Peninsula. His literary colleagues, noting his proclivity for spending only a few months in any particular residence, began referring to him as an eien no tabibito (eternal traveler), a characterization that also metaphorically describes the fluid relationships between Kawabata’s literary characters and between the shapes of his narratives. Stylistically he is known as an elliptical, even surrealistic, writer whose work is governed more by a desire to evoke mood than by an interest in plot, structure, logical development, and so many of the other features often associated with the writing of fiction. Some critics have attributed these stylistic features to his interests in the literature written by women of the court in the tenth century, particularly in the masterpieces such as The Tale of Genji, but the influences of European modernistic technique on Kawabata’s style and approaches to writing are also of great significance.
In May 1925 Kawabata met Hideko Matsubayashi, a young woman with whom he soon began living in what became a common-law marriage until 1931, when the two finally registered formally as husband and wife. Around this time Kawabata was also writing a script for a motion-picture affiliate of the Neo-Perceptionist School, and critics regard this work, “Kurutta ippeiji” (1926, A Crazy Page), as a landmark in the impressionist motion-picture movement in Japan. The work, which was directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa and follows the actions of a man who has taken a job at an insane asylum so that he can observe the wife whom he has driven to madness, was named one of the best motion pictures of the year.
In 1926 Kawabata also published “Izu no odoriko,” the story that is typically regarded as the work that launched his career (and Kawabata once declared any author’s “maiden work” to be his masterpiece). While recounting fairly faithfully Kawabata’s journey around the Izu Peninsula in search of consolation following the many disappointments and losses of his youth, this story of an intelligent student joining a group of traveling performers regarded as social outcasts seems on the surface to be a straightforward look at youthful love. The reader first sees the student racing up a rain-swept mountain, hoping that he can catch up with the players whom he has seen from a distance in order to get a closer look at the beautiful dancing girl. Kawabata lets the reader think that this young man’s aim in pursuing the girl is commonplace–that he is hoping for an opportunity to fulfill his sexual yearning for her.
But the student makes an early discovery in one memorable scene of the story. When the young woman is soaking in an outdoor bath at an inn, she spots the student, leaps from the water, and stretches her naked body to its full length to wave at him and call his name. He quickly realizes that she cannot be more than twelve or thirteen years old, that she has been made up to appear much more mature on previous occasions when he has seen her. Readers might expect the student to feel disappointed and frustrated, but Kawabata surprises them by presenting the joyous relief that this young man feels at no longer finding a barrier of sexual tension separating him from these performers. He can draw emotionally close to them on a level untainted by desire, and they in turn can accept him as a “good person”–words that he hears from the dancing girl and that he had thought he might never hear again.
In representing the intense but passionless purity that becomes the ideal for many of Kawabata’s characters, the story gained a wide popular readership and was adapted as a motion picture at least five times following its publication. But the financial success it brought Kawabata was not immediate, and even when Kanjō sōshoku (1926, Decorations of Sentiment), his first collection of palm-of-the-hand stories, was published, Kawabata was forced to sell a copy of this collection to a used bookstore in order to have enough money to take a train into town to negotiate with a money lender.
Kawabata’s wife gave birth to a daughter in June 1927, but the infant died before she could be named. The couple never again attempted to have children, and Kawabata publicly expressed his fear of taking on the responsibility of parenting, which he described as an “audacious experiment.” He distanced himself from the emotions attending family relationships in much the same way that his fictional characters struggle to remain aloof while still participating in life.
After publishing Izu no odoriko (1927; translated as The Izu Dancer, 1964), another collection of stories, Kawabata, who had been making his home at one of the hot springs resorts on the Izu Peninsula, traveled to Tokyo in April 1927 to attend Yokomitsu’s wedding. There he decided that he and his wife should settle permanently in the city, where he could be close to the bustle of literary activity. One of his favorite undertakings was that of serving as a staff member of coterie magazines, and he was probably correct in estimating that he belonged to more editorial staffs at small magazines than any other writer of his day. His involvement in such enterprises widened his circle of contacts among literary figures, further expanded his associations with authors of different camps and persuasions, and gave him a chance to promote the careers of struggling writers who, without his support and encouragement, would have run into barriers of prejudice and disfavor from the establishment. He fostered the careers of writers such as Kanoko Okamoto, a female author, and Tamio Hōjō, a young leper whose stories Kawabata was able to get published and whose collected works Kawabata arranged to have printed after Hōjō’s death. The most famous of Kawabata’s literary disciples was Yukio Mishima, who survived a couple of scathing reviews of his first collection of stories partly through Kawabata’s support.
After settling in Tokyo, Kawabata began to frequent the many cafés and revue theaters in the Asakusa district, where he made friends with dancers and artists who provided him with a wealth of material for journals. He later published these tales in Asakusa kurenaidan (1930; translated as The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa, 2005), a work that succeeded in putting his favorite nightclub on solid financial ground for the first time. He collected so much material for stories that he attempted several sequels to Asakusa kurenaidan, but none was ever completed.
From 1930 to 1934 Kawabata lectured on literature once a week at the Bunka Gakuin school, not because he necessarily enjoyed the classroom but because his friend and mentor Kikuchi had been appointed to head the department of literature there. Visitors to Kawabata’s home at this time were astonished at the small menagerie of animals with which he had surrounded himself. Among these were nine dogs and so many birds that he was occasionally seen tossing a dead bird into a cupboard. In 1933 a misanthropic bird lover appeared as the protagonist of his story “Kinju” (translated as “Of Birds and Beasts,” 1969).
In the fall of 1933 Bungakukai, a literary journal destined to become influential, was launched, and Kawabata joined its staff. Bungakukai was especially interesting to Kawabata because it was the first Japanese literary journal to be free of intimate ties to any literary clique, and as such it provided Kawabata and other writers with opportunities to discuss and publish pieces from across the spectrum of literary approaches. His subsequent literary activities reflect some of the difficult choices facing Japanese writers in the mid 1930s. Though Kawabata could not be considered an eager collaborator with the various government agencies that worked to suppress seditious thought and writing as Japan moved closer to world war, he seemed to feel that any responsible writer should try to be involved with those associations that the government was establishing to oversee literary affairs. In January 1934 he joined a literary discussion group organized by a former head of the Public Security Division of the Home Ministry.
A more felicitous endeavor began after Kikuchi used Bungei Shunjū to establish a literary prize in honor of his friend Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, a writer who had committed suicide in 1927. The Akutagawa Prize was designed to recognize and encourage the talents of budding writers, and both Kawabata and Yokomitsu were asked to serve on the selection jury for the biannual prize when it was introduced in 1935. This task gave Kawabata yet another opportunity to promote the work of young authors, although in the first year that the prize was to be awarded some fledgling writers may have felt that he was using his position to thwart their ambitions. Osamu Dazai was particularly anxious to receive the first Akutagawa Prize, and he was furious when Kawabata dashed his chances by obliquely suggesting that Dazai’s drug addiction hampered his writing abilities. After Dazai had mounted letter-writing campaigns to gain the support of Kawabata and another member of the jury but still failed to win consideration for two subsequent prizes, Dazai stormed over to the house of the other juror and, in an excess of frustration, threw rocks at his house.
In 1935 Kawabata began to write and publish parts of Yukiguni (1937; translated as Snow Country, 1957), one of his best-known works. He did not conceive of this work as a long, unified narrative, but after having written an initial short story for a magazine, Kawabata felt what he called a “lingering attraction” to the characters and their situation, and he produced a second story for a different magazine with a later publication deadline. The narrative continued in this fashion, with Kawabata adding a new story as the whim struck him, until finally a collection of these connected stories was published as Yukiguni. He was never completely satisfied with the way the work ended, and finally, only three months before his death, Kawabata produced a brief palm-of-the-hand condensation of it.
The setting and imagery of Yukiguni are ideally suited to the kind of story Kawabata enjoyed relating. His male protagonist, Shimamura, is a critic of Western ballet and a peculiar dilettante who refuses to corrupt his idealized conception of that art form by actually viewing a performance of it. Shimamura is similarly comfortable in his relationship with Komako, the vibrant hot springs geisha, only because he can maintain a geographical (and emotional) distance between himself and her: in order to visit her, Shimamura travels from his home in Tokyo through a long, dark tunnel (like a passageway leading into a fairy-tale land) that crosses the frozen borders of the “snow country” in northern Japan. As the renowned opening passage of the novel presents Shimamura returning through the tunnel to visit Komako, mist from the steam has settled over the windows of the train, and when Shimamura swipes his finger across the glass he is startled to find a female eye appearing on its mirrorlike surface. That disembodied eye represents the only kind of relationship in which Shimamura is comfortable–one in which he is free to sit back and observe without suffering any messy emotional entanglement, to objectify women and other aesthetic pleasures in his life, and to maintain his distance so that he does not have to see all the details that might spoil his fantasies.
Shimamura continues to visit Komako, but when she becomes too real for him to remain comfortable, his mind shifts toward the beautiful, enigmatic Yōko–a woman who has been caring for her terminally ill lover and whom he has seen on the train. The novel ends indeterminately with Yōko critically injured–or perhaps killed–in a fire and with Shimamura convinced that it is time to break off his relationship with Komako.
In 1937 the initial collection of Yukiguni stories was published, and Kawabata celebrated its success by purchasing a second home in the resort town of Karuizawa, where he spent his summers throughout the World War II years. He seemed to withdraw more and more from society as the Japanese military tightened its control of the nation by censoring speech and published materials and by interrogating and imprisoning those accused of seditious thoughts. In summer 1938 Kawabata accepted a request from newspapers in Tokyo and Osaka to record the go matches in which Shūsai Honnimbō, the master player, was participating. Kawabata revised and restructured these accounts during a period of twelve years throughout and after the war until he finally produced Meijin (1954; translated as The Master of Go, 1972), which he regarded as his only completed work.
During the war Kawabata also served as a judge of young people’s compositions, helped elderly author Shimazaki edit a collection of his writings, and devoted much time to writing stories for children and popular audiences. Another means by which he sought to set aside the unpleasantness of the contemporary period was that of reading and rereading classical Japanese literature. Especially during the last two years of the war, as fire bombings of Tokyo mounted, Kawabata began rereading The Tale of Genji at every possible opportunity. His mind focused upon the days of ancient Japan, and he took pains to preserve and study copies of the tale during the calamitous warfare in the capital. Because The Tale of Genji had acquired so much personal significance for him, he began to regard himself as a vessel through which the traditions of the past could be safely preserved during the war and for the future.
In the spring of 1941 a Japanese newspaper that was published in occupied Manchurian territory invited Kawabata to visit. He attended a go tournament there and traveled to meet Japanese writers living in the colony. In September of that year he returned, this time under the official sponsorship of the Japanese government, and although he acceded to the request of the military that he deliver some lectures on the superior values of Japanese culture, he was most eager to travel around China and collect folktales. He cut his travels short in late November when rumors of an imminent crisis forced him to return to Japan just a few days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The wartime pursuit for which Kawabata is best remembered is his compiling of the writings left by those who had died in battle and the commentary that he provided on them. Published at the end of 1942 and throughout 1944 in serialized form in the newspaper Tokyo Shimbun, this series was “Eirei no ibun” (Posthumous Writings of the Spirits of Fallen Heroes).
In spring 1943 Kawabata and his wife adopted a young woman named Masako, the daughter of a maternal cousin. Before long, he dug an air-raid shelter in his garden and spent nights patrolling the neighborhood as part of a fire prevention initiative. In April 1945 he was assigned to visit a naval airbase at the southern tip of the main islands, and there he spent a month with soldiers who were preparing to become kamikaze pilots. Kawabata wrote one story, “Seimei no ki” (1946, The Tree of Life), about his observations there, but generally he seems to have been dispirited by the experience.
Three months before the end of the war, in yet another attempt to preserve something of the culture that he daily saw going up in flames around him, Kawabata contacted many established writers living in Kamakura and asked them to donate books to a lending library he wished to establish. His efforts succeeded, and he was able to set up the Kamakura Bunko library, which quickly moved into publishing after the war and began reprinting affordable editions of some of the best-known works of modern Japanese literature. The rapid resurgence of interest in reading and writing literature after the war, despite all the devastation and poverty, resulted partly from the efforts of the Kamakura Bunko publishers. By January 1946 the firm, which continued to contribute significantly to Japanese literature until it ceased operations in 1950, also launched its own literary magazine, Ningen (Humanity), to introduce the work of new writers–and in this journal Kawabata arranged for the publication of a story by an unknown writer, Mishima.
Kawabata’s enthusiasm for the publishing operations of Kamakura Bunko was obvious; he contributed his own stories to Ningen and published a new story for the Yukiguni series in the May 1946 issue of the journal. Beneath his flurry of activity, however, Kawabata clearly mourned the many lives and vestiges of culture that the war had destroyed. As a writer, he felt deeply the need to perpetuate traditions of beauty in Japan that were in danger of being lost. He remarked that what remained for him in the postwar years was to return to the ancient mountains and rivers and to produce elegies for the lost Japan. Mitsuo Nakamura, an astute Japanese critic, has suggested that Kawabata “sensed within the defeated people of Japan the same orphaned condition that had been his own in the past.” As if to certify his position as a “master of funerals,” Kawabata delivered the eulogies of many of his close literary friends, including Yokomitsu and Kikuchi.
Surrounding himself with cultural relics in the postwar years just as he had cluttered his house with birds and beasts in prewar days, Kawabata became an art collector and built up a reputable collection of eighteenth-century paintings and contemporary works by Japanese as well as Western artists. He attempted to produce modern versions of two works of classical Japanese literature, both The Tale of Genji and another Heian tale, Torikaebaya monogatari, but he was unable to complete either.
In 1947 the “completed” version of Yukiguni was published and received considerable acclaim, although Kawabata maintained reservations about it. Publication of a sixteen-volume set of his collected works began that year, and in June 1948 he was elected fourth president of P.E.N. Japan, a position that enabled him to foster and influence profoundly literary activities in Japan as well as to encourage the translation of Japanese works into other languages so that other people might begin to appreciate them. Kawabata served as president of P.E.N. Japan for seventeen years, through a period in which Japanese literature began to gain international recognition. Because of Kawabata’s new stature on the literary committee of this organization, a newspaper invited him to attend a session of the Tokyo War Crimes trials and publish what he observed, and on two subsequent occasions he was invited to Hiroshima to view the atomic bomb destruction. As president of P.E.N. Japan, Kawabata published statements in favor of nuclear disarmament and world peace, and in 1950 he sponsored a P.E.N. conference in Hiroshima on World Peace and Literature.
He also struggled to regain a sense of direction in his writing. Between 1948 and 1952 he wrote Shōrten (Boys; first published in the 1948–1954 collected works), a fictional reminiscence of his youthful encounter with the Izu dancer and his homosexual romance during his school days. Despite its direct connection with Kawabata’s experience, however, the work lacks the power and grace of his other writings and perhaps suffers from its lack of the “distance” that characterizes his best work.
One of Kawabata’s most creative periods was in 1949, when he began to publish serially both Sembazuru (1952; translated as Thousand Cranes, 1958) and Yama no oto (1954; translated as The Sound of the Mountain, 1970). Both of these serialized works are similar to Yukiguni in their structure and manner of composition, but Kawabata neither took as long to complete them nor continued to expand them later, as he had done with Yukiguni. Both Sembazuru and Yama no oto are not “novels” as much as they are two series of vignettes, each bound by common characters and natural imagery. Some critics have compared Kawabata’s mode of composition to that of a master in the renga, a medieval poetic form of linked verse in which one verse simultaneously terminates and transmutes the flash of imagistic inspiration in the preceding one–and thereby creates an amorphous form described as a “plotless narrative.” In some ways Kawabata’s work creates the same kinds of poetic effects and betrays the assumptions of Western readers, who expect something to happen in the way of beginning and ending a story. Kawabata seldom provides such tidy moments for his readers, and in that sense his work is both Japanese in temperament and strikingly modern, or even postmodern, in its literary orientation.
As another indication of Kawabata’s concern for the passing of old Japan, Sembazuru details what Kawabata saw as the degradation of the tea ceremony in contemporary Japan. Yet, the high point of his late fiction– in the words of Kenkichi Yamamoto, the “very summit of postwar Japanese literature”–was Yama no oto. “Izu no odoriko” is unquestionably the purest work of his youth, and Yukiguni is the best expression of a middle-aged author contemplating, but not fully resigned to, the distances separating him from others. But Yama no oto presents the vision of a wise but wounded man sensing the approach of death, recognizing that he grows increasingly distant from the world around him, and finding a retreat into his memories to be his only solace.
Shingo, the aging protagonist, has begun to forget what has happened recently but recalls the distant past with surprising clarity. Kawabata presents, in a way that Shingo cannot understand, an aging man who in postwar Japan is surrounded by tokens of his failure as a husband, father, and employee, one who can find peace only by hastening into a past that he has idealized as an alternative to this present reality. This character replicates something that Kawabata must have felt as he saw the passing of an ancient culture that he so loved; yet, Yama no oto transcends Kawabata’s personal recognition by drawing readers into the mind of Shingo as he struggles to prepare for his own death.
Amid all Shingo’s disappointments–in his wife, whom he sees as plain and coarse in contrast to her deceased sister, whom he loved in the distant past; in his children, who seem incapable of sustaining relationships with him or with their spouses; and in his work, which is drab and unfulfilling–the only present comfort Shingo can find is in his associations, both real and imagined, with Kikuko, his daughter-in-law. He can sustain an ideal image of her precisely because she is unattainable, as are his memories of the dead sister-in-law whom he had hoped to marry. He thus cherishes the inapproachability of both Kikuko and the dead woman he once loved, and he grows increasingly weary of and removed from the unpleasant realities of the present. Except for Kawabata’s depiction of the natural milieu, he presents almost everything about postwar Japanese life as depressing, and from the way Kawabata manipulates imagery, only Shingo and–at least until the end of the novel–Kikuko seem to have any sensitivity to or interest in nature. In the flowers and shrubbery of Shingo’s garden Kawabata mirrors the emotions of his characters.
As the novel opens, Shingo hears the sound of the mountain behind his house, a sound that he comprehends as foreshadowing his death. By the end of the work Shingo has decided that he must return to his native Shinshū and see the brilliant reds of the autumn maple leaves that his memories have always associated with his late sister-in-law. But the sound with which the novel ends, as Shingo tries to communicate his feelings to Kikuko, is the sound that she makes in washing the dishes, and she cannot hear his voice. That, perhaps, is as close as Kawabata could come to providing an “ending” for the work: for Kawabata, to kill Shingo might have entailed killing a part of himself.
Having written this exceptional elegy, Kawabata again began to struggle for direction in his writing. Around 1954 he became addicted to sleeping pills, and the quality of his work suffered. Much of his time was devoted to writing serialized novels in newspapers and women’s magazines that were aimed at a popular audience. He wrote scripts for two dance dramas, but much of the time that he might have spent on his writing was directed into activities on behalf of his profession, as he continued to labor for P.E.N. This work largely culminated in 1957, when the twenty-ninth international conference of P.E.N. was held in Japan.
The insularity of modern Japanese literature had begun to break down only a few years before, as a handful of Kawabata’s works paved the way by being translated into English and several European languages. The extraordinary time and care that Kawabata spent in preparing for the P.E.N. conference did more to open Japanese literature to a world audience than anything else could have done. He spent months jetting to Europe for an executive committee meeting to make the original preparations, contacting writers such as Francois Mauriac and T. S. Eliot to elicit their support, and traveling throughout Europe, Scandinavia, and Asia to extend personal invitations to the gathering. As a result, the conference prefigured in international cultural affairs what the 1964 Tokyo Olympics did in international relations: it provided the world with a view of a revitalized postwar Japan and attracted a wide assortment of writers, critics, and translators from all over the world.
International contacts were initiated among writers, translators, and publishers, and interest in Japanese literature exploded. Translations of works by Kawabata, Mishima, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, and other contemporary writers began to appear in many languages, and after Kawabata secured copyrights and intervened with other assistance, Donald Keene published Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology (1956), the first collection of twentieth-century Japanese stories. For his efforts in organizing the conference and for making Japanese literature accessible, Kawabata was awarded the Kikuchi Kan Prize in 1957. He was also elected an international vice president of P.E.N. and was awarded the Goethe Medal at the P.E.N. convention in Frankfurt in 1958.
These activities on behalf of his literary colleagues, combined with a gallstone attack that put Kawabata into a hospital for more than half a year in 1958, reduced the time he spent on his writing; but following his recovery he published a final masterpiece, Nemureru bijo (1961; translated as House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories, 1969). The implications of the title story are chilling even in simple outline, and they provide a fitting coda to Kawabata’s continuing literary depictions of human isolation. The “house” is in fact a peculiar brothel–where physically perfect young women are drugged so that, for a fee, impotent elderly men can lie naked beside them for a night. Bringing together a desire for intimate association and an inability to consummate the yearning, this portrait of pathetic loneliness reiterates a familiar motif of Kawabata’s writings, but nowhere else is that desire expressed with such hopeless sorrow. The same longing with no possibility of fulfillment also appears in Kawabata’s last story, “Kataude” (1963; translated as “One Arm,” 1967). In this surrealistic story a man desires to possess his lover but can approach her only as if she were a physical object; understanding his need and the incapacity he has, she allows him to remove her arm and take it home with him for the night. He embraces it passionately but is filled with horror after he has used only a portion of her body to satisfy his longing for human contact.
While he was still serializing Koto (1962; translated as The Old Capital, 1987) and Utsukushisa to kanashimi to (1965; translated as Beauty and Sadness, 1975), Kawabata received yet another honor–the Bunka Kunshō (Medal of Culture), the highest award that the Japanese government confers upon writers. Yet, signs of his physical and creative decline were already appearing. His addiction to sleeping pills marred the writing of Koto, and when he once tried to break his dependence on them after he finished the novel, he lapsed into a coma from which he did not emerge for ten days. Most of the rest of the long pieces that he tried to serialize for the next several years remained unfinished. Despite these difficulties Kawabata continued to work on behalf of other writers and in efforts to preserve literary tradition in Japan. In Tokyo he was instrumental in establishing the Nihon Kindai Bungakukan (Museum of Modern Japanese Literature), a library and museum for which he helped design plans and raise construction funds. When the museum was finished in 1967, he became an honorary adviser and later its honorary director.
Kawabata also continued to participate in P.E.N., as he attended its international conferences in São Paolo and Oslo, but in October 1965 he resigned as president of the Japan chapter of the club. Only a month later the people of the Izu Peninsula honored his first work by unveiling a statue depicting the dancing girl and the student at the Yugano hot springs resort.
Early in 1966 Kawabata spent three months in the hospital with a liver disorder. In 1968 he served as campaign chairman for Tōkō Kon, an old school friend and writer who was running for election to the Japanese Diet. That October he was notified that he had been chosen as the first Japanese writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, and Kawabata graciously invited Edward G. Seidensticker, his primary English translator, to join him for the award ceremonies in Stockholm and to translate his acceptance speech, Utsukushii Nihon no watakushi–sono josetsu (1969; translated as Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself, 1969). In the presentation speech, Anders Österling of the Swedish Academy commented that Kawabata’s style displays “a brilliant capacity to illuminate the erotic episode, an exquisite keenness of observation, a whole network of small, mysterious values, which often put the European narrative technique in the shade.” Österling compared Kawabata’s prose to Japanese painting and to “the genuinely Japanese miniature art of haiku poetry.” A surge of acclaim followed the award: Kawabata received a commendation from the Japanese Diet; was elected as an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; received an invitation in spring 1969 to lecture at the University of Hawaii, where he was also given an honorary doctoral degree; and was honored in London by the Japanese consulate, which mounted a public exhibition featuring him and his writings. The Association for the Study of Kawabata Literature was organized in 1970, the same year that a fifth edition of his collected works was published.
Kawabata was doing little writing, however, and in November 1970 he suffered a serious blow to his morale when Mishima, his brightest protégé, committed seppuku at the Tokyo headquarters of the Eastern Command of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. Kawabata was attending funeral services for another friend when the news of Mishima’s sensational act reached him, and he rushed to the Self-Defense headquarters but was not permitted to see Mishima’s body. When asked to write about Mishima’s suicide a couple of months later, Kawabata could not comment. Only thirteen days before his own death could Kawabata write of this event to his publisher in New York: “I am not free for a single moment from the grief and sorrow I feel over Mishima’s deplorable death.”
Yet, Kawabata continued to pursue nonliterary activities. He campaigned for another friend who was running for election and helped arouse interest in an international conference on Japanese studies, but the only significant writing that he did in the last months of his life was an essay appropriately titled “Yume maboroshi no gotoku nari” (Dreams Are Like Phantoms). It appeared in the journal Bungei Shunjŭ in February 1972.
Kawabata kept an apartment in the Hayama district where he did his writing, and there on 16 April 1972 he was found dead, apparently having taken his own life by gas poisoning. Some of his friends cling to a belief that his death was accidental since he left no suicide note and had given none of them any indication of his intention to die. The Japan P.E.N. Club joined the Japan Writers Association and the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature to sponsor his funeral. His favorite fountain pen, a hundred sheets of blank manuscript paper, his pipe and glasses, a volume of his writings, a kimono, and the purple ceremonial hakama he wore to accept the Nobel Prize were placed beside his body in his casket. Exhibitions honoring his work toured the nation for eight months following his death; a memorial society was founded in his honor; and a reading room was named for him in the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature.
Kawabata Yasunari–Mishima Yukio: Ōfuku shokan (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1997).
Tsunatake Furuya, Hyōden Kawabata Yasunari (Tokyo: Jitsugyō no Nihonsha, 1960);
Van C. Gessel, Three Modern Novelists: Sōseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata (Tokyo: Kōdansha International, 1993);
Izumi Hasegawa, Kawabata Yasunari ronkō, third expanded and revised edition (Tokyo: Meiji Shoin, 1984);
Itaru Kawashima, Kawabata Yasunari no sekai (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1969);
Donald Keene, Dawn to the West, volume 1 (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1984);
Keene, 5 Modern Japanese Novelists (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003);
Masao Miyoshi, Accomplices of Silence: The Modern Japanese Novel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974);
Mitsuo Nakamura, Ronkō Kawabata Yasunari (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1978);
Makoto Ōoka, Hideo Takahashi, and Yukio Miyoshi, eds., Kawabata Yasunari, Gunzō Nihon no Sakka series, volume 13 (Tokyo: Shōgakkan, 1991);
Gwenn Boardman Petersen, The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1979);
Junkō Shindō, Denki Kawabata Yasunari (Tokyo: Rokkō Shuppan, 1976);
Roy Starrs, Soundings in Time: The Fictive Art of Kawabata Yasunari (Richmond, Surrey: Japan Library, 1998);
Hisaaki Yamanouchi, “The Eternal Womanhood: Tanizaki Junichiro and Kawabata Yasunari,” in his The Search for Authenticity in Modern Japanese Literature (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978).
In addition to papers and memorabilia of Yasunari Kawabata held by the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature in Tokyo, which Kawabata helped found, there are extensive collections of his papers, letters, and personal belongings at the Kawabata Yasunari Kinenkan (Memorial Museum), established at his home in the Hase district of Kamakura City.