Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Shimamura, a writer who lives in Tokyo with his wife and children, is on a train headed to a hot-springs spa in a mountainous area of northwest Japan, an area known for its heavy snows. Shimamura speculates about the nature of the relationship between an ill man and a girl seated across the aisle from him and becomes fascinated by the girl’s image reflected in the mirrorlike window of the train. He sees her disembodied face against the background of the mountains and has a vision of her eye floating beautifully and transparently over the passing landscape of the mountains.
The girl and the man get off at the same stop as Shimamura, where a woman in a blue cape is waiting. Shimamura asks the stationmaster whether Komako, the girl who had lived with a music teacher and whom he had met the previous spring, is still in the area. The stationmaster informs him that the woman in the blue cape is the same girl he is trying to find. Shimamura checks in at the inn, a resort popular with visiting tourists. After his nightly bath he is startled to see Komako standing at the end of the corridor. They go to his room.
Shimamura remembers the first time he visited the inn and his first meeting with Komako: After returning to the inn after seven days of hiking in the mountains, he requests a geisha. No geishas are available, however, because of a celebration going on that evening. The maid suggests calling the girl who lives at the music teacher’s house....
(The entire section is 1002 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
“The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country.” Through the opening line of Snow Country, the central character, Shimamura, and the reader are transported back in time. The snow country of the novel has only recently been linked to modern Japan by the railroad. Indeed, as Shimamura notes as he returns to Tokyo after his second visit, “the train . . . was not from the same world as the trains one finds on the main lines.”
Shimamura’s world, represented by Tokyo, is a world being invaded by Western influences in architecture and lifestyles. The world on the other side of the mountains from Tokyo is a world of rice harvests, winter carnivals, houses built in the style of the old regime, and Chijimi linen that can be traced back to antiquity. Clearly, when Shimamura travels to the snow country, he is leaving behind the decadence of modern Japan and returning to a Japan of the past, a Japan that values simplicity and purity. Shimamura himself acknowledges that he must return to the mountains to regain some of the honesty that is lost by living in Tokyo. Despite his professed desire for honesty, however, Shimamura is more concerned with illusion than with reality. In the opening section of the novel, he views Yoko through her reflection in the mirrorlike window of the train car, but what he sees is an image “floating” in the glass, not Yoko herself.
Shimamura’s fascination with occidental ballet is also...
(The entire section is 928 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
In Japan’s hot-spring resorts, the distinction between the geisha and the prostitute is blurred; it depends solely upon the conduct of the particular woman involved. Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country details the love affair between one such hot-spring geisha, a young woman named Komako, and a sophisticated literary man from Tokyo named Shimamura. The novel begins with Shimamura’s early December journey by train from Tokyo to the mountain resort at which he first met Komako the previous spring. It is bitterly cold once the train passes through the tunnel under the Japan Alps connecting the Tokyo side of Honshu with the “snow country” in Niigata Prefecture on the other side. Shimamura amuses himself by watching two of his fellow passengers, a young man obviously suffering some kind of illness and the younger woman who fusses over him during the journey. The girl has the fresh beauty that Shimamura finds attractive. He watches the reflection of her face in the darkened window of the train. “Particularly when a light out in the mountains shone in the center of the girl’s face, Shimamura felt his chest rise at the inexpressible beauty of it.” By contrast, his memory of Komako is not stirred by this kind of visual stimulus. His hand, “and in particular the forefinger, even now seemed damp from her touch, seemed to be pulling him back to her from afar.”
This detail recalls the fact that Shimamura and Komako became lovers toward the...
(The entire section is 1020 words.)