Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Shimamura, an idle man from Tokyo, perhaps in early middle age, who makes a series of visits to a village in Japan’s “snow country.” There, he takes advantage of the hot springs and breathtaking scenery. He also strikes up an ambiguously spiritual and sensual relationship with Komako, a young apprentice geisha. Married with children, Shimamura is unable to make a lifetime commitment to Komako. More to the point, he is unable to invest himself emotionally in their affair, such as it is, or, it seems, in any aspect of his life. An amateur writer on classical Western dance, which he experiences only through books, Shimamura notes the “wasted effort” of Komako’s life but seems unaware of his own emptiness until the novel’s final scene.


Komako, a young geisha with whom Shimamura has a relationship stretching over several years. Komako begins the novel as something less than a full geisha, though in ways she seems older than her years. By the novel’s end, the example of another geisha has been used to suggest that Komako will age quickly in her role as a professional entertainer of men. In addition, Komako’s personality undergoes change. She becomes cynical and acutely sensitive. Komako’s life has been sad. She is forced by financial necessity to give up her interest in dance and work as a geisha. Aside from Shimamura, she has no lover for whom she feels deeply. In addition, a man to...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The ending of Kawabata’s Snow Country confirms Shimamura’s judgment of the situation and makes clear the fact that Komako and Yoko are more than rivals for the attention of Yukio. Shimamura has lingered in the resort, and the first snow of the season falls. It is cold, although not as bitterly so as during his December visit the previous year. Toward the end of day, he meets Komako and goes for a walk, so they are together when the alarm signals a fire at a silk-cocoon warehouse used as a film theater. As the two rush to the scene, Komako speaks frankly about their relationship. “I’m afraid to leave you,” she says. “But please go away. I won’t forget that you made me cry.” She adds, “If you leave, I’ll live an honest life.” When Komako forces herself past the firemen and into the burning building to seize the body of Yoko, unconscious from smoke inhalation, the juxtaposition of the two women, their essential identity as victims, causes Shimamura to recognize the anguish in his long relationship with Komako. He tries to go to the two women but loses his footing and falls; “his head fell back, and the Milky Way flowed down inside him with a roar.”

The attainment of self-awareness implied by this image develops slowly in Shimamura’s consciousness, for he has not wanted to recognize the essential hollowness of his own approach to life. Part of his initial attraction to Komako was to the fact that she is interested in the books and plays that her provincial life makes unattainable. Shimamura himself takes pleasure in that which he cannot attain....

(The entire section is 650 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era, 1984.

Lippit, Noriko Mizuta. Reality and Fiction in Modern Japanese Literature, 1980.

Petersen, Gwenn Boardman. The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima, 1979.

Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, 1976.

Yamanouchi, Hisaaki. The Search for Authenticity in Modern Japanese Literature, 1978.