Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Kawabata was the first Japanese writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Considered to be among the most Japanese of Japanese writers, he served as a critic and as a mentor for other writers as well.
Yasunari Kawabata was born in Osaka, Japan, on June 11, 1899. His father, a physician, was interested in Chinese poetry, and Kawabata himself was at first more drawn to painting than to literature in his youth. In middle school, however, he decided to be a writer and had some pieces published in magazines and local newspapers while still a schoolboy. Entering Tokyo Imperial University in 1920, Kawabata first was enrolled in the English literature department and then moved to the Department of Japanese Literature; he was graduated in 1924.
Some doubt remains regarding the date of Kawabata’s first work, an account of twelve days in May, 1914, a short time before the death of his grandfather. The piece, Jurukosai no nikki (diary of a sixteen-year-old), was published in 1925, at which time Kawabata wrote an afterword describing his discovery of the diary that he had kept eleven years before. Some scholars cite stylistic evidence to argue that it was written much later. This dispute over the dates of composition of Kawabata’s first work may be of interest to the general reader as a memorable foreshadowing of the way Kawabata composed so many of his pieces, many of...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
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.
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...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Orphaned at the age of four, Yasunari Kawabata was reared by his grandparents and later by an uncle. Originally attracted by painting, he later decided to follow writing as a career, and at the age of sixteen he published in a little magazine an account of carrying his teacher’s coffin. Two years earlier, he had written reminiscences of his grandfather, which he later published under the title “Jrokusai no nikki” (“Diary of a Sixteen-Year-Old”). In 1921, he received his first payment for a literary work, a review, and published in a student literary magazine an account of a memorial day commemoration that drew the favorable attention of a prolific novelist, Kikuchi Kan, a dominating force in Japanese literary circles of the time. The themes of death and loneliness of Kawabata’s mature years appeared early in his career and may have been influenced by the loss of his parents and grandparents. During his youth, he came briefly under the influence of a Japanese avant-garde clique that advocated the adoption of novel Western movements such as Dadaism, Futurism, and Surrealism. These tendencies were wrapped up in the term Shinkankakuha, which embraces neoperceptionism or neosensualism, but Kawabata’s allegiance to this extremely many-sided coterie was only temporary and irresolute. His major work in the experimental mode, “Suish gens” (“Crystal Fantasy”), utilizes the stream-of-consciousness technique.
Kawabata established his...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Yasunari Kawabata’s childhood was dogged by sadness and loneliness. Born the son of a doctor in saka, he was only two years old when his father died and three when his mother died. He went to live with his maternal grandparents but lost his only sibling, a sister, a few years later. When he was only seven, his grandmother died, and he was left virtually alone, at age sixteen, by the death of his grandfather. The latter’s death became the subject of Jrokusai no nikki, a reminiscence of his sorrow-filled childhood and the affection he felt for his grandfather. In primary school, Kawabata was first interested in painting, but as he entered puberty, he became more interested in literature, especially the Buddhist writings of the Heian period of the ninth through twelfth centuries, valuing them more for their fantastic elements than for their religious teachings.
Kawabata became a secondary school student in Tokyo, where he enthusiastically read Scandinavian literature and became involved in a movement of writers interested in introducing Western artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Paul Cézanne to Japan. When Kawabata enrolled at Tokyo Imperial University in 1920, he first studied English literature but changed to Japanese literature a year later. He worked on the student literary magazine Shinshicho and impressed novelist and playwright Kikuchi Kan with the piece Shokonsai ikkei (1921; a scene of the...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Yasunari Kawabata (kah-wah-bah-tah) was born in Osaka, Japan, on June 11, 1899. When Kawabata was two years old, his father died. His mother died the following year, and Kawabata and his sister went to live with his maternal grandparents. Kawabata’s grandmother’s death in 1906 was followed two years later by the death of his sister, his only sibling, leaving him alone with his grandfather. Following his grandfather’s death in 1914, Kawabata moved into a middle-school dormitory in Osaka, where he stayed until moving in with relatives to attend high school in Tokyo.
In 1920, Kawabata entered Tokyo Imperial University to study English literature. In his second year, however, he decided to major in Japanese literature. While still in college, Kawabata came to the attention of Kan Kikuchi, a noted editor and author. Kikuchi was so taken with the younger man that he secured a position for Kawabata on the staff of the literary journal Bungei shunju (literature of the times) and provided Kawabata with the use of his home. After graduating from Tokyo University in 1924, Kawabata and several other young writers who had been associated with Bungei shunju founded their own literary journal, Bungei jidai (literary age). The new journal was seen as the official publication of the Shinkankakuha (Neo-Perceptionist) movement. Writers...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Yasunari Kawabata’s true gift as a writer, the gift recognized and cited by the Nobel Prize Committee, was his appreciation of Japanese traditions and his ability to explore the interrelationships between the past, present, and future through the language and literary traditions of the twentieth century. While similar themes ran through much of Kawabata’s works, each piece of his fiction has its own unique character and style, be it the attention paid to a physical description of a black water lily or a psychological study of human indifference.
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