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.)