Yasunari Kawabata

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Earl Miner (essay date Summer 1957)

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SOURCE: "Traditions and Individual Talents in Recent Japanese Fiction," in The Hudson Review, Vol. X, No. 2, Summer, 1957, pp. 302-8.

[In the following excerpt, Miner discusses how Tanizaki Junichiro and Kawabata use different aspects of traditional Japanese literature, and how their work differs from the literature of the West.]

There is little of the West in the mature art of the two greatest contemporary Japanese novelists, Tanizaki Junichiro and Kawabata Yasunari…. After periods of experimentation, they have modelled their styles on the two most important Japanese fictional traditions—Tanizaki on the classical monogatari style represented at its greatest in Murasaki's Tale of Genji (c. 1000), and Kawabata on the highly imagistic and compressed style of Ihara Saikaku (1642–1693). These two traditions differ from each other considerably but have common qualities which distinguish them from Western fiction….

Tanizaki is a novelist of states of mind and attitude which are developed bit by bit in plots where time seems to float by. As in reading The Tale of Genji, we must constantly add and subtract—this person's thought to that character's action, this woman's attitude from that man's conversation. Like Joyce's manicuring God, the author has retired and sits Buddha-fashion with tucked-up legs in unperturbed reflection. What is truth? or what has really happened? we ask.

For a reply, we must look at the presentation, at Tanizaki's "The Mother of Captain Shigemoto," for example. Narration is laden with "as though," "but," "however," "as if," "it is not clear," "were probably," and hosts of conditionals and subjunctives—Mr. Seidensticker's skillful equivalents of the elusive aspects and moods of Japanese verbs. Whether Tanizaki's characters are macabre like Captain Shigemoto's father, sensual like Kaname in Some Prefer Nettles, or commonplace like the sisters in A Dust of Snow, we feel less what they do or say, than what they are or seem. We can see the very essence of this art in a few sentences from "The Firefly Hunt."

The events of the evening passed through Sachiko's mind in no particular order. She opened her eyes—she might have been dreaming, she thought. Above her, in the light of the tiny bulb, she could see a framed kakemono that she had noticed earlier in the day: the words "Pavilion of Timelessness," written in large characters and signed by one Keido. Sachiko looked at the words without knowing who Keido might be. A flicker of light moved across the next room.

To say that the meaning of this event is only the lustre of the commonplace in a seeming timelessness is to mistake Tanizaki's art for preciosity; the world is also a pavilion of splendor lovingly created in his rich details of experience, the past, and art. When Knopf issues his Dust of Snow (Sasame-Yuki), we shall appreciate more fully both his style, formed over the years on Poe, Baudelaire, and the Genji, and his great if often complexly Japanese humanism.

If Tanizaki persists in a fluid extension, Kawabata enters his characters so completely that he seems to disappear in a dramatic intensiveness reminiscent at times of Dostoevsky; but he remains completely impersonal, as even Saikaku does not. In "The Mole," for example, the drama is that of a woman whose life and relations with her family and husband have been shaped and changed by her habit of fingering a mole on her right shoulder. Her words are couched as a sort of diary meant for her husband's eyes and tell the history of the mole and what it has meant in her life. This is an incredible basis for...

(This entire section contains 1885 words.)

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a short story which conveys a woman's life and essential femininity with complete conviction, but it is just this quality of consuming immediacy without intimacy which Kawabata achieves so unsurpassedly.

Snow Country is far greater in sweep, technique, and style, however. "The Mole" has much of the intensity, but little else, of this novel and of the Saikaku tradition from which Kawabata derives his most fully realized art. One of Saikaku's chief subjects was human passion, and his technique an almost unbelievably imagistic style. Kawabata has the same haiku-like style of reduction to image become symbol which makes each detail verge upon the emblematic. There are three main characters to the story—Shimamura the sensualist, so precious that he is finally overwhelmed by his senses, Komako the geisha who lives by wasting her love on him, and the friend and rival, Yoko, who is a soft echo of Komako. The novel ends with Shimamura overcome by life: he is shocked into unconsciousness when Komako rushes from a burning building with Yoko's all but lifeless body in her arms.

Snow Country was written at different periods between 1934 and 1947, and its surpassing beauty grows out of this unhurried, considered art. The novel is divided into two parts, corresponding with Shimamura's two depicted visits to the snow country. At the beginning of the second part, Kawabata places Shimamura in Tokyo, shows the solicitude of his wife—thereby stressing by implication his culpability for infidelity—gets him back to the resort in the snow country, and suggests the time of year in two short sentences:

It was the egg-laying season for moths, Shimamura's wife told him as he left Tokyo, and he was not to leave his clothes hanging in the open. There were indeed moths at the inn.

This polished style glows in a perfected structural setting. The novel opens and closes with similar scenes. It begins with Shimamura on the train observing Yoko as she attends to the sick Yukio and savoring her with a vague pruriency which amounts to wondering who she is and whether he will possess her. The novel ends with him overcome by the sight of her mangled body and still unsure of her identity or of his relation to her. Part One begins and ends with Shimamura's impressions on a train journey. Part Two begins with the image of a moth, "a spot of pale green … oddly like the color of death," an anticipation of Yoko's dying state at the end of the novel—which is in turn parallel to the death of Yukio at the end of part one; and their deaths represent Shimamura's gradual spiritual dissolution in the course of the story. These are merely the most obvious of the many structural motifs in the novel, so that the question is rather one of its meaning than of its formal beauty.

Mr. Seidensticker writes in his Introduction that the theme of the novel is the impossibility of love in an earthly paradise, but I find this reduction unsatisfying. The novel is surely founded upon a contrast between Shimamura's precious sterility and Komako's immediate vitality. While on the train to visit the snow country, he bends and straightens the forefinger of his left hand, that part of him (symbolically?) which so sweetly, achingly remembers Komako. She is repeatedly bathing and tidying, is described in terms of images of light and red, and is shown in sudden impulses of action. What she represents is best revealed in the symbolism of the Milky Way at the end of the novel. Kawabata alludes to a haiku by Basho—

High above the raging seaIn an arch afar to Sado IslandStreams the Milky Way

Where the Sea of Japan is the same sea near the snow country. What the Milky Way symbolizes here and throughout is clear from four passages which I quote somewhat out of order. Shimamura sees the Milky Way come down

… just over there, to wrap the night earth in its naked embrace. There was a terrible voluptuousness about it. Shimamura fancied that his own small shadow was being cast up against it from the earth.

The Milky Way spread its skirts to be broken by the waves of the mountain, and, fanning out again in all its brilliant vastness higher in the sky, it left the mountain in a deeper darkness.

[Komako] seemed to have her long skirts in her hands, and as her arms waved the skirts rose and fell a little. He could feel the red over the starlit snow.

As he caught his footing [in stumbling toward the fire scene], his head fell back, and the Milky Way flowed down inside him with a roar.

The last sentence ends the novel. Komako and the Milky Way are one; both represent the superior life and beauty which overcome the sterility of Shimamura: some sensualists "by aromatic splinters die," but he drowns in an excess of life. Komako tragically wastes her vitality on him, but tragic waste is also tragic exaltation in fullness of being. She has lived. Like Tanizaki, Kawabata affirms life, but life as passionate vitality rather than Tanizaki's patterns of tradition and subtle shades. These two great writers in the two important Japanese fictional traditions complement each other perfectly….

To begin with, it is extraordinary that these novels can affirm, even in translation, the importance of style—… Snow Country by a texture as rich as poetry. Second, these novels declare the function of taste in the Japanese tradition as a mode of apprehending and shaping experience. By taste I mean the ability to evaluate "the object as in itself it really is," but without Arnold's emphatic moral sense. But if taste may be opposed to moral preoccupation, there is indeed a moral passivity about these novels—and most Japanese art—which has troubled a Ruskin in the past and will continue to upset Westerners who desire authors to suggest moral judgments or create characters more completely good or bad.

The best and most characteristic Japanese fiction tends to accept, recreate, and esteem the esthetic particular and to avoid such issues of abstraction as conflicts between Good and Evil or Body and Soul (as opposed to good or evil protagonists). This leads to the third conclusion, that the Japanese go from the quasi-formal and particular realm of taste to what may be called metaphysical ultimates in ways different from ours. Our literature tends to alter or affirm life by making decisions in the way of poetic justice, but Japanese taste functions selectively and affirms by appreciation. The relation between this selective taste and metaphysical ultimates is established, I believe, in three ways which can only be named here: by a monistic treatment of materials, in which artistic judgment is exercised over a whole including man and nature, thought and action—poles for us but almost a single entity to a culture with a Buddhist heritage; second, by a narrative point of view which is at once closer to the materials and less omniscient—the air of "this is what things seem to have been"; and by a different concept of time which I can describe in brief only imagistically as the sensation for the reader of observing a traveler on a river-boat who observes now himself, now the shore, and now the river of flowing time—a merging of patterns of motion and stasis relative to each other. However, these random conclusions put an awkward intellectual superstructure upon many examples of fiction which often defy generalization and which certainly can be appreciated with far less self-consciousness. These stories are, after all, less the products of a foreign tradition than individual works of art which promise to give pleasure for many a reader and many a reading.


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Yasunari Kawabata 1899–1972

Japanese short story writer, novelist, and critic.

The following entry presents an overview of Kawabata's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 2, 5, 9, and 18.

During his career, critics had difficulty classifying Kawabata because he developed a unique style combining elements of traditional and modern literature. International audiences, including the Nobel Prize Committee, thought of Kawabata as representing traditional Japanese literature. This view often confused Japanese audiences, who considered Kawabata a modernist. He was involved in the development of new literary styles and movements in Japan, but tradition did play a role in his style and themes.

Biographical Information

Kawabata was born in Osaka in 1899. His early life was filled with loss. His father died when he was two years old, his mother when he was three, his sister when he was nine, and his grandfather when he was 16. He spent most of his childhood living in school dormitories. Family life is very important in Japanese culture, and the loneliness and alienation that characterized his youth infused his later fiction. Kawabata attended the elite First Higher School from 1917 to 1920 and received a degree from the English Literature Department of Tokyo Imperial University in 1920; in 1924 he received a degree from the Japanese Literature Department. As a young writer in 1924, Kawabata worked with other writers to create the Bungei jidai, or Literary Era, in opposition to the proletarian literature popular at the time. They were known as "Neoperceptionists," and they were concerned with the aesthetics of literature. Their work focused on diction, lyricism, and rhythm. While involved in this literary movement, Kawabata was better known as a critic than as a writer himself. In 1926 he gained attention for his fiction with the publication of his short story "The Izu Dancer" in a literary monthly. He went on to write short stories and several novels which earned him an international reputation. He became a member of the Art Academy of Japan in 1953, and in 1957 was appointed chairman of the P.E.N. Club of Japan. Kawabata received the Goethe Medal in 1959 in Frankfurt and in 1961 was awarded Japan's highest recognition for a man of letters, the Order of Culture. He went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968. He committed suicide in April of 1972, leaving no note or explanation.

Major Works

Kawabata's fiction combines elements of modern and traditional literature. In addition to remaining true to traditional forms, Kawabata often focused on retaining traditional culture in the face of the modern world as the subject of his fiction. He presented and defended such traditional Japanese forms as the tea ceremony in Sembazuru (Thousand Cranes; 1952), the game of Go in Go sei-gen kidan (The Master of Go; 1954), and folk art in Koto (The Old Capital; 1962). Kawabata wrote in a style similar to traditional Japanese haiku poetry, known as renga, or linked poetry. His work is filled with imagery and symbolism. Kawabata never wrote about political turmoil, but instead focused on personal and spiritual crises. His major themes included loneliness, alienation, the meaninglessness and fleeting nature of human passion, aging, and death. The Master of Go is an example of Kawabata's theme of tradition versus modernization, using the traditional Japanese game of Go. The Master represents tradition and views Go as an art form. The young challenger Otaké represents the modern rational approach to Go. In the end the Master is overcome by modern rationalism. Nemureru bijo (House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories; 1953) is a collection of short stories depicting the changing effects of eroticism on the aging male. Yama no oto (Sound of the Mountain; 1954) looks at the Japanese extended family and Japanese business. The novel's main theme is the effects of aging on the protagonist, who believes he hears the mountains signalling his imminent death. The Old Capital traces the struggle of Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, as the city attempts to retain its identity in the face of industrialization. Twin sisters who have been separated at birth represent the dichotomy of tradition vs. modernization, city vs. country, and folk art vs. mass production. Typical of Japanese literature, there are no clear-cut good or evil forces in Kawabata's fiction. He leaves matters unresolved, and his endings are ambiguous. Kawabata's fiction relies on his readers and their imagination to decide the fate of his characters.

Critical Reception

Some reviewers have pointed out the difference in characterization found in Japanese literature as opposed to Western literature. They assert that Kawabata's characterization is not fully fleshed out and sometimes falls into symbolism. Many critics also assert that there is a vagueness to Kawabata's writing style. In discussing Kawabata's lyricism and appeal, Marlene A. Pilarcik states his works "are noted for their delicate, wistful beauty and haunting lyricism. They express the essence of the Japanese soul, but also draw on the universality of human experience." Critics often comment on the complicated relationship between Kawabata's writing style, modernism, and traditional Japanese poetry. James T. Araki states, "The general reader in Japan has probably regarded Kawabata as a modernist rather than a traditionalist, for his stories are often difficult to apprehend fully, owing to the rich, allusive imagery, a suggestive quality that requires a matured sensibility of the reader, an elliptical sentence style, and a mode of story progression that often relies on linking through imagery rather than through contextual or sentence logic—a technique of the traditional renga or 'linked verse.'" Beyond the style question, one of the most widely discussed issues relating to Kawabata's work was his relationship to the traditional and modern worlds. Sidney DeVere Brown explained it this way: "The modern world provides merely a dim, mostly unseen context in his novels for the admirable people and culture rooted in Old Japan."

William F. Sibley (review date Winter 1969–70)

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SOURCE: A review of House of the Sleeping Beauties, in Pacific Affairs, Vol. XLII, No. 4, Winter, 1969–70, p. 573.

[In the following review, Sibley asserts that the title story of Kawabata's House of the Sleeping Beauties is "one of the finest works of Kawabata's late career."]

There would seem to be a special place in modern Japanese literature for works set "in the autumn of the flesh," as Tanizaki Jun'ichiro once put it, by writers past the prime of life—swan songs (often deliberately premature) steeped in waning sensuality. The title story of this collection is an excellent specimen of the type and one of the finest works of Kawabata's late career. On the recommendation of a friend, "old Eguchi" pays several visits to an establishment where young women lie drugged into oblivion, solely for the discret delectation of a senile clientele. Though proud of his continuing potency, he resists the temptation to break the strict house rules against full possession of the sleeping beauties.

In the course of the five lonely nights that Eguchi passes beside the warm yet less than wholly alive bodies, he drifts from a state of heightened awareness of all the senses in a deep sleep filled with disquieting dreams of women he has known. With the death of his companion on the last night from an overdose of drugs, the illusory air of satiation which the house has so far succeeded in creating is dispelled. All that remains is an impression of inhumanity and impotence. But, up to the final page, illusion is the stuff of which this story is made, both in substance and style. Kawabata's prose, which is translated by Edward Seidensticker with something surpassing mere faithfulness, speaks in sighs and whispers throughout.

While "Of Birds and Beasts" belongs to a much earlier period in Kawabata's career, its central figure is analogously an aging and lonely man. A detailed description of the cold, detached pleasure he has derived from a succession of pet birds and dogs is masterfully interwoven with a fragmentary, and almost equally detached, review of an affair begun some ten years ago. The third selection, "One Arm," is a brief, lyrical excursion into fetishistic fantasy. Unavoidably, it appears rather inconsequential between the two small masterpieces that make up the bulk of this volume.

Principal Works

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Izu no odoriko [The Izu Dancer and Other Stories] (short stories) 1926
Tenohira no shosetsu [Palm-of-the-Hand Stories] (short stories) 1926
Asakusa kurenaidan [The Red Gang of Asakusa] (novel) 1930
Kinju [Of Birds and Beasts] (short stories) 1935
Yukiguni [Snow Country] (novel) 1937
Aishu [Sorrow] (short stories and essays) 1949
Sembazuru [Thousand Cranes] (novel) 1952
Nemureru bijo [House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories] (short stories) 1953
Suigetsu ["The Moon on the Water"] (short story) 1953
Go sei-gen kidan [The Master of Go] (novel) 1954
Yama no oto [The Sound of the Mountain] (novel) 1954
Mizuumi [The Lake] (novel) 1955
Koto [The Old Capital] (novel) 1962
The Izu Dancer and Others (short stories) 1964
Kata-ude [One Arm] (novel) 1965
Utsukushisa to kanashimi to [Beauty and Sadness] (novel) 1965

Melvin Maddocks (essay date October 1972)

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SOURCE: "The Floating World," in The Atlantic, Vol. 230, No. 4, October, 1972, pp. 126-29.

[In the following essay, Maddocks discusses Kawabata's The Master of Go, Yukio Mishima's Spring Snow, and the tradition of Japanese literature.]

There is a fascinatingly mysterious print by Hiroshige called The Cave at Enoshima. At the left, three figures are shown entering the island's grotto, a famous shrine. Dwarfs frozen in awe, they are blind to the enormous white-capped wave that seems to be reaching in after them like a dragon's tongue. A gnarled tree worthy of Samuel Beckett stands watch above the mouth of the cave like a crippled sentry. But the background is a bland denial of the foreground motif. A flat blue sea stretches off vaguely into the distance, and three motionless white sails add a touch of postcard lyricism. It is as if two different artists were at work here: a complacent copier of pretty conventions and a recorder of demoniac nightmares.

The paradox of Hiroshinge's cave runs through Japanese art, through Japanese life. There are ultimates of disclosure and ultimates of concealment. One hides the body beneath kimonos and parasols; one hides the face under ritualistic smiles. Then one gives the body away in the grotesque (and often comic) exaggerations of Japanese erotica; one gives the face away in the Kabuki actor's grimacing caricature of jealousy or vengeance. Nature is suppressed by the absolute control of a Japanese garden or revised into an artifact: a toylike bird arranged on a branch of idealized plum blossoms. But then one takes a look at those stones in that garden—petrified force, as sobering as the monoliths of Stonehenge. And one turns one's beguiled eyes from those flawlessly dainty finches to, say, the Tokoyuni print, Revenge at Mount Fuji, with the peak—aloof, icy, as white as Moby Dick—looking down upon the Soga brothers' massacre.

What accounts for these profound self-contradictions? The amateur Japanese-watcher—and all Westerners are amateurs—will have to take the long way around to the mystery of Hiroshige's cave. For he must deal first with the general inclination to explain the phenomenon of "Enoshima doubleimage" historically. The premise goes like this: Japan, due to the accident of its brief, intense modernity, still contains within itself irreconcilable elements of pure medievalsim and late-twentieth-century supercivilization. The "black ships" of Commodore Perry steamed their dotted course like a moral dividing line across the Japanese cosmos; and as a consequence, the great-grandsons of samurai warriors are destined, as it were, to wear double-knit suits and ride their Hondas to jobs in public relations. When a Japanese intellectual sorts out his confusions, his impulse—his temptation—is to label them "Westernization."

In the case of a number of Japanese writers, like the 1968 Nobel Prizewinner Yasunari Kawabata, this historical theory has also become an artist's theme. Shortly after World War II, the supreme disaster in Japan's Westernization, Kawabata announced that he would write only "elegies." Thousand Cranes, The Sound of the Mountain, and now The Master of Go, written in 1954 but just published in the United States, fulfill their author's prophecy. In this last novel—really novella—Kawabata has composed a kind of parable which could be read as an extension of the Japanese poem:

     If only the world
     Would always remain this way,
     Some fishermen
     Drawing a little rowboat
     Up the river bank.

What can compare in persistent subtlety with a Japanese love song to the Old Ways—to the moment of perfect taste arrested forever? In Thousand Cranes, Kawabata virtually set the tea ceremony to plot, like an Oriental Henry James manipulating a four-hundred-year-old teabowl as his elegiac symbol. In The Master of Go, the ritual is the ancient game of black and white stones, loosely described as the Japanese equivalent of chess. Requiring infinitely patient turns of strategy—there are 361 intersections on a board—Go must appear to the Westerner as a nice metaphor of the Japanese soul.

The Master is Honnimbo Shusai. The novella, based on a Go match Kawabata covered for Tokyo and Osaka newspapers in 1938, details the Master's defeat, an event which with Old Japan leisureliness takes nearly six months to consummate. Kawabata carefully loads his contest. Otaké, the challenger, is a perfectly likeable young man but fretty. At thirty, he is a bit of a hypochondriac. He carries with him a small clinic's supply of medicines, yet continually fusses from eye and throat ailments as well as from apparently chronic indigestion. In addition, he suffers from a kidney weakness, which, combined with his compulsive tea-drinking, forces him to gather up his kimono and rush from the Go board at annoyingly frequent intervals.

By contrast, the Master bears his grave illness—a heart condition—with stoic equanimity. Weighing less than seventy pounds, only five feet tall, a frail old man with tufted eyebrows, the Master is the epitome of tradition. Otaké, on the other hand, stands for "modern rationalism," for "science and regulation," for "this new equality" that simply is tone-deaf to the Old Ways. Otaké is the technologist of Go who plays to win. The Master, redolent with "grace and elegance," is the artist who plays toward that mystical moment when the conscious intent of style is imposed upon the unconscious intent of life. At the critical instant, Otaké makes the ruthless, slightly treacherous move that wins him the match while at the same time spoiling it—in the Master's words, "smearing ink over the picture we had painted."

At first, the Western reader may find The Master of Go charming: that fatal adjective by which the Occident simultaneously praises and dismisses Japanese art. But behind the charm of Kawabata—as behind the charm of Hiroshige and behind all that quaintness described as "Japonaise"—lies a hidden darkness. Kawabata refers to the Master's "addiction," his "obsession." Day and night he "gave himself" to games—Mah-Jongg, billiards, and chess as well as Go—as if, Kawabata writes, he were giving himself to "devils." Do those Go stones he holds so authoritatively in his hands end up possessing him?

In his introduction to The Master of Go, the translator, Edward G. Seidensticker, writes: "One was puzzled to know why the flamboyant Mishima and the quiet, austere Kawabata should have felt so close to each other." Yet for all his spokesman-for-the-new-generation swagger, Yukio Mishima turned out to be a traditionalist, indeed a fanatical traditionalist. Spring Snow, the first novel of a posthumous tetralogy entitled The Sea of Fertility, reveals a Mishima who is more of a Japanese purist than Kawabata.

Spring Snow is a historical novel, set in 1912, about a very rich, very precious seventeen-year-old named Kiyoaki, an all-too-beautiful, all-too-sensitive young man, born jaded. He devotes himself rather languidly to "the cultivation of his anxiety." Perhaps Kiyoaki can best be defined as the sort of adolescent who keeps a diary of his dreams.

Only "the beauty of the unattainable" can excite Kiyoaki, and so he falls in love with Satoko, once she is made properly unattainable by her engagement to the third son of an imperial prince. At least it is stipulated that Kiyoaki has fallen in love. He is, in fact, so narcissistic that Satoko's first kiss leaves him "gazing over her head at the cherry trees"—the pink "made him think of an undertaker's cosmetics."

As a doomed love story, Spring Snow might qualify as Far East Erich Segal. But Mishima intended—and achieved—far more. Kiyoaki is his symbol of "a plant without roots," a samurai descendant with the instincts for heroism but no model to follow. The novel is finally about fathers who fail. Kiyoaki's father, the Marquis, represents "the new ascendancy of money." In his Western-style house the oak paneling is English, the marble is Italian, the steam heating is from Chicago. At parties in the Marquis' set, an air of "'English' absentmindedness" is cultivated, along with gold-tipped Westminster cigarettes. European phonograph records are played, and the pièce de résistance is likely to be a British silent-film version of Dickens. At this point, the Far East Erich Segal turns into something like a Japanese Proust. With what mocking pleasure Mishima satirizes his bourgeois sons of samurai. With what sentimental reverence he treats Kiyoaki's old-fashioned grandmother.

"Purely Japanese literature died out completely around the year 1897," the late novelist Kafu Nogai observed a little bitterly. "The literature written after then is not Japanese literature. It is Western literature written in the Japanese language." With a young novelist like Kenzaburo Oë citing Huckleberry Finn as his favorite work, and even Kawabata acknowledging the influence of Flaubert, European and American readers have felt free to criticize Japanese novels as failed Western fiction. The "faults" (by Western standards) in both Kawabata and Mishima are obvious:

Everything tends to turn into a symbol. Mishima in particular goes in heavily for snapping turtles, black dogs, and the like. Worse, everybody tends to turn into a symbol, too. Few Japanese novelists have a gift for what Western readers think of as "character"; their characters fuzz at the edges into representative myths, leaving passions without their proper focus. Even the most aroused passages of love or hate or lyricism seem to float like clouds above the novel, self-contained if not detached exercises. The words go on and on—elegant diffusions of haze, "interminable sentences" (in Donald Keene's comment) "left incomplete, at the end of the twentieth or fortieth subtle turn of phrase."

But these "faults" may finally suggest a failure on the part of the reader. The Western reader, insisting upon his much admired conciseness, his crisp narrative rhythms, his sharp definition of person, is positing the book he is used to reading rather than the one he is given. He is camouflaging under criticisms of style a criticism—or rather a puzzlement—in the face of Japanese attitudes. For whatever the Japanese novel becomes in the future, The Master of Go and Spring Snow indicate that the Westernization of Japanese literature has been overestimated.

To understand the Japanese novel—that is, to understand what one does not understand—the Western reader must return to Hiroshige at Enoshima. The Hiroshige print, like The Master of Go and Spring Snow, gives off to the Westerner unmistakable intimations of damnation. But just when the poor Western moralist, confronted by the specter of death if not apocalypse, prepares his climatic shudder, the Japanese artist drifts off into anticlimactic frivolity: white sails off Enoshima.

Perhaps the Japanese word ukiyo provides the clue. In its origins it was roughly the Buddhist equivalent of Christian "vanity." Meaning "this fleeting, floating world," ukiyo marked off all that was transient and illusory in mortal life: not worth a serious man's attention. But by a kind of linguistic, if not moral, detour, ukiyo came to take on hedonistic connotations: this pleasant, delightful "floating world," full of what Mishima once called absolutely "useless beauty."

A brilliant short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (better known for Rashomon) postulates a painting, a masterpiece, that two connoisseurs devote a considerable portion of their lives and their hopes to discovering and verifying. Each sees it once, but upon comparing impressions they begin to wonder if they have seen the same painting, or if the painting even exists. By a Westerner's values, this should be a moment of agony, when faith disintegrates into doubt, meaning into meaninglessness. Instead, at curious exhilaration enters Akutagawa's story: a total joy at the point of total indifference, what a Japanese poet called "the bliss of nothingness." One masterpiece-lover turns to the other and concludes: "Even if it never existed, there is not really much cause for regret."

Here is "floating" for a fact. This sudden cool at the temperature of hellfire—a phenomenon in almost every Japanese novel—can attract a Westerner or it can frighten him. He may find it unspeakably cruel or an admirable case of poise. No matter. At that moment he has taken one step too many into Hiroshige's cave. Charmed or terrorized, aghast or envious, he is, above all, lost. Like the Master of Go, he is cut off from "the better part of reality," or at least his kind of reality, and that is his peculiar pleasure. That is his nightmare.

Alan Friedman (review date 22 October 1972)

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SOURCE: A review of The Master of Go, in The New York Times Book Review, October 22, 1972, pp. 4, 24.

[In the following review, Friedman asserts that Kawabata's "The Master of Go may not be a novel, but it is a journalism recollected in tranquility."]

The Chess Match of the Century is over. Bobby Fischer's chair and Boris Spassky's pride have been pulled to pieces and reassembled. But what if The Times, say, had presumed upon Vladimir Nabokov's well-known passion for chess and had managed to persuade our most illustrious novelist to travel to Reykjavik to cover the match? And what if Nabokov had then given us a book, not only analyzing chess strategies, but dissecting with all the tender mercy of his art the two players themselves, together with their families, friends, managers, judges, lesser chess masters and lesser reporters, while everywhere viewing the event as a scene in the play of art and history?

The Master of Go is the improbable Oriental equivalent, mutatis mutandis, of that improbable book. Yasunari Kawabata, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, was considered until his recent death the Master of Japanese letters. A novelist of a peculiarly penetrating subtlety, he was also a lover of the game of Go. In 1938 the Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun asked him to attend the Go Match of the Century as a newspaper reporter. It was a classic match, a contest between two men and at the same time two cultures, between the Old Japan and a New one, between conservative tradition and dynamic ambition, between a polite, ailing Master and a young Challenger, neurotic, fussy, complaining and unpredictable.

The game took months, and to help the reader follow it, The Master of Go is well furnished with diagrams of the board, notes at the back of the book, and frequent analyses by Kawabata of the tides of battle. Since I used to play Go myself—however ineptly—I was fascinated. But no doubt a good number of readers will skim over such data as: "a space removed on the 'S' line from Black 87." Similar details of play are given in abundance, for this is a log of the match—or is it? Edward G. Seidensticker, whose translation flows elegantly, calls the work a "chronicle-novel" but "rather more chronicle than novel." A tad less particular, the dust jacket labels it simply "a novel." Well, there is an honorable blur between fiction and nonfiction, nowadays and earlier, but my point here is that the reader who opens this book expecting a novel may be in for a surprise. Kawabata, loving Go as Nabokov loves chess, keeps one eye on the board. If the reader expects a chronicle of the match, however, he will be amazed.

For Kawabata has two eyes, and everywhere his vision of the board makes him see more. The progress toward death, the unity of adversaries, the veils of pride and the shadows of enlightenment are never far from the foreground of the match. "It was a wholly unexpected play. I felt a tensing of my muscles, as if the diabolic side of the Master had suddenly been revealed." Or again: "The waves that passed through his shoulders were quite regular. They were to me like a concentration of violence, or the doings of some mysterious power that had taken possession of the Master…. I wondered if I was witness to the workings of the Master's soul as, all unconsciously, it received its inspiration, was host to the afflatus. Or was I watching a passage to enlightenment as the soul threw off all sense of identity and the fires of combat were quenched?" Reading passages like these, one thinks of other Masters, those of Hesse, Mann, Bulgakov, even James, and of other contests in the soul, and of the differences that illuminate.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Kawabata spoke feelingly of the underlying spirit of Zen in Japanese poetry. That spirit—the emptiness that enlightens—rises to the surface here in Go. "I was presently able to feel not only interest in the match but a sense of Go as an art, and that was because I reduced myself to nothing as I gazed at the Master." Still, one of the most gratifying things about Kawabata's work elsewhere is his genius for empty spaces. As one reads between his lines, the spaces he deliberately leaves there seem to widen. Here is a brief passage from the novel, Thousand Cranes:

Fumiko had no way of knowing her mother as a woman.

To forgive or to be forgiven was for Kikuji a matter of being rocked in that wave, the dreaminess of the woman's body.

It seemed that the dreaminess was here too in the pair of Raku bowls.

Fumiko did not know her mother thus.

In The Master of Go this delicate directness gives way to plain explicitness. Kawabata intended, I think, to treat the ritual of Go and the death of the Master here as he treated the tea ceremony in Thousand Cranes and as Junichiro Tanizaki treated the Bunraku puppets in Some Prefer Nettles: to convey in single human beings, and therefore at the deepest levels, an entire culture slipping away. In The Master of Go such matters are apt to be stated quite badly, not subtly: "the end of an age and the bridge to a new age." And yet, since this work lies somewhere between reportage and fiction, one hesitates to carp. "The Master had put the match together as a work of art." The Master of Go may not be a novel, but it is journalism recollected in tranquility.

Further Reading

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Baird, James. "Contemporary Japanese Fiction." Sewanee Review 67, No. 3 (Summer 1959): 477-96.

Discusses what Japanese fiction of the 1950s has in common with Western literature focusing on specific authors, including Yasunari Kawabata.

Donahue, Neil H. "Age, Beauty and Apocalypse." Arcadia (1993): 291-306.

Discusses the Japanese dimension of Max Frisch's Der Mensch erscheint in Holozan by comparing it to Kawabata's The Sound of the Mountain.

Dunlop, Lane. "Three Thumbprint Novels from the Japanese of Yasunari Kawabata." Prairie Schooner 53, No. 1 (Spring 1979): 1-10.

Translates three of Kawabata's short stories including, "The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket," "The Silverberry Thief," and "The Young Lady of Suruga."

Jones, Richard. "Craters." The Listener 82, No. 2107 (14 August 1969): 223.

Provides a favorable review of Kawabata's House of the Sleeping Beauties.

Jordan, Clive, "Sleeping and Waking." New Statesman 78, No. 2003 (1 August 1969): 153-54.

Reviews Kawabata's House of Sleeping Beauties and discusses the Western approach to the stories.

Ueda, Makoto. "Kawabata Yasunari." Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976, pp. 173-218.

Discusses the works of Yasunari Kawabata and his reviews of other novelists.

Watson, S. Harrison. "Ideological Transformation by Translation: Izu no Odoriko. Comparative Literature Studies 28, No. 3 (1991): 310-21.

Analyzes two scenes from Kawabata's Izu no Odoriko that are missing from the Edward Seidensticker translation of the novel.

Marian Ury (review date 22 October 1972)

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SOURCE: "A Man and the Idea of a Woman," in The New York Times Book Review, October 22, 1972, p. 11.

[In the following review, Ury praises the stories in Kawabata's Palm-of-the-Hand Stories.]

A woman, breaking with her married lover, gives him a pair of canaries as a memento of their affair. The birds, which initially had been placed in the same cage by the bird seller through chance and are now unable to survive without each other, come to symbolize for the lover his relationship with his wife, who had cared for the birds and averted her eyes from his affair. Now that she is dead, the husband writes to his former mistress asking her permission to kill the birds and bury them with his wife. In another story, a man who has taken an aversion to his wife and left her, sends a series of letters from ever more distant post offices enjoining her and their daughter to make no sound. Mother and daughter cease "eternally to make even the faintest sound. In other words," Yasunari Kawabata says, they die. "And strangely enough, the woman's husband lay down beside them and died, too."

In yet another of Kawabata's "palm-of-the-hand stories," a little girl carrying a branch of crimson berries with green leaves gives it to a woman in a new silk kimono who is seated on the veranda of a shabby inn. The girl's father is a charcoal burner, and he is sick; the woman has been receiving unstamped love letters from her postman. The season is autumn. This is less a story in the usual sense than a mode of storytelling, where sounds, textures, tastes, colors, trajectories and intimations are gathered, ready to expand over an invisible canvas. Inevitably, the stories, like Kawabata's longer fiction, are compared with haiku; but another comparison might be with the work of Virginia Woolf, especially the autobiographical fragments of "Moments of Being" and "Mrs. Dalloway," with its deceptive appearance of fragmented time and movement, its moments of illumination and its flashes of an immanent, inexplicable reality. Insistently Japanese, Kawabata was also well acquainted with European modernist literature.

Kawabata's stories are difficult to summarize; many of the finest elude even the attempt. In one of my favorites, "The Wife of the Autumn Wind" (the translation of the title seems not quite right; "The Wife in the Autumn Wind" might be better, or perhaps "The Autumn-Wind Wife"), the event narrated is the shadowy encounter between the protagonist and the devoted wife of a dying man, his neighbors at a hotel—or rather, between the protagonist and the idea of the woman, for what we are made to see is his discovery of some strands of her hair after she has left the hotel on a brief errand. What the story is about is sweetness, drabness (and its sensuous appeal), cold, the nearness of death, the coming of an autumn typhoon, the varieties of love and tenderness and the unbridgeable gap between the protagonist and the woman. It is just over two pages. There is not a word in it that could be dispensed with.

The longest of these palm-of-the-hand stories are perhaps a half-dozen pages; the shortest are less than a page. There are 70 in this volume, about half of an output that spanned their author's writing career. He is said to have considered these very short stories his finest work.

Yasunari Kawabata was born in 1899. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968—the only Japanese writer thus honored so far and a somewhat controversial choice, since not every Japanese critic likes him. He died in a gas-filled room in 1972, a probable suicide. He is well known in the West for The Master of Go, a minimalist novelization of a newspaper account of a competition at go, a distant cousin of chess, in which an aging master was defeated, and for Snow Country, an enigmatic novel of unreciprocated love set in what is, for Kawabata, a region of voluptuous white and cold. As a child, he was repeatedly orphaned. His father died when he was 2 years old, his mother when he was 3, his only sister when he was 9 and his grandfather—his last surviving close relative—when he was 16. According to the instructive chapter on Kawabata in Donald Keene's history of modern Japanese literature, Dawn to the West, the boy came to be known as a "master of funerals" from his authoritative demeanor at funeral services.

Intense sorrow often brings with it a heightened esthetic perception to the sufferer, shabby tenements seem to glow with color, and past and present time to collapse into one and become almost tangible. Not only death but deafness and blindness appear repeatedly in these stories—the latter depicted as a special, ecstatic kind of seeing. Death itself is a metamorphosis, one of many kinds in these stories. An older sister gives herself to the lover of her younger sister who is ill, and imagines herself also marrying the sister's husband after the sister's death. A woman recognizes the face of her mother in her daughter. A meek young woman, loving her husband to distraction, cuts her hair, wears thick spectacles and tries to grow a mustache and join the army so as to be exactly like him; ultimately, God transforms her into a lily. Kawabata's characters, incapable of ordinary human intimacy, dream of the merging and dissolution of the self.

The translators, Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman, have dealt respectfully with their texts, but just because they have done such a careful job over all, the occasional rough spots are noticeable. Each of the translators has contributed a prefatory note. For Mr. Dunlop especially, the translating seems to have been something of a personal journey.

The Times Literary Supplement (review date 23 August 1974)

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SOURCE: "Sweet Dreams," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3781, August 23, 1974, p. 911.

[In the following review, the critic asserts that the stories in Kawabata's House of the Sleeping Beauties are "linked … by the theme of a lonely subject and his peculiar eroticism, and by the interplay of reality and fancy within a lonely mind."]

Of the three stories in this volume, [House of the Sleeping Beauties], "Of Birds and Beasts" was written in the early 1930s, while "One Arm" and the longer, "House of the Sleeping Beauties" are among Kawabata's later works. But there is a firm continuity between the stories, linked as they are by the theme of a lonely subject and his peculiar eroticism, and by the interplay of reality and fancy within a lonely mind.

"Of Birds and Beasts" is perhaps the least skilful; the transition from the reality of the middle-aged man's strange attachment to his bird and animal pets to the memories of an affair with a dancer is without the facility of the later writing. "One Arm" is a bizarre dialogue between a man and a young girl's right arm which has been left with him for the night and is eventually exchanged for his own. Here Kawabata exploits his lyricism and its capacity to explore private and deeply hidden moods with exquisite minuteness.

There is the same strangling tightness which Mishima (Kawabata's protégé) senses in "House of the Sleeping Beauties" and there is in both pieces a tactful use of the traditional poetic technique of an allusive hint at the season of the year: "the pressing dampness invaded my ears to give a wet sound like the wriggling of myriads of distant earthworms".

"House of the Sleeping Beauties" describes the visits of an old man to a strange establishment where the girls, always drugged in sleep before the clients' arrival, evoke memories of earlier affairs. Deprived of the use of dialogue or character description, Kawabata manages to evoke a vivid sense of individual life by his accounts of the sleeping girls. With each of the unconscious figures, Eguchi, the old man, wants to see the eyes, to hear the voice, to talk. One of them overflows "with a sensuousness that made it possible for her body to converse in silence". The transitions are smoothly effected, on the same intuitive and emotional level and often with the same techniques of sound, scent and colour "echo" that enabled three poets to link verses in the traditional poetry. Mishima rates this story as a masterpiece of Kawabata's esoteric style. It recalls some aspects of the spirit of the erotic and the grotesque of the Japan of half a century ago.

Wolfgang Freese and Angela B. Moorjani (essay date 1980)

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SOURCE: "The Esoteric and the Trivial: Chess and Go in the Novels of Beckett and Kawabata," in Perspectives on Contemporary Literature, Vol. 6, 1980, pp. 37-48.

[In the following excerpt, Freese and Moorjani analyze the symbolism of the Go match in Kawabata's The Master of Go, and assert that the story is a movement toward the Master's death.]

Yasunari Kawabata's The Master of Go, written and rewritten from 1938 until 1954, when it first appeared in book form, is not a novel in the strict sense of narrative fiction. The Japanese form of shosetsu is known to be more flexible than the Western form of the novel. In this case it mixes a chronicle, based on sixty-six newspaper installments Kawabata wrote about an actual Go match in 1938 for the Osaka and Tokyo Mainichi, with structural and stylistic elements of fiction.

Kawabata's novel begins with a note on the Master's death: "Shusai, Master of Go, twenty-first in the Honnimbo succession, died in Atami, at the Urokoya Inn, on the morning of January 18, 1940. He was sixty-seven years old by the Oriental count." It is clear from the very outset that the Master's illness is a critical aspect of the novel, and that his death, anticipated in this very beginning, will overshadow the match. Seen from this angle the novel is analytical like most of Kawabata's writings. If the known result is death, each of the 41 chapters, and each of the 237 moves of the game (illustrated in 12 diagrams throughout the novel) leads closer to it. The novel, and, as the real and symbolic heart of it, the game, become more than a report or a chronicle: they are the anamnesis in both its historical and medical/psychiatric meaning, of a development leading to death.

It is quite clear in the novel that this movement toward death transcends the two individuals involved in the match. Their function of representing an older order and a newer trend in Japanese history is far too obvious to necessitate "detection" by skillful literary analysis. Nor does the narrator, focusing again beyond the players to changes in the organization of the game itself, leave us in the dark about his partisanship:

It may be said the Master was plagued in his last match by modern rationalism, to which fussy rules were everything, from which all the grace and elegance of Go as art had disappeared, which quite dispensed with respect for elders and attached no importance to mutual respect as human beings. From the way of Go the beauty of Japan and the Orient had fled. Everything had become science and regulation. The road to advancement in rank, which controlled the life of a player, had become a meticulous point system. One conducted the battle only to win, and there was no margin for remembering the dignity and the fragrance of Go as an art. The modern way was to insist upon doing battle under conditions of abstract justice, even when challenging the Master himself. The fault was not Otaké's. Perhaps what happened was but natural, Go being a contest and show of strength.

The last sentence leads us to consider the narrator's perspective. Kawabata is usually counted among the conservative Japanese writers, and this may explain the elegiac reading given most of his novels. If there is a Nietzschean element in his interpretation of the contest, however, it is certainly not a very active force in Kawabata's thinking. Nevertheless, Otaké is treated throughout the novel as an instrument of history. On one occasion in the novel—and here the context would have to be examined very carefully, since the author/narrator tries to convince Otaké not to forfeit the game—the narrator steps forward as protagonist, showing for the first time great self-assurance: "I spoke boldly. I said that as challenger in this the Master's last game he was fighting in single combat, and he was also fighting a larger battle. He was the representative of a new day. He was being carried on by the currents of history." A little later the narrator continues: "… the retirement match meant the end of an age and the bridge to a new age. There would be vitality in the world of Go. To forfeit the game would be to interrupt the flow of history. The responsibility was a heavy one. Was Otaké really to let personal feelings and circumstances prevail?"

But Kawabata's art accomplishes more than the reflection of social or historical change, the agony of the old and the triumphant rise of the new. Like all conservative authors, he lets us know the price which has to be paid for the challenger's victory. His loving portrait of the Master, his affection for the Master's grace and frailty, his deep understanding of the Master's nature, skill and strength have certainly to do with his acceptance of the Master's social function and with the institution he represents, the title of Master of Go. This title and this institution, with all their hierarchical symbolism can only be compared to the emperor's sovereign and supreme rule, its total and irrational autocracy. In the world of Go the decline of these attributes was anticipated (in 1938) before the Japanese public became aware of it with the Tenno Hirohito's radio-message in 1945. This parallel is of an ultimate character, and needs to be explained.

Of the Master we hear that he showed occasionally "quite astonishing autocratic tendencies," albeit mostly pertaining to entirely trivial matters, it seems. The Master of the old order had the right to determine the time and place, the special circumstances and conditions of a match. In Shusai's case, his long lasting tenure of the title had led to the idea that he was invincible, in fact his title had become that of the "invincible master." It seemed, therefore, justified for him to protect the title as an institution almost remote from his own personal ambitions and feelings. Even after he broke a promise, none of the managers of the match were prepared to act as umpire or hand down an order. This indeed seems like a relic from the past to younger players, to whom the title of "Master" is about to become but a "mark of strength and no more." Whereas the narrator stresses that in former times "the holder of the title, fearful of doing injury to it, seems to have avoided real competition even in practice matches," this is unthinkable in the future, so that Shusai, playing at age sixty-four in a title-match, "would seem in a variety of meanings, to have stood at the boundary between the old and the new. He had at the same time the lofty position of the old master and the material benefits of the new," i.e., he would receive the prize-money from a sponsoring newspaper, the common economic way of financing modern sports.

If these quarrelsome trivialities and dubious privileges cannot possibly explain the grandeur of the old order, where then can we find its real merits and beauty, its legitimacy and truth?

Some of these questions are answered by the manner in which the match proceeds, and how it reflects in a very refined and sometimes esoteric manner, not only broad cultural phenomena of an era of transition but also the psychological structure of characters made possible by the old or the new order. A brief description of how both players are portrayed may serve as a starting point.

In various suggestive ways the contrast between old and new, which happens to be also the contrast between old and young, is expressed by trivialities as well as highly esoteric modes of behavior. The Master, although obviously moribund, is quiet; his manners are dignified throughout the match. He will frequently sink into meditation, show outward signs of indifference, and there are occasions when, in a sudden epiphany, the Master's retreating figure seems to become unreal, moving the narrator and observer to tears: "I was profoundly moved, for reasons I do not myself understand. In that figure walking absently from the game there was still sadness of another world. The Master seemed like a relic left behind by Meiji."

Otaké, the young challenger, is restless both physically and mentally. He drinks enormous amounts of tea, suffers from nervous enuresis, and leaves the board frequently, excusing himself with his condition. He is talkative, tries to joke, turns the Master's stones right side up so that the inner stripeless side of the clamshell shows, and he would, like most younger players, "indulge all manner of odd quirks."

Otaké's fidgeting, however, is not reflected in the game in a direct way, that is, Otaké's style of playing is not erratic but concentrated and powerful. He releases all the tension in his behavior, whereas the Master, following and inheriting venerable traditions, seems to be in total control of his emotions. This cannot be interpreted as an advantage in the match itself, as it might have been when self-control was the equivalent of superiority in various disciplines, including Go. Since the Master is obviously not concerned with winning, his tension does not show. Throughout his more than thirty years as a titleholder, winning has become, one might say, an attribute of the title. The Master was instrumental in assuring the purity of this record, he derived his own strength from it. His victories, it seems, were almost assured. He had only played with the white stones during these years, making his task even more difficult, and yet, during his lifetime "no one among his juniors advanced as far as the Eighth Rank. All through the epoch that was his own he kept the opposition under control…."

The modern, post-Meiji way of Go is characterized by rules and laws laid down by associations to guarantee its democratic organization. And it is in this context that Kawabata deplores the loss of Go as an art: "When a law is made, the cunning that finds loopholes goes to work. One cannot deny that there is a certain slyness among young players, a slyness which, when rules are written to prevent slyness, makes use of these rules themselves." Consequently, Otaké's psychology of winning creates disagreements, since he refuses to give an inch in questions concerning a relocation of living quarters or playing-room, or a delay of a day or two during the match, which lasted after all from June 26 (Tokyo) until December 4 (Ito) of 1938, for a total of 14 sessions. Otaké's manner suggests to the narrator "an inability to understand the courtesies due to an elder, a want of sympathy for a sick man, and a rationalism that somehow missed the point." What Otaké fails to grasp is the situation in which the Master and the game of Go find themselves. Since this match is officially known as the Master's last, it attains the level of a ritual. As in a particular Japanese tradition of suicide, where for reasons often totally unknown to outsiders, a person has chosen the "right" moment to end his life, which in an esthetic sense can also mean the "most beautiful" moment, the match has been composed by the Master as a piece of art going back to its ritual origins. From the challenger's manner and from the general physical condition of the Master, it becomes clear, however, that Otaké is assigned the role not only of playing partner, adversary, and representative of the new era, but also of executor and executioner. Unaware of the historical as well as of the esthetic dimensions of the match, Otaké is unable to conceal or suppress the aggressiveness reflected both in his gestures ("Otaké's way of sitting down and getting up again was as if readying himself for battle") and his playing style, and this attitude, which may have its functional value on the more trivial level of mere historical transition, cannot possibly do justice to the pursuit of beauty and Go as an art that is on the Master's mind. For this we have to take a closer look at the game.

Having the advantage of playing Black, Otaké takes the initiative from the opening and keeps it, so it seems, far into the middle-game. His "impatience" results in early gains. He has developed a wall on the side, and a strong center influence; he has a large upper right corner, a smaller upper left corner, has created potential for the lower left corner, and positioned a "spy" on the lower side. This "spy," move Black 63, is perhaps the most visible sign of Black's unconcern for what would be called esthetically the "flow" of the game. It is played against the spirit of give and take in Go, making a very early and somewhat speculative invasion into the Master's sphere of influence. And here we can see from a little dialogue between the players the two different levels of concern, the esthetic and esoteric of the Master's and Otaké's more trivial consciousness. The Master deliberated for twenty minutes after Black's last move: "Apparently Black 63 struck him as a trifle unorthodox. At the outset of the game, Otaké had been careful to warn the Master that he would frequently ask to be excused; but his departures from the board had been so frequent during the proceeding session that the Master had thought them a little odd. 'Is something wrong?' he asked. 'Kidneys. Nerves, really. When I have to think I have to go,'" is Otaké's answer. The Master's concerned question, however, goes beyond his opponent's physical and nervous condition; it pertains to his sense of collaborating on a work of art.

In following the Master's reactions to several ruthless moves by Otaké, the reader becomes aware that even Otaké's strength has been entered into the Master's artful design. Black's constant aggressiveness has not resulted in an insurmountable lead: "Black had made gains, and yet it seemed that White, casting away the dressings from his wounds, had emerged with greater lightness and freedom of action."

The crisis will arrive and eventually lead to catastrophe with Black 121. With this sealed play, the game loses its character as a piece of art. The move was expected with great excitement as perhaps "the climax of the game," but when it was revealed, nobody seemed at first able to locate it on the board. It was far from where the present action was localized, and a "wave of revulsion" came over the narrator when he finally saw it. One twenty-one was a thoroughly trivial move. A few moves later the Master makes a fatal mistake that loses the game. In this move, White 130, there was "something that spoke less of a will to fight than of angry disdain," as the narrator sees it. At lunch with the narrator the Master says in "a low but intense voice: 'The match is over. Mr. Otaké ruined it with that sealed play. It was like smearing ink over the picture we had painted. The minute I saw it I felt like forfeiting the match.'"

Only now does it become clear to spectators, narrator, and reader that the Master "had put the match together as a work of art," and in this context Kawabata identifies himself with this definition of Go as an art: "That play of black upon white, white upon black, has the intent and takes the forms of creative art. It has in it a flow of the spirit and a harmony as of music. Everything is lost when suddenly a false note is struck, or one party in a duet suddenly launches forth on an eccentric flight of his own. A masterpiece of a game can be ruined by insensitivity to the feelings of an adversary." The trivial, so it seems, has defeated the esoteric beauty of art, has not allowed the old order to die in a beautiful manner and at the "right" moment, has denied it the honor and superiority of designing its own death.

If we could consider this a "message" of Kawabata's novel, we might find ourselves in danger of trivializing it in spite of all the seemingly esoteric details revealed, because—and that is the meaning of the problematized perspective—from the standpoint of the overall narrative strategy of the shosetsu, we cannot speak of a total identification with the Master's feelings about the match. Not only does a realistic principle prevail (since the novel is part chronicle), leaving even the Master and the old order open to criticism despite the narrator's warm veneration, but also an element of esthetic justice is at work integrating historical and social forces into a piece of art reflecting the end of all art, a theme struck first around the turn of the 19th century and hotly debated in the 1960's and 70's….

… By basing his novel, published in 1954, largely on his own 1938 newspaper articles, which chronicled an actual Go match of the same year, Kawabata provides both a 1938 perspective and multiple retrospective points of view.

Joseph H. Bourke (essay date 1982)

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SOURCE: "Tragic Vision in Kawabata's The Master of Go," in Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, Vol. 36, No. 2, 1982, pp. 83-94.

[In the following essay, Bourque analyzes Kawabata's The Master of Go as a modern tragedy.]

At first glance the application of the thoroughly Western dramatic concept of tragedy to an Oriental novel may seem to be critical madness. Both the genres and the traditions are jarringly incongruous: the process may seem a bit like trying to examine a flower with a sword. Yet, unlike most Japanese novels, The Master of Go seems to invite examination from the perspective of Western concepts. At its most accessible symbolic level the novel presents the Go match between the old Master, Shusai, and the young challenger, Otaké, as the objectification of a conflict between tradition and change in Japanese culture, a change intimately associated with Western ideas. Beyond that, the most fundamental level of that conflict is the confrontation of two completely different ways of understanding the nature of human existence at the moment when one is giving way to the other and while both are still vital enough to sustain the conflict's intensity: on the one hand, the traditional Japanese culture's organic view of human beings as emotional and subjective participants in the integrative process of experiencing a complex universe of which they are a functioning element; on the other hand, a systematic view of human beings as objective observers of the universe, categorizing, systematizing, and controlling their experience of a world from which they try to stand apart.

The most obvious precedent for such a confrontation is to be found in the classical Greece of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., where the same kind of conflict took place between an organic, mythological view of humanity as part of the great cosmic cycle and the systematic view of humanity attempting rational control of its own destiny with the beginnings of theoretical science and the reflexive humanism of the Sophists. There, too, a transition occurred from the organic to the systematic at a moment when the conflict was still vital; the human anguish produced by that conflict is expressed in tragedy. The tragic flaw that brings about the hero's downfall is the assumption that he can control his own destiny through the exercise of logic and will, the attributes of rationality. From that limited perspective, the only real tragedy is Greek classical tragedy. Modern Western tragedy is not possible because the confrontation is no longer vital: we have become predominately rationalistic, and the memory of an organic conception of humanity is too dim to provoke a genuine conflict. Humanity still feels anguish, but it is the anxiety of the alienated hero. Yet, if the conflict can be found in its dynamic state once again, as it seems to be in The Master of Go, perhaps we can find there a modern literary equivalent to the Greek classical tragic vision.

There can be little doubt that the implications of the Go match in Kawabata's novel are meant to extend to Japanese culture in general. The contestants are isolated, but their activities are being reported in the newspapers as events of national importance. The game itself is frequently referred to as an art form, and relationships are continually established with music, poetry, history, and the Japanese landscape. It is inextricably entwined with the cultural tradition, the spirit, and the mentality of the Japanese people when Uragami, Kawabata's persona and narrator, plays a game of Go with an American on the train:

One did not of course wish to take a game too seriously, and yet it was quite clear that playing Go with a foreigner was very different from playing Go with a Japanese. I wondered whether the point might be that foreigners were not meant for Go…. One is of course rash to generalize from the single example of an American beginner, but perhaps the conclusion might be valid all the same that Western Go is wanting in spirit. The Oriental game has gone beyond game and test of strength and become a way of art. It has about it a certain Oriental mystery and nobility. The "Honnimbo" of Honnimbo Shusai is the name of a cell at the Jakkoji Temple in Kyoto, and Shusai the Master had himself taken holy orders. On the three hundredth anniversary of the death of the first Honnimbo, Sansa, whose clerical name was Nikkai, he had taken the clerical name Nichion. I thought, as I played Go with the American, that there was no tradition of Go in his country.

In addition, the Master's priesthood contributes to his near-mythical status in a unique and pervasive tradition:

It was his good fortune to be born in the early flush of Meiji. Probably never again will it be possible for anyone—for, say, Wu Ch'ing-yüan of our own day—knowing nothing of the vale of tears in which the Master spent his student years, to encompass in his individual person a whole panorama of history. It will not be possible even though the man be more of a genius at Go than the Master was. He was the symbol of Go itself, he and his record shining through Meiji, Taisho, and Showa, and his achievement in having brought the game to its modern flowering.

But the changes taking place in the game of Go and in Japanese culture are not simply the changes of taste and attitude that are always typical of the difference between one generation and another. They represent the cataclysmic rupture of a centuries-old tradition for the sake of a new one. No subtle transition here, no gradual shading off into other forms and other perspectives. The break is violent and abrupt because it represents a conflict between two incompatible views of humanity. Uragami, the narrator, leaves no doubt about the end of the tradition. He has played chess with the Master a few days before the old man's death, and he remarks: "Those were his last games of the chess of which he was so fond. I did the newspaper accounts of his last championship match at Go, I was his last adversary at chess, and I was the last to take his picture." The word "last" is significantly repeated, and since the Master has been set up in the novel as the last and only exemplar of the old tradition, it dies with him.

The death of that tradition is sometimes blamed on the encroachment of Western influences, especially American ones. We have already encountered the American on the train, and there is a significant passage in which the Master, fallen ill, is taken to St. Luke's, an American hospital: "I went to see him at St. Luke's Hospital during the three-month recess in his retirement match. The furnishings were huge, to fit the American physique. There was something precarious about the Master's small figure perched on the lofty bed." And probably the ultimate irony centers on one of the fussy rules that have become the new way of Go: the practice of isolating the players to prevent outside interference with the match. The process is called "sealing in a tin can." The tin can is the most prominent symbol of the American occupation of Japan after World War II. Cigarette lighters, the first products of the birth of the modern Japanese industrial giant, were made with the metal salvaged from American beer cans.

But it is not the source of the change (if, indeed, that source is ever clearly determined), but rather the nature of the change that really concerns Kawabata:

It may be said that the Master was plagued in his last match by modern rationalism, to which fussy rules were everything, from which all the grace and elegance of Go as art had disappeared, which quite dispensed with respect for elders and attached no importance to mutual respect as human beings. From the way of Go the beauty of Japan and the Orient had fled. Everything had become science and regulation. The road to advancement in rank, which controlled the life of a player, had become a meticulous point system. One conducted the battle only to win, and there was no margin for remembering the dignity and fragrance of Go as an art. The modern way was to insist upon doing battle under conditions of abstract justice, even when challenging the Master himself. The fault was not Otaké's. Perhaps what had happened was but natural, Go being a contest and a show of strength.

To put it as simply as possible, in the Master's tradition the process itself is the substance, but, in the new way, the goal is the substance. Of course Go is definitely an exercise in rationality. It is a game of tactics and strategy, complete with military terms of attack and defense. But in the Master's tradition the process also involves aesthetic, cultural, and philosophical components: there is an appreciation of the board and stones in terms of color, texture, and design; the game adheres to certain time-honored forms and procedures; it is also an expression of an attitude toward existence and a mode of behavior. For Otaké and the new way, there are only three variations of a single concern; to win, to collect the prize money, to become the new Master. Only rational goals and values are worth considering.

The changes are traceable to Western influences: scientific systematization, goal-oriented competition, theoretical abstraction, iconoclastic individualism—all under the pervasive shadow of rationalism. But Kawabata does not waste his time exploring the historical, or philosophical, or economic sources of these changes nor their implications. Rather, he records the effects of the conflicts among them on a people represented in microcosm by Shusai, Otaké, and, of course, Uragami. To that extent, Kawabata's novel achieves the scope of Greek tragedy in that both, using different metaphors as vehicles, constitute a fictionalized record of the culture's development from an organic to a systematic self-conception. Aeschylus's Oresteia provides a good parallel. In that trilogy, the dramatic theme revolves around Orestes's dilemma in the face of conflicting demands posed by the blood-vengeance tradition: he must avenge his father, but he must not kill his mother, an act that constitutes the only acceptable form of vengeance. He is finally vindicated in a court of law especially formed for the purpose by Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and the trilogy becomes a symbolic re-creation of the Greek culture's historical process of transition from the old mythological beliefs to the more rational systems of civil law. Orestes is the objectification, the symbolic embodiment of that transition. In the same way the Go match in Kawabata's novel is the metaphor for the Japanese culture's transition from the old tradition to the more rational systems of the modern world. In fact, it is to a considerable degree the same tradition in both cultures. Not that the Japanese tradition can be characterized as pre-analytical in the same sense as the Homeric tradition which describes warriors as generations of leaves, but both traditions express a remarkably similar view of what humanity becomes when rationality begins to dominate culture and overshadows whatever organic tradition existed before it. And that vision of humanity is an important element in tragedy.

Within the context of that cultural record, the Master can easily be envisioned as a tragic hero, contingent upon the nature of his death. In the meantime, he has all of the aristocratic background and demeanor of that office. He is a man of high stature, noble sentiments, and strength. For a man his age he demonstrates remarkable discipline in his posture and bearing at the Go board. He inspires confidence in his mastery of self; he is calm where others are perturbed, he is energetic where others are lethargic, he displays refined tastes in poetry, music, and art. In short, he is a highly complex individual who assumes heroic proportions in comparison with the people around him.

Uragami, for instance, takes on the aspect of the Greek chorus, commenting on the proceedings as the representative of ordinary people whose fate is encompassed by the heroic conflict they can only observe. Like the chorus, he is often confused about what is actually happening, about the motives of the participants, about the implications of the actions he is reporting. Further, he is often ambivalent about which values are the more legitimate. And, in the final analysis, like the Greek chorus, he is left to report the ending of the tragic hero—this time with a camera.

But if Shusai is a tragic hero and Uragami is the chorus, what function does Otaké fulfill? It is there that Kawabata expands his tragic vision to bridge the gap between past and present. For Otaké bears all the marks of the alienated hero. And, after all, that is not so surprising, since the alienated hero is no more than the literary culmination of Western culture's logical development into the rational, analytical phase begun with the Greeks. Where humanity's assumption of control over its own destiny can be seen as a positive step from the point of view of the Oresteia—Orestes's acquittal marks the end of the bloodletting—it can be seen pessimistically from the present since the analytical approach has failed to produce a comprehensive world view. If Western humanity has gained its freedom and individuality, it has lost the sense of stability and cohesion. If it has gained mobility and a greater potential for improving its condition, it has also acquired a fear of the unknown future. This is not the place to debate the issue in cultural terms, but it seems evident that modern literature has emphasized the negative elements of that dichotomy and coalesced them in the figure of the antihero who is always as distantly removed from any sense of tradition as we are from the ancient Greeks. But Kawabata had one advantage over the Greek tragedians. With Western culture as a precedent and Western literature as a guide, he could foresee the direction his own culture would take, and display, in one startling contrast: both the inception of the new world view in a tragic vision and its logical culmination in the alienated hero.

Otaké is so completely different from the Master that we are shocked by the comparison. They do indeed seem centuries apart in their attitudes and habits. A few examples merely suggest the extent and depth of the contrast. Otaké has absolutely none of the majesty and dignity that attend the Master. Uragami notes:

Otaké's trouble was more extreme. He was unique among competitors at the grand spring and autumn tournaments. He would drink enormously from the large pot he kept at his side. Wu of the Sixth Rank, who was at the time one of his more interesting adversaries, also suffered at the Go board from nervous enuresis. I have seen him get up ten times and more in the course of four or five hours of play. Though he did not have Otaké's addiction to tea, there would all the same (and one marveled at the fact) come sounds from the urinal each time he left the board. With Otaké the difficulty did not stop at enuresis. One noted with curiosity that he would leave his overskirt behind him in the hallway and his obi as well.

What could be more antiheroic than a winner with a weak bladder and diarrhea? But the Master is very different: "Seated at the board, the Master and Otaké presented a complete contrast, quiet against constant motion, nervelessness against nervous tension. Once he had sunk himself into a session, the Master did not leave the board." Uragami notes, however, that Otaké's nervousness does not detract from the power of his game. Later, when the Master falls ill, suffering from pain in his chest, his face swollen:

Seated at the board, the Master quietly took up a tea bowl in both hands and sipped at the strong brew. Then he folded his hands lightly on his knees and brought himself upright. The expression on his face was like that of a child about to weep. The tightly closed lips were thrust forward, there was a dropsical swelling in the cheeks, and the eyelids too were swollen.

In extreme pain, the Master sits straight and suffers silently, with dignity. Otaké is another type altogether: "Otaké reported that he too was indisposed. His digestion was troubling him. He was taking three stomach medicines and a medicine to prevent fainting as well. He had been known to faint during a match." His weakness, as we discover, is not a sign of failing health. Rather, it is a sign that he is playing badly and running out of time. The Master is a man of many talents and interests; Otaké is a Go player and nothing else. The Master appreciates the process of the game as an art; Otaké emphasizes the outcome of the game as a test of power. The contrasts could be extended indefinitely, but the results are the same: the Master is, above all, master of himself, while Otaké cannot even control his bodily functions. The Master is a many-faceted, nearly legendary figure who seems to carry over from the distant past; his world view has a well-integrated complexity. Otaké is a single-minded rationalist of the immediate present; he is a specialist.

But it is the tragic vision that concerns us here, and the special character of the tragic hero is that he attempts to bridge the gap between two world views. While he is firmly rooted in the traditional past, he is also the hope of the future, predicated upon the action of the present. And, in that respect, there are some remarkable correspondences between Shusai the Master and Oedipus the King. For instance, both seem to achieve, if only briefly, that delicate balance between the two worlds in question. Indeed, that is one of the principal qualities among those that make them heroic. In Sophocles's tragedy the Priest petitions Oedipus, in the name of the people, with these words:

     You are not one of the immortal gods, we know;
     Yet we have come to you to make our prayer
     As to the man surest in mortal ways
     And wisest in the ways of God.

The dramatic action is a demonstration of that balance. Oedipus is firmly committed to the spiritual values of his heritage. When the oracle indicates the cause of the plague and its cure, Oedipus dedicates himself totally to fulfilling its terms. Within the context of that spiritual heritage, he exercises his rational powers, which are definitely superior to those of ordinary people, in a detective-style search for the culprit. To that extent Oedipus is entirely heroic: his balanced approach certainly succeeds in discovering the guilty party, and, in Oedipus, the culture seems to have achieved its finest flowering—even if it is an imperfect blossom and lasts but a moment. With Oedipus humanity has learned that it can act effectively, with the guidance of spiritual authority, to achieve a measure of control over its own destiny: after all, the Thebans are rescued by Oedipus's action. It is only Oedipus himself who is destroyed, and his destruction is certainly not due to the thoroughly honorable action we see him take in the play as rational human investigator of a divine orderliness. It is the result of actions that have occurred prior to the present time of the play. And what is the nature of those actions? Excessive reliance on human logic. When the first oracle predicted Oedipus's fate, he simply fled, basing his flight on the logical assumption that Polybus was his father—obviously a false assumption. Relying on his own logic, he tried to change destiny. But, since the way of divine authority is not to justify itself but to maintain order, the oracle had foreseen the excessive reliance on logic, the excessive confidence in self that comes from an imbalance toward the side of rationality. That is the hubris of Oedipus. And the ever-increasing reliance on human logic in developing Western culture's attempt to control destiny becomes an iconoclastic individualism, already hinted at by the Greek tragedians, that eventually produces the alienated hero without roots, without tradition, and without a cohesive world view; the individualism produces only theoretical and rational systems that constantly break down.

The Master, like Oedipus, is firmly committed to the values of his heritage, and, like Oedipus, he is the best that his culture can produce. He possesses the ability to achieve the fine balance between two world views. On the one hand, he is himself a priest, and he has the sensibility that transforms a mere game into an artistic and spiritual achievement. On the other hand, Go is the supreme exercise in rationality, and Shusai is indeed the Master. But what is it that makes the last game so different? As in the ancient tragedy, we know the outcome from the very start. We are shown the images of the dead man, and we are told: "One may say that in the end the match took the Master's life." The remainder of the novel is the working out of that inevitable fate. The dramatic strength of the action lies not in the suspense over the outcome of the match—that would require a focus on Otaké and his values—but in the anguish generated by the vision of a great man working toward his own destruction. And since the Master himself does not know the outcome, as we do, the novel produces the same kind of dramatic irony that we find in the tragedy of Oedipus.

Moreover, like Oedipus, the Master has brought his own fate upon himself by extending the rational elements of the game beyond the boundaries of the traditional, thereby destroying the delicate balance. The fatal error in this case is his conceding to, rather than resisting, all of those very things that Uragami told us were the result of modern rationalism, not the least of which is the profit motive. Uragami tells us: "It may in fact be said that the Master sold his last match to a newspaper at a price without precedent. He did not so much go forth into combat as allow himself to be lured into combat by the newspaper." With his acceptance of that sponsorship come all the "fussy rules" such as the sealed play and the extended time limit that eventually conspire to destroy the Master's commitment to the match. By giving in to modern rationalism, Shusai has made what seems to be the logical choice, but it is a logic that is not informed by the spiritual nature of his art.

There comes a moment, of course, when the Master realizes his fatal error and the destiny that awaits him, but that moment does not occur when the wrong play has been made, the play that decides the logical outcome of the game. Rather, the Master's enlightenment occurs when Otaké has made a wholly unexpected play that is not, however, decisive. After that day's session the Master says to Uragami:

The match is over. Mr. Otaké ruined it with that sealed play. It was like smearing ink over the picture we had painted. The minute I saw it I felt like forfeiting the match. Like telling them it was the last straw. I really thought I should forfeit. But I hesitated, and that was that.

Of course, there is never any real possibility of forfeiture for a man like the Master; that is only a passing temptation. He may be tempted to stop the inevitable workings of fate. He could simply disengage, as Oedipus could do, when he begins to realize what his destiny will be; but he must continue. And he, too, is betrayed by anger and his own commitment. Though he maintains his composure, the rapidity of his next move betrays his attitude:

I had not been aware, at the moment of play, that the Master was so angry and so disappointed as to consider forfeiting the match. There was no sign of emotion on his face or in his manner as he sat at the board. No one among us sensed his distress. We had been watching Yawata, of course, as he was having his troubles with the chart and the sealed play, and we had not looked at the Master. Yet the Master had played White 122 in literally no time, less than a minute.

His response does not conform to the situation. Black 121, the opponent's smearing tactic, has been so unusual that it should require considerable thought and adjustment on the Master's part, especially since the Master has not yet spent even half of the time allotted him for the match. Yet the Master plays without any thought whatsoever. And by the end of that day's session he has made the fatal play, White 130, that ensures his defeat. Once again, we are reminded of Oedipus who has first betrayed his spiritual nature by fleeing from the oracle and then betrays his rational nature by giving in to a fit of anger on the road to Thebes. Likewise, the Master has betrayed the spirit of his art by agreeing to the conditions of his match and then betrays his rational nature by reacting emotionally in a burst of anger. In this case, his anger is directed at himself as well as at Otaké, because he realizes that it is his own concession that has made possible the system in which Otaké makes the sealed play that so angers him.

And there is little doubt that the Master finally makes the only response possible to that realization. In a move somewhat less dramatic than Oedipus's blinding, the Master makes the only choice left to him under the circumstances. A victory for him in this match would mean that he has become what his opponent is already: dedicated only to winning without regard for the spiritual value of the process. After Black 121, he could still win, logically; but now that the match has lost its artistic and spiritual value, it can have no meaning in the Master's tradition. He must lose in order to assert the validity of humanity's attempt to find the balance even as he fails himself. And so he deliberately and knowingly makes the move, White 130, that destroys him. Uragami asks: "Another puzzle: why did the Master play White 130 and so ensure his own defeat?" Just as the chorus in Oedipus Rex asks: "What god was it drove you to rake black / Night across your eyes?" But we know. And just as the Master has made the fatal move, the sound of a flute comes drifting into the room. The next morning he has begun the final ritual: "I do not know when he had called a barber, but this morning he resembled a shaven-headed priest."

The world goes on, of course, just as it does in Sophocles's play, though not in the same way. The people of Thebes are rescued from their plague by Oedipus's action, while the people of Japan seem condemned to the insecurity of modern rationalism in Kawabata's novel. Otaké is fundamentally a good man, and he deservedly reaps the rewards of his victory: he lives well, and he can afford to keep disciples, along with his family, in a large home. But his real fate is expressed in one of Uragami's typical observations:

The fact that today, a decade after the Master's death, no method has been devised for determining the succession to the title Master of Go probably has to do with the towering presence of Honnimbo Shusai. Probably he was the last of the true masters revered in the tradition of Go as a way of life and art.

But while Sophocles seems to revert to tradition and Kawabata plunges us into rationalism, the difference in prospects for the future is not surprising, nor is it crucial. It is the tipping of the balance in either direction by a human being's willful action that produces the tragic destruction. Oedipus's reliance on logic reveals the inadequacy of logic alone. Antigone's total commitment to tradition precipitates her destruction. Creon's excessive attention to political expediency is equally destructive. Haimon, who cannot find the balance between the two, is crushed. Phaedra's excessive passion destroys her, while Hippolytus, with his excessive self control, is ground up in a complex of fates and curses. Only Aeschylus's Orestes seems to live on, precisely because Athena has chosen to provide him with what seems to be the ideal balance: the rational human institution of law and justice under the guidance and protection of the gods. Significantly, Orestes is not the typical tragic hero. For Kawabata, who had the precedent of Western tradition to observe, the balance must tip in the direction of rationalism. In his tragic vision excessive rationality provides both the loss of equilibrium that leads to a tragic fate and the projection of its effects on humanity. And that excessive rationality takes the metaphoric guise of Western rationalism's most pervasive characteristic: analytical systematization.

Yasunari Kawabata has written a tragedy of the modern era, using the only context in which tragedy is still possible: a fundamental shift of emphasis from one world view to another, with humanity, in the person of the tragic hero, attempting to maintain a delicate balance between the two. Such a balance is impossible, of course, and one in which the hero can finally choose only to assert his humanity with his destruction. Kawabata's tragic vision is vitally alive, and it is faithful to the Greek conception, not because it attempts to imitate the earlier form, but because it is based on a similar cultural crisis. Tragedy has interested Westerners since its inception; they have always felt a fundamental dichotomy between the demands of the soul and those of the intellect, and tragedy has objectified that dichotomy. But perhaps the most vital tragedy can only be written when the vehicle, the living metaphor, is derived from a culture that is itself on the balance midway between the two. In that sense, tragedy transcends the limitations of genre and of time.

Paul Stuewe (review date 26 March 1983)

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SOURCE: A review of House of the Sleeping Beauties, in Books in Canada, Vol. 12, No. 3, March 26, 1983, p. 26.

[In the following excerpt, Stuewe asserts that in House of the Sleeping Beauties, "Kawabata's writing … confronts the most basic contradictions of human life with poise and serenity, and makes high art out of the existential ebb and flow that will ultimately lay us low."]

Bodily decline, and in the case of the story "One Arm," dismemberment, play prominent roles in Yasunari Kawabata's House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories translated into English in 1969 and now available in an attractive paperback edition…. The title novella relates an elderly man's fascination with an unusual kind of brothel, where those who can no longer make love to women pay to watch them sleep. This may sound like an unpromising or even precious conceit, but Kawabata develops it beautifully. Evocative memories of love affairs past are delicately compared to the subtler attractions of voyeurism, and the starker contrast between old age and youth is muted by expressing it in terms of the corresponding varieties of sleep: turbulent but refreshing for the young, fitful and imminently permanent for the aged. Life must end in death, but in "House of the Sleeping Beauties" a life is temporarily revived by the contemplation of youth in temporary repose, and the manifold nuances of this charged situation are stunningly rendered.

The book also includes two short stories of similar excellence. The narrator of "One Arm" first borrows and then exchanges his own arm for that of a young girl, as what initially seems an amusingly surreal experiment gradually becomes a very serious exploration of the boundaries of individual identities. In "Of Birds and Beasts" the protagonist, who can no longer tolerate human companionship, seeks solace in the observation of his pets. But this too proves dissatisfying, and as the story ends he is becoming fascinated with the diary of a girl who died at an early age: the implicit conclusion is that life is attractive when fixed at a beautiful moment, and death may be negated by artful preservation. This could also serve as a motto for Kawabata's writing, which confronts the most basic contradictions of human life with poise and serenity, and makes high art out of the existential ebb and flow that will ultimately lay us low.

Kinya Tsuruta (essay date 1986)

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SOURCE: "The Twilight Years, East and West: Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and Kawabata's The Sound of the Mountain," in Explorations, edited by Makoto Ueda, University Press of America, 1986, pp. 87-99.

[In the following essay, Tsuruta compares and contrasts the journeys undertaken by the aging main characters of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and Kawabata's The Sound of the Mountain.]

If anyone were to think of comparing Hemingway with a Japanese writer, the first name to come to mind would most likely be that of Mishima Yukio. The two writers share a wide area of common ground: an intense concern with masculinity, an obsession with violence and death, a strong, colorful personality which often overshadowed their literary work, and finally the fact that both ended their lives in violent suicide. On the other hand, Kawabata Yasunari, who tried to assuage loneliness with the beauty of art, women and nature, seems to offer little basis for comparison with the American novelist. Nevertheless, I have chosen Mishima's mentor here with the hope that this very contrast will shed some light on the workings of one modern Eastern mind against one Western mind in the face of a similar crisis.

Although it has no direct bearing on the actual comparison of these authors' works, it is intriguing to note that both Hemingway and Kawabata were born in 1899, both were the sons of doctors, both were awarded the Nobel Prize, and both committed suicide. Literary parallels exist also: both writers are known as superb stylists who abhorred abstraction, though their styles are quite different in texture; both writers' works explore the meanings of man's isolation; and finally, more than any other writer in their respective countries, each represents the sensitivities of his own cultural tradition at its deepest. When we compare The Old Man and the Sea and The Sound of the Mountain, we also realize that, even though the two writers were so different in temperament, they dealt with a surprisingly similar theme in their last important novels. Both works present a hero at the penultimate stage of his life struggling to live out his final days in the fullest way he knows. Both novels, considered by many critics to be the best works of their respective authors, have a deceptively simple style which hides a web of complex meanings.

Hemingway's novel starts: "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream." The reader is not told the exact age of the Cuban fisherman but that he is "thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck." After eighty-four unlucky fishless days, Santiago rows far out into the Gulf Stream to hook a giant marlin of over fifteen hundred pounds, but sharks reduce the big fish to a skeleton by the time Santiago returns to shore. During the ordeal, Hemingway's hero displays an impressive mastery of skill and an almost superhuman energy and endurance. Kawabata's hero, on the other hand, is hardly that heroic. Shingo, a sixty-one-year-old businessman, thinks one night that he has heard the mountain in back of his house mysteriously make a sound. He vaguely interprets this occurrence as the beckoning knell of his death. During the fifteen months that follow, Shingo resorts to several ingenious devices to reverse time's flow. However he gradually comes to accept that he cannot be eternal; indeed, he is a part of that nature which keeps on living through a cycle of birth and death.

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the way these two old heroes confront death by examining their responses to primarily two major factors in life: space and time. The Old Main and the Sea operates very much like The Sound of the Mountain in three distinct spaces: the sea, the land (that is, Cuba) and Africa. The sea is obviously the novel's main stage where a battle between man and nature is waged. A man is alone here on the vast ocean and must prove his worth against his adversary. Here also diurnal time ticks away, and a minimum of time-stopping fantasy is tolerated. The overall effect is that a man becomes a sharply outlined individual and seeks an infinite expansion of his ego.

The land is where Santiago is with people. He is with Martin, the owner of the restaurant—significantly named the Terrace—who gives the old man food; Perico, who looks after his skiff; and above all, his youthful admirer Manolin, who fetches him food and drink, listens to his stories and puts him to bed. It is on the land that the old man allows himself to rest, to sleep and to dream about Africa, a place he visited in his youth. The land locale appears only twice: at the beginning and at the end quite briefly, but it undoubtedly provides a contrast to the sea. Africa is not an actual space in this novel but reveals itself nearly every time the old man dreams. When he was Manolin's age, he was on a ship that sailed to Africa; while there, he saw lions on the beach. And in his dreams every evening he sees those same African lions. If the sea represents the present where time definitely flows, Africa suggests the past, where the old man's time has been frozen. In his dream, Africa does not change; it is constant. It is always there unchanged when the old man goes to sleep. Africa represents his eternal youth. The land, however, is somewhere in between the present and the past. It is a half-awake reality as opposed to the stark naked reality of the sea where every second counts. The old man is well cared for here and is a part of the locale. Not as frightening or as beautiful as the sea, the village is a place for inactivity.

Space in The Sound of the Mountain is similarly divided into three distinct places: Tokyo, where Shingo works, Kamakura where he lives, and finally Shinshu where he lived in his youth and about which he dreams. Tokyo is equivalent to Santiago's sea in that it is the place of his livelihood and in that it represents the harshest reality. This is where his old classmates are dying one by one, reminding him that time is running out. Tokyo is where Kikuko, his graceful daughter-in-law, and her friend have abortions and where Shingo takes it upon himself to counsel his son's girlfriend, Kinu, to have an abortion.

If Tokyo represents life-struggle and responsibility, Kamakura imparts more of a sense of harmony. Kamakura affords a glimpse of an unattended natural order, provides contact with various aesthetic objects and is where Kikuko, who functions somewhat like Manolin in The Old Man and the Sea, is. In Kamakura Shingo exerts himself at self-rejuvenation, but it is not the Garden of Paradise. It has its share of failed responsibilities and of disappointments for Shingo. At best, Kamakura is a half-way place. The real paradise for Shingo is Shinshu, except that it is a lost one. Shingo apparently grew up there and fell in love with his wife's beautiful sister, who later died. In Shingo's mind, the image of the sister is frozen with the background of u. He constantly reminisces about u and the sister, and once in his dream, he goes back there to see her.

As with Santiago's three spatial locales, each with its corresponding period of time, Shingo's Tokyo represents the present, u the past, and Kamakura a mixture of the present and the past. One of the differences between the two heroes in terms of space is that while for Santiago the main stage is the sea, which represents the present, for Shingo the main stage is not Tokyo but Kamakura, the half-way place between the present and the past. The significance of this difference will be clear when we analyze the two heroes' attitudes toward and actual dealings with time.

We must stress that both men face a crisis of old age which may be somewhat different in appearance though essentially the same in nature. Both realize that they are in the penultimate stage of life and that, mentally as well as physically, their strength is waning. At the outset of the novel, Santiago is referred to as salao, which is in Spanish the worst form of unlucky, because the old man has not caught a fish for eighty-four days straight. Shingo's power of memory is weakening; he forgets things easily, and so on. Then one night he hears the ominous sound of the mountain and realizes that he may not have much time left in life. Santiago's crisis takes a much more dramatic form: an eighteen-foot marlin whose conquest demands great skill, enormous energy and an iron will bordering on the superhuman. Shingo's crisis is more internal but just as real; to cope with it he must reach down very deep inside to tap his inner resources.

During the four days of his fight with the giant fish and with the sharks afterwards, Santiago does everything to restore his youthful energy—not just to stay alive but also to triumph over the fish. He uses for this purpose the young boy Manolin, nature, his baseball hero Joe DiMaggio, his fishing skills, his memory of the glorious past, his capacity for psychological self-splitting, and finally the dream of Africa. Surprisingly, the Japanese hero so different in occupation, temperament, social position and cultural reflexes, employs almost exactly the same methods to reverse his time flow. Following are item-by-item comparisons of the two old men's struggles against their eventual extinction.

Manolin means several things to Santiago. First of all, the boy understands and appreciates the old man in a way nobody else does. While no one else believes in Santiago, Manolin knows he is the best fisherman. Between them is what appears to be a private ritual: the old man tells the boy that he has a pot of yellow rice with fish and also a cast net. He knows that the boy in fact knows Santiago does not have these things, but the boy respects and goes along with the old man's fiction. The ritual confirms their bond. The old man can rely on the boy without losing his pride. Manolin is not only the food-bearer and the keeper of the old man, but he also represents the old fisherman's future: the boy, always eager to learn fishing skills from his senior, is Santiago's successor. Manolin will carry on where the old man leaves off. Thus on one level Manolin is the youthful double of Santiago, a future extension of him. But Manolin also reminds Santiago of his past. "When I was your age I was before the mast on a square-rigged ship that ran to Africa," Santiago says. Thus when the old man, struggling with the big fish, says aloud to himself, "I wish I had the boy" or "I wish the boy was here," he is invoking a youthful energy through an overlay of himself, both in past and future form, with the young boy.

Kikuko, the delicate daughter-in-law in The Sound of the Mountain, functions very much the way Manolin does. She is the water-bearer to Shingo and also the one who looks after him. Shingo dislikes meals and tea not prepared by Kikuko. Special areas exist which only Shingo and his daughter-in-law can understand and communicate, such as nature, art and death. She is an important link to his past, for she conjures up the vision of his wife's beautiful sister. At the same time, in Shingo's mind Kikuko also represents the future in that she may hopefully give birth to a child who is a reincarnation of the beautiful sister. This double function in regard to both the past and the future tends to diminish Kikuko's role in the present. Thus she remains, except towards the end of the novel, not a fleshed-out woman to whom one can relate but essentially a medium for Shingo's secret desires. Kikuko stirs the smouldering sexual emotions in Shingo but ultimately does not direct them to herself. Rather, she serves as a vehicle that carries him back to the beautiful sister of his fantasies and dreams.

Nature plays a vital part in both heroes' struggles to ride out their respective crises. Younger fishermen speak of the sea as el mar, which is masculine—thinking of it as a contestant or an enemy—but the old man calls it la mar. To him, the sea is a woman who gives and withholds great favors. If she does wicked things, it is because she cannot help it. The old man knows the sea thoroughly: its currents, winds, birds and fish. Nothing about the sea can surprise him. He can tell a hurricane is coming days ahead of time. The sea with its tuna, flying fish and shrimps nourishes and rejuvenates him, and with its salt water heals the wounds on his hands.

The old man has something of the sea about him. We are told at the outset, "Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated." Perhaps because of this rapport with the sea, the old fisherman begins to identify himself with the giant marlin he has hooked. The fish undergoes several stages of metamorphosis in Santiago's mind. It starts out as something of an adversary, then turns into something that demands a great deal of the old man's respect. A little later Santiago begins to address the fish as "brother." After he sees the fish jump out of the water, it becomes "beautiful" and "noble." But it is the shark attack that firmly establishes Santiago's identity with the fish. "When the fish had been hit, it was as though he himself were hit." This process becomes finalized when the old man eats a piece of the flesh of the great marlin. When sharks strip the big fish to the skeleton, Santiago is also being reduced to the bone. But he knew all along that he had gone too far out, that the sharks would come and that this would happen. Nature gives and also takes. There is no surprise in nature for Santiago for he is part of it.

Nature is full of surprises for the aged Japanese hero: the mountain sounds the knell of death, an old ginkgo tree puts forth young shoots in autumn, cherry trees bloom in the middle of winter, and a two-thousand year-old lotus seed comes into flower. To Shingo, in the beginning, nature is a mysterious entity which hides far more than it reveals. Shingo does not act upon nature but merely observes it. Yet through a keen power of observation he looks for and finds in nature phenomena which seem to defy the flow of time. Frightened by his approaching death, Shingo initially looks to nature for the assurance of a miracle that would show that time can be reversed. Thus the old gingko tree putting forth young leaves out of season seems to tell Shingo what he would like to hear. His observation of nature, however, gradually leads him away from his search for miracles, and to the discovery that things in nature flourish and decay but come back again in a renewed form. It dawns on him that although this year's kite that circles over his house may not be the same as last year's, it may in fact be last year's offspring. In the end, Shingo compares himself, without bitterness but not without a ring of sadness, with a descending trout, as mentioned in a haiku. He is aware now that the trout has laid its eggs upstream.

Joe DiMaggio is the old fisherman's hero not only because he is the best ballplayer but also because he performs perfectly, even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel. The old man feels that he himself must become worthy of the great DiMaggio; he wonders if DiMaggio could endure his—the old man's—pain. Thus by directly comparing himself with his hero, Santiago whips up his own courage to continue the fight.

In one of his weakest moments, Shingo resorts to a similar method, though somewhat more obliquely. He discovers through a dream that he secretly harbors a sexual fantasy in regard to his daughter-in-law. Feeling depressed, Shingo remembers having seen a picture of a lone crow enduring a rainstorm at dawn, by the celebrated Edo artist Watanabe Kazan. Shingo saw the picture at a friend's house and was told that the friend looked at the crow in the picture during the War and thereby tried to endure the hard times. The suggestion here is that Shingo derives some strength by linking himself with the artist Kazan, who underwent personal ordeals, and also with the crow patiently awaiting daybreak.

The old hero of Hemingway's last novel is a skillful, experienced fisherman. The fisherman says, "It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready." To be skillful and to be exact with fishing is what helps him to survive and eventually hook the big fish. Skill means one's control of time. With skill, the old man is able to anticipate events which will occur. On the eighty-fifth day, he looks at the current and predicts that the day will be good for fishing. Later he knows that if the marlin turns east with the current, it is tiring; he can also foretell when the fish will jump clear of the water by looking at the slant of the line. Again, the old fisherman can sense when the fish is going to circle the boat. He knows that sharks will be after him and when that happens, "God pity him and me." Skill comes also from repeated experiences and affords a man control over flowing and otherwise capricious time by equipping him with the power of prediction. Hence time under the control of skill is cyclic, like the hands of a clock. Manolin the boy says to the old man, "You are my alarm clock." To this statement the old man replies, "Age is my alarm clock." When the old man himself is the alarm clock, there is very little harm for him in the sequence of things that are to happen.

If the Cuban fisherman has a cyclic clock inside him and seems to go along with the flow of time without protest, the Japanese hero is terrified at the prospect of reaching the terminal point of linear time. One of the ways he tries to arrest the flow of this time is through art. An artist can scoop up human feelings out of the swiftly moving river of time and crystallize them into a time-defying form like a painting or a poem. Shingo is surrounded by many forms of art. As Santiago is a practitioner of skill, Shingo is an observer. The Japanese hero appreciates art deeply and tends to move from life towards art: Eiko reminds him of an erotic print by Harunobu, and a stumbling puppy calls to mind a painting by Sotatsu. Shingo's effort to stop time through art comes to its climax when he overlays on Kikuko's face a jido mask, an unmistakable symbol of eternity. This act turns into a critical moment when Shingo comes to the threshold of having a glimpse of eternity. But toward the end, his faith in art is slowly undermined: he finds that the calligraphy by Ryokan is a fake. He also discovers that a famous tanka of Yosano Akiko carved in a stone monument contains an error. A Buson haiku comes to mind when Shingo tries to brush away the dark thoughts about Kikuko revealed in one of his dreams. The haiku goes: "I try to forget this senile love: a chilly autumn shower." In this case, art, instead of reversing time, nudges Shingo toward the stream of time and makes him realize the hopelessness of love. Thus art in Shingo begins as a time-arresting device, but it gradually disintegrates and finally ends up being a reminder of flowing time.

One of Santiago's extremely effective ways of gathering up courage to face his crises is to recall his younger days when he was physically much stronger. The old fisherman remembers how he once played the hand game with the strongest negro on the block. He recalls how they played one day and one night until blood oozed from under the fingernails of his hand, and until he finally won the game. The old man remembers that everyone called him the Champion. The memories of his glorious past renews Santiago's confidence.

The memories of the past are equally important in Shingo's rejuvenation process. While he easily forgets things of a few days ago, his memory of Yasuko's beautiful sister from about four decades ago is unbelievably vivid. Whenever life is felt to be too hard, Shingo evokes the sister's memory. Again, towards the end of the novel Shingo resorts less and less to memories of the past, until at the very end his memories are not so much about the sister the person but about u the place, and about haiku which she taught him. One such haiku reads: "A trout in the autumn, abandoning itself to the water." The haiku shows that Shingo has not only embraced his old age but also that he, having stopped fighting against the flow of time, goes down the stream like an old trout. Again, like the other time-stopping devices, his remembrance of the past gradually loses its effectiveness in the end, leading the hero to come to terms with himself.

Fighting the gigantic marlin, Santiago must mobilize every part of his body if he is to win. Suddenly his left hand becomes cramped. The old man resorts to a fascinating technique to regain the use of his left hand. He first distances himself from his hand and talks to it as if it were an independent entity completely separate from him. He curses, sweet-talks, encourages and commands the cramped hand. Finally, he is able to regain the use of it. But at another crucial time when the fisherman must sink his harpoon into the marlin's heart, his head goes numb. Thereupon he disassociates himself from his own head and treats it as if it did not belong to him. He says, "Clear up, head." In a crisis, then, Santiago psychologically dismembers a malfunctioning part of his body and tells it to shape up. Apparently this self-splitting method works for him.

Shingo does not go that far, but characteristically only fantasizes self-splitting. As he is looking at gigantic sunflowers one day, his beautiful daughter-in-law comes along and joins him. Shingo is reminded by the flowers of a virile male symbol, but he chooses to talk to her about a man's head instead:

My head hasn't been very clear these last few days. I suppose that's why sunflowers made me think of heads. I wish mine could be a clean as they are. I was thinking on the train—if only there were some way to get your head cleaned and refinished. Just chop it off—well, maybe that would be a little violent. Just detach it and hand it over to some university hospital as if you were handing over a bundle of laundry. "Do this up for me, please," you'd say. And the rest of you would be quietly asleep for three or four days or a week while the hospital was busy cleaning your head and getting rid of the garbage. No tossing and no dreaming.

It is in dreaming that Shingo gets his wish—not having his head cleaned, but his secret wish underneath his sunflower/man's head talk: rejuvenation of his male virility. In the seventh dream, he is a young army officer who, carrying three pistols and an heirloom sword, goes to u to meet the object of his passion, his wife's sister.

Dreams have been thoroughly exploited for various literary purposes by a good number of novelists in the past. In the two novels under consideration, dreams are accorded a vital role. The reader is told that every night Santiago dreams about the golden beach of Africa where lions come out and play. After hooking the giant marlin, the old fisherman keeps up with the fish for two days without any sleep and knows that he must get some sleep soon if he is to win the fight. Santiago manages to doze off for a while and dreams. His dream is really a series of three short dreams: he sees a school of porpoises in their mating time leaping high into the air, then himself at the village on his bed, and finally the lions on the African beach. It is interesting to note that what he has dreamed will all come true. The big fish will jump out of the water, and with it Santiago's identity with it will be intensified. Then later he will be back in his village on his bed, dreaming of the lions. The dream function seems to be two-fold for Santiago: besides predicting events that will occur, it energizes the old man by taking him back to his boyhood and putting him in contact with the king of beasts.

The dreams in The Sound of the Mountain are probably the most important method by which Shingo achieves what he achieved at the end. His dreams, eight in all, are definitely designed so that he will undergo, dream by dream, a complete reversal of time until, toward the end, he is the young army officer with the heirloom sword going back to u to see the beautiful sister. Shingo uses his dreams as a time-tunnel leading into the past and fulfilling his fantasy, which can in no way be realized in actuality. It is precisely because Shingo has been able to visit his Garden of Paradise in his dreams that he is prepared to relieve Kikuko of her role as medium and also to embrace the circular concept of time as found in the four seasons of nature. The Garden of Paradise, Shingo discovers in his dream, is also the netherland and the terminal point in the linear time of which he has been so afraid. Thus in Shingo's case, dreams are given the function of ending his unfulfilled love affair with the dead woman by putting him in touch with her through their time-tunnel. With the very cause of his unhappiness dislodged in his past, he can now liberate himself from the clutch of linear time and gladly identify himself with a descending trout.

Santiago is Hemingway's idealized hero, a fearless fighter endowed with the wisdom of an old man, the unbounded energy of a youth and a characteristic capacity to endure pain. He is conscious of death neither in the beginning nor in the end. Every drop of his energy is concentrated on the present moment at sea, and his objective is to win the fight. He catches the fish only to lose it to the sharks, but little has changed inside this hero, or so it seems at least. He goes back to the same dream and may be out again to sea the next day. looking for another big fish to match the size of his ego. Santiago's identification with nature is highly selective. The sea is, after all, a woman; and a Hemingway man would not be caught dead completely merging with her. Santiago's object of self-identification is a giant fish with a spear the size of a baseball bat. If he hides his fear of death in his fierce battle against the fish, we cannot detect the fear. If we could, he would not fare well as a good Hemingway hero.

If there is an idealization in the character of Shingo, it is certainly not to the point in using a parable-like style as in The Old Man and the Sea. Shingo comes through as very human with his fears and failures, with which we can identify. He is not alone on the vast ocean pursuing his prize, but in the midst of a tangled web of human relationships, both past and present. His fish is not somewhere in the harsh present reality of Tokyo, but in u, a place lost to the past. Nevertheless, Shingo somehow catches the fish. It is only a trout, tiny, old, descending and female. It has no spear, but then again, no sharks can take it away from him.

Marlene A. Pilarcik (essay date Fall 1986)

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SOURCE: "Dialectics and Change in Kawabata's The Master of Go," in Modern Language Studies, Vol. XVI, No. 4, Fall, 1986, pp. 9-21.

[In the following essay, Pilarcik asserts that Kawabata's "The Master of Go … captures the poignantly beautiful fading of an era as Japan enters the modern age."]

The works of the Nobel Prize winning author, Yasunari Kawabata, are noted for their delicate, wistful beauty and haunting lyricism. They express the essence of the Japanese soul, but also draw on the universality of human experience. The Master of Go, one of Kawabata's most elegiac novels, captures the poignantly beautiful fading of an era as Japan enters the modern age. The narrative is based on the 1938 championship Go match between the aging Master Shusai and his youthful challenger, Kitani Minoru, known as Otaké in the novel. With the defeat and death of the aristocratic Master, the past gives way to the progressive, competitive, and time-obsessed forces of the new age; the grace of an elegant tradition succumbs to an unchivalrous modernity; Eastern sensibility feels the thrust of Western scientific rationalism; and ending verges on beginning in a fluid, continually changing universe. The pervasive sense of transition and flowing movement in the novel emanates from the dynamic tension of opposition inherent in the Go game, in the players, and in the very nature of the work as a blend of reportage and a lyrical point of view. This study focuses on the dialectics of the novel as the source of its subtle power and evocative beauty.

The Japanese game of Go has a profundity and spiritual depth which are often little understood in the West. For the Japanese, Go has traditionally been more than a contest of skill or endurance—it is a discipline and a creative art that originated in ancient China but developed and flowered in Japan. According to Kawabata, the Japanese "elevated" and "deepened" the game and cultivated its mysteries. The game itself consists of a board with 19 vertical and 19 horizontal lines and two sets of stones, one black and one white. The stones are placed on the 361 intersections with the intent of defining an area or territory. Symbolically, the first stone placed on the empty board is a first definition in space, and a limitation in time. The next stone stands in opposition as a reaction to it and begins a process animated by the fundamental principle of dialectical interaction and change. A dynamic tension is there by established reminiscent of the interplay of yin and yang, opposing forces within a universal unity. The players respond to each other like the two primal forces, pushing and yielding, not with the intent of destroying each other, but in order to create together in harmony. As Kajiki in his introduction to the game says, the visual image of black and white stones represents the universe as a duality in harmonious unity: "If both players of distinguished skill do their best till the end of a game, the board will be covered with black and white stones in perfect harmony. Such a game is equal to an excellent work of art beyond the result of victory or defeat."

Kawabata illustrates a game which lacks this harmony when the narrator Uragami is drawn into play with an American who has taken lessons at the Go Association. He claims to be "fascinated" with this "great invention" and is very conscious of his level of skill: "I am Grade thirteen, he said with careful precision as if doing a sum." His playing reveals that he has mastered the external forms and rules of the game but he remains detached and offers no inner resistance to his opponent. Uragami senses an "utter foreignness" that has less to do with skill than with a lack of spirit: "… he had a way of playing thoughtlessly, without really putting himself in the game. Losing did not bother him in the least. He went happily through game after game, as if to say that it was silly to take a mere game seriously…. Indeed this quickness to lose left me wondering uncomfortably if I might not have something innately evil concealed within me … The spirit of Go was missing." The game between the American and Uragami acquires an unpleasant one-sidedness which prohibits the realization of harmonious interaction, thus degenerating into something quite trivial, meaningless, and spiritless.

When Shusai confronts his opponent Otaké over the Go board, however, Uragami has the "sense of Go as an art." He is also aware of profound forces at work which transcend the fates of the individual players and even the outcome of this particular match. Their interaction mirrors the universal dialectic and the placement of stones on the board speaks of universal mysteries.

Shusai represents for Kawabata the grace and nobility of Japan's cultural heritage because his life and his approach to the game are firmly rooted in the traditions and sensibility of the past. At the very beginning of the novel he is identified as twenty-first in the Honnimbo succession of Go masters founded in the seventeenth century by the Zen Buddhist monk, Sansa. Shusai is the last to bear the title of Honnimbo in this continuous line. In addition, his life, which spans the years from 1874 to 1940, forms a bridge from the Meiji Era to the modern age. Kawabata says that in his person he embodies a "whole panorama of history … He was the symbol of Go itself…."

Shusai is the Master, a meijin who, according to Uragami, is "the last of the true masters revered in the tradition of Go as a way of life and art." Traditionally, the title, meijin, has meant more than an expert in a particular art. As D. T. Suzuki explains,

He is one who has gone beyond the highest degree of proficiency in his art. He is a creative genius … one becomes a meijin only after experiencing infinitely painstaking discipline, for only such a series of experiences leads to the intuition of the secret depths of art, that is, to the lifespring.

Meijin Shusai has dedicated his life to the pursuit of Go and the disciplining of the spirit. His playing emanates from the meditative consciousness of Zen, where, immersed totally in the game, he loses all sense of self and time. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech Kawabata describes this state of mind which is achieved by Zen disciples:

… he enters a state of impassivity, free from all ideas and all thoughts. He departs from the self and enters the realm of nothingness. This is not the nothingness or emptiness of the West. It is rather, a universe of the spirit in which everything communicates freely with everything, transcending bounds, limitless.

For the Master, therefore, Go transcends the bounds of mere game and becomes a mystical art or the means for a spiritual experience of "void."

The Master attributes his style of playing and his success in the game to having "no nerves" or "a vague absent sort." The term "vagueness" (bonyari) can have different connotations. In Osaka it implies absence, lack of definition, or unobtrusiveness as one would find in a Japanese painting; in Tokyo it refers to a slowness of apprehension or stupidity. The term suggests a certain ambiguity about the Master. On one hand, he draws on the emptiness of mind as the source of his creativity in playing, and this heightened spirituality evokes a sense of absence or other-worldliness about him. Uragami says he suggests "some rarefied spirit floating over a void." On the other hand, he appears to have a rather tenuous and detached hold on every-day life. People, scenery, and events pass before him unnoticed: "He sat in silence, as if not aware of the view before him. He did not look at the other guests." Even physically he gives the appearance of lacking substance—his body is like that of an under-nourished child, and his temperature remains at a cool 96-97 degrees. Looking at a picture of the dead man's face, Uragami sees "the ultimate in tragedy, of a man so disciplined in an art that he had lost the better part of reality."

When seated at the Go board, however, the Master commands a powerful and distinctive position. He is a "grand figure"—the invincible Master towering over the board in an unself-conscious ease. Lost in meditation, he experiences the game, his opponent, and his own self as one; thus the game flows spontaneously, effortlessly from him, as though it were unfolding of its own accord: "It perhaps told of his age and experience, the fact that like the flow of water or the drifting of clouds a White formation quietly took shape over the lower reaches of the board in response to careful and steady pressure from Black…." The impression of power and strength that emanates from his spiritual involvement in the game stands in marked contrast to the frailty of his ailing body.

There is also an extremeness about the Master which manifests itself as coldness and insensitivity. He is not inclined to express emotions, warmth or gratitude even to his most ardent disciples and supporters. His wife assumes the responsibility for social niceties and acts as his spokesman. Swann interprets this as an understandable "narrowness" arising from a total immersion in his art. The insatiable hunger he exhibits for games, however, borders on obsession. When he is not at the Go board, he constantly looks for other games in which he can lose himself. Uragami describes him as a "starving urchin" and indicates the presence of inner conflict: "Even after the August 10 session he had to have games to divert him. To me it was as if he were suffering the torments of hell." This raises some doubt about the purity of the Master's spiritual desire. Is he seeking escape from the exigencies of ordinary reality in the mystical state of "void?" Or is it, as Iwamoto and Wagenaar suggest, an indication that he is finding it increasingly difficult to achieve the mystical state?

Uragami also questions whether the Master has betrayed his ideal by his very participation in this match at the age of sixty-four and in failing health. Because he accepted the challenge for a "price without precedent" from the sponsoring newspaper, the possibility exists that he did not "go forth in combat" but rather allowed himself "to be lured" in by the newspaper. In former times the title of meijin was more than a sign of skill for competition purposes, and the holder of the title would often deliberately avoid real competition in order not to do injury to it. In the new age, however, emphasis shifts to a more competitive involvement in title matches with monetary rewards. Thus, Shusai stands "at the boundary between the old and the new," an anachronism whose art no longer fits in with the spirit of the times.

The new age finds its representative in the challenger Otaké. Despite an inconsistent record, Otaké defeated several opponents, including his own teachers, in the contest sponsored by the Go Association to determine who would oppose the Master in this historic match. The contrast he presents with the Master is striking. Instead of the cold, severe dignity of a sublime spirituality, he manifests the warm amiability of a world-oriented personality. This is apparent even in the fact that he is physically sturdier, weighing nearly twice as much as the Master. He exudes a sense of virility, and robust earthiness, maintains a lively household with several students, and demonstrates a light-hearted humor, and social ease. Although he is clearly dedicated to Go, he has not sacrificed life for it, nor has he been "bled" by it. His approach to the game has a distinctly professional and competitive focus. Unlike the Master who loses himself in the spiritual void beyond the concerns of winning or losing, Otaké desires success. The tension thus generated by the pressures of the match provoke numerous stress-related disorders such as enuresis, diarrhea, fainting, restlessness, fidgeting, and absent-mindedness. Kawabata describes the two players seated at the board as a contrast of "quiet against constant motion, nervelessness against nervous tension."

Otaké's playing relies on deliberate effort, careful planning, and even scheming to attain his end because he cannot abandon himself to the harmony of spontaneous play. Despite his nervousness, however, he has a powerful concentration and resolve that are manifested as an aggressive driving force. The Master's playing is compared to the flowing of water or drifting of clouds, but Otaké's style is almost brutally determined. Uragami feels that he "would avert defeat even if in the process he must chew the stones to bits." Iwamoto and Wagenaar describe it as an "egoistic will to power" quite different from the "Oriental ideal of self-negation." This creates the atmosphere of darkness and oppression in his game:

There was something oppressive about it, something that seemed to push up from deep within, like a strangled cry. Concentrated power was on a collision course, one looked in vain for a free and natural flow. The opening moves had been heavy and a sort of inexorable gnawing had followed.

Uragami frequently focuses on the gap in the amount of playing time used by the players to reveal their fundamental spiritual incompatibility. The Master's playing has the characteristic speed and spontaneity of intuitive non-intellectualization. He says, "I'm not much of a thinker." On the other hand, Otaké indicates, "I start thinking and there's no end to it." Otaké's total time spent in play equals nearly twice that of the Master precisely because of his tendency to engage in endless mental debate. In fact, he habitually runs out of time and almost exhausts the allowed limits set for the match. For the Master external time is not a conscious factor because while playing he is centered in the experience of now. In keeping with the spirit of Zen, he makes his moves in an unself-conscious, noncontrived manner as though they evolved of their own accord at the right moment. Otaké's method of evaluating, weighing, planning, and analyzing can consume as much time as is available and only result in mental frenzy and indecision. Instead of a nowcenteredness, Otaké finds himself in constant conflict with the ticking clock.

Both players have restrictions of time placed on them by the establishment of time allotments set at forty hours per person. The Master had determined the number, believing that by setting the total deliberately high he had in effect eliminated the temporal limitation. Since he had been trained in a period when such rules did not exist, the time allotments have little meaning for him and exert no influence on his playing. Otaké, however, is subject to fainting when running out of time. His internal time sense is obscured by the demands of linear temporality. Instead of losing himself to the natural flow and movement of the game, he succumbs to the turmoil of a time-obsessed consciousness. Because time is such a conscious element in his playing, he turns his attention to ways by which he can circumvent it. The time allotments and sealed play become for him a potential means for new tactics and strategy.

Traditionally, Go has relied on very few formal rules in order to allow as much creative freedom as possible to the players. For this match, however, special restrictions are imposed in order to insure equality and fair play. In the past, elitism and unspoken social customs of courtesy, respect, and deference could have easily worked to the advantage of the higher-ranked player, but the incorporation of the time allotments and sealed play deny the Master any special status due to his rank and force him to curb his whims. According to Uragami, it made no difference that the Master's art was forged by the arbitrariness of spontaneity: "he could not stand outside the rules of equality." Thus, courtesy gives way to justice, and the game undergoes a shift in emphasis from the finesse and mysterious elegance of Go as art to the regulation and objectivity of Go as competitive sport:

It may be said that the Master was plagued in his last match by modern rationalism, to which fussy rules were everything, from which all the grace and elegance of Go as art had disappeared … One conducted the battle only to win, and there was no margin for remembering the dignity and fragrance of Go as an art.

It is evident from the outset that Otaké is approaching the game on a different level from that of the Master, and that he is less concerned with art than with his personal victory. Throughout the game he is adamant about adherence to the rules and fights to maintain the letter of the law on technical matters even when the request is made to shorten the four-day recesses to two days because of the Master's worsening health. He feels that any concession made to the Master could threaten the imposed structure of the game and work to his disadvantage. And yet he does not hesitate to use any legal strategy to advance himself even if it is ruthless and unorthodox.

There is a saying in the Tao Te Ching:

     The more prohibitions there are,…
     The more benighted will the whole land grow.
     The more cunning craftsmen there are,
     The more pernicious contrivances will be invented.

In similar fashion, Uragami notes: "When a law is made, the cunning that finds loopholes goes to work. One cannot deny that there is a certain slyness among young players, a slyness which, when rules are written to prevent slyness, makes use of these rules themselves."

Otaké's disregard for the aesthetics of the game becomes evident fairly early. For example, the positioning of Black 63 as a "spy" in the white formation is an aggressive invasion not in keeping with the natural flow of the game. It strikes the Master as "a trifle unorthodox." The subsequent playing of Black 69, however, reveals the use of cunning and deceit. Otaké had obviously sealed an irrelevant move and used the long recess to deliberate his plan of attack. Then he attempted to conceal this fact by pretending to deliberate for nearly 20 minutes before placing his stone on the board. His Black 69 cuts boldly into the Master's formation and is described as a "violent attack," "a diabolic stroke," and is even likened to "the flash of a dagger." Uragami says, "A little unkind of you?" The Master feels that this is a ruthless violation of the sanctity of the game—"a sealed play that seemed to take advantage of the fact that it was a sealed play." Although on the verge of forfeiting, the Master responds with White 70—a move that makes the spectators "speechless with admiration." He did not attempt a counter-attack, meeting force with force, but instead, had yielded to the attack, sacrificed his stones, and allowed the aggression of his opponent to turn against itself: "Black had made gains, and yet it seemed that White, casting away the dressings from his wounds, had emerged with greater lightness and freedom of action." The Master thus incorporates Otaké's aggression into the harmony and art of the game.

The final smear on the art of Go and the decisive conflict that determines the outcome of the match are again initiated by Otaké's clever manipulation of the regulations to gain a personal advantage. The moves from Black 121 to White 130 reduce the game to the level of a personal battle in which the Master suffers an unchivalrous death-blow. Black 121 is Otaké's sealed play and should have been fairly predictable given the situation on the board. However, when Yamata opens the envelope, he has difficulty locating it because it is quite removed from the tense conflict brewing in the center of the board. Attention is thus diverted from the crucial battle while the Master responds to the new threat against his stones. It is an abrupt and unexpected jolt from the natural course of the game and an obvious tactical attempt to gain more time. The Master perceives this as a trick, an offense against the game, and a violation of the harmonious creation of art. Although outwardly composed, this move brings the Master to the breaking point. The physical ailments, the rules that rob him of any special status and courtesy, the strains of prolonged playing, and the ignoble techniques of his opponent all contribute to the rupture that comes with the unexpectedness of Black 121. He says in an intense voice, "'The match is over. Mr. Otaké ruined it with that sealed play. It was like smearing ink over the picture we had painted….'" Pushed to the limit, the Master lashes out against Otaké on a personal and vengeful level by using White 130 to strike a strong retaliatory counter-attack against the Black position in the lower right. Uragami reacts in the following manner:

I was startled. It was a wholly unexpected play. I felt a tensing of my muscles, as if the diabolic side of the Master had suddenly been revealed. Detecting a flaw in the plans suggested by Black 129, so much in Otaké's own characteristic style, had the Master dodged away and turned to infighting by way of counter-attack? Or was he asking for a slash so that he might slash back, wounding himself to down his adversary?

With White 130 his disappointment and "angry disdain" are vented but the short-lived moment of revenge reduces the game to a personal clash that ultimately costs him the match. Otaké forces him back to the defensive and he becomes powerless to turn back "the crushing wave" that follows. The Master is defeated—but not with honor, not with dignity.

As the Master plays White 130, the sound of a virtuoso flute drifts into the room and seems "to quiet somewhat the storm on the board." The flute signals a reassertion of equilibrium after the disruption and conflict between the two players. Afterwards, the game resumes a natural flow, but the course of the match has produced noticeable changes in the Master and even in Otaké. After his return from St. Luke's Hospital, the Master no longer clips his hair short in the Buddhist fashion, but leaves it long and dyed black. He also becomes significantly time-conscious. For the first time he comments on the amount of time consumed by Otaké: "'He does take his time,'… 'More than an hour already?'" On the morning of the crucial battle, the Master makes an uncharacteristic observation: "'The Condor flew in last night at ten thirty.'… 'Can you imagine such speed?'" In addition, Uragami notes that he continually looks at his watch! He also shows signs of impatience, irritability and indecisiveness as is evidenced by his rapping on the rim of the brazier and muttering to himself. Towards the end of the match he begins to reminisce about the past and expresses a new sense of amiability, inviting the observers to come closer to the board in order to get a better view.

Otaké, on the other hand, is no longer subject to the same sort of anxieties and tensions once his success is assured. His pace in the game accelerates and he slips into an internally generated momentum unaffected by the time allotments. At one point, he even appears to lose himself so completely in the game that he experiences the sort of mystical surrender that had previously characterized the Master. Uragami is struck by his appearance: "The round full face had the completeness and harmony of a Buddha head. It was an indescribably marvelous face—perhaps he had entered a realm of artistic exaltation. He seemed to have forgotten his digestive troubles." At the end of the match, Otaké sits quietly with head bowed, then retreats to the garden where he sinks into deep meditation. The Master, however, shows considerable interest in the amount of time he used in playing.

For the Master this match marks the end of a long career, the dissipation of his life energies, and the death of his art. A year later during a brief visit, Uragami experiences this unsettling death. He sees it in the way the Master places his stones on the Go board during two practice matches with his disciples—they no longer make the distinct clicking sound. He sees it in the human and personal loneliness now emanating from the frail figure which is quite different from the lonely isolation of the artist who is removed from the mundane affairs of ordinary life. The Master has become very human, "a sweet old gentleman" desiring company and a good talk. Distressed by this change in the Master, Uragami hurries away declining the Master's entreaties to stay for dinner. As he explains to his wife, "I don't like having people die."

Kawabata in the persona of his narrator, Uragami, has clearly created more than an objective report of this Go match. Not only does he personally interact with the players, even interceding when necessary to reconcile tensions, but he also responds subjectively and intimately to what he observes. His accurate and detailed record of the proceedings is combined with a sensitive and personal point of view which shapes the tone and structure of the novel. In his perceiving consciousness the intuitive and subjective are counter-balanced with the rational and objective. One result is the frequent juxtaposing of a subjective response with a rational explanation. For example, the Master appears to grow larger at the Go board which Uragami feels is the result of the power of his art and long years of discipline and training, but he also includes the explanation that he has a disproportionately long trunk. In another instance, Uragami observes the Master's quickened breathing and responds to it on different levels:

Yet the heaving of those thin, hunched shoulders was what struck me most forcefully. I felt as if I were the uninvited witness to the secret advent of inspiration, painless, calm, unknown to the Master and not perceived by others.

But afterwards it seemed to me that I had rather outdone myself. Perhaps the Master had but felt a twinge of pain in his chest. His heart condition was worse as the match progressed, and perhaps he had felt the first spasm at that moment.

This dual vision can be likened to the defective camera with which he takes pictures of the dead Master. Because of the defective shutter, Uragami must adjust the shutter speed manually. Thus the technical precision of the camera is coupled with his own subjective judgment about the quantity of light that strikes the film. The Master once said of Uragami that he had a "remarkable eye for details." Equally significant is the manner in which the details strike the perceiving consciousness. When Uragami first sees the photographs of the dead Master, he feels there are major discrepancies between the reality that he photographed and the images that appear on the film. The face that he photographed has a softness, richness, and intensity of feeling that were not evident in the actual face of the dead man nor in the nature of the man while living. In life the Master seemed remote, apart from reality, vague, absent; but in death his image possesses a life-likeness that blurs the separation of life and death. Like the novel itself, they capture a mood, a power, and a sadness that are inexplicable and yet "true." The truth derives from the harmonious tension of inner and outer reality. Kawabata is not concerned with revealing an inner landscape or penetrating the multiple facets of an individual personality at the expense of external reality. In fact, the perceiving consciousness of the narrator, rather than dominating the narrative, often becomes transparent or mirror-like as it receives stimuli from the external world.

The entire novel is filled with camera-like snapshots of brief thoughts, impressions, and observations. Uragami catches these instants and positions them in such a way that they evoke a hidden meaning. The lack of explanations and logical connectives creates a silence or emptiness against which the images strike. In the following passage as image follows image directly and without causal connectives, all senses are brought into play to create an impression of simultaneity:

When play began, however, the sky was lightly clouded over once more. There was a strong enough breeze that the flowers in the alcove swayed gently. Aside from the waterfall in the garden and the river beyond, the silence was broken only by the distant sound of a rock cutter's chisel. A scent of red lilies wafted in from the garden. In the almost too complete silence a bird soared grandly beyond the eaves. There were sixteen plays in the course of the afternoon….

In this suspended moment, the distant sounds intensify the silence, and the subtle movements of a swaying branch and soaring bird give an internal dynamism to the stillness. The last sentence abruptly ends the moment, jolting us with the realization that considerable time has passed.

The juxtapositioning of images also prevents the work from becoming sentimental or maudlin. When emotions become too deep, Uragami resorts to silence or dissolves them into an impersonal atmosphere. For example, during a recess he focuses on the aristocratic, frail figure of the Master as he takes a walk up a short slope. His delicately veined hands are clasped behind his back:

He was carrying a folded fan. His body, bent forward from the hips, was perfectly straight, making his legs seem all the more unreliable. From below the thicket of dwarf bamboo, along the main road, came a sound of water down a narrow ditch.

The Master appears like an exquisite blossom on the point of fading, evoking a sense of poignant nostalgia or what the Japanese refer to as mono no aware—the sad awareness of beauty in a fleeting moment. The connection between the Master and sound of water is aesthetic and intuitive, not logical, and it affects a profound reaction in Uragami:

Nothing more—and yet the retreating figure of the Master somehow brought tears to my eyes. I was profoundly moved, for reasons I do not myself understand.

Shattering this moment before it becomes sentimentalized are the Master's words: "A swallow, a swallow." Suddenly, as if given a subtle shock, our attention shifts away from the Master up to the sky, then in the next sentence down again: "Beyond him was a stone informing us that the Meiji Emperor had deigned to stay at the inn." In this brief passage, present, past, man and nature are held in an impersonal, timeless instant.

Intuitive, associative leaps also affect the pace and structure of the novel creating a tension between the chronological progression of events and the flow of memory. On one hand, Uragami has noted precise times and dates for the events of the match. Like Otaké, he indicates a careful consciousness of clock-time that divides reality into objective segments. The narrative, however, does not follow a linear progression. He relies on the intuitive associations of memory to fragment the chronology and juxtapose various points to create the sense of an unfolding of what already is. In the first four chapters, for example, the movement threads chronologically backwards from the Master's death to his final days, then to the last play of the match at precisely 2:42 on the afternoon of December 4th. It then reverses direction moving ahead to the day after the match, skips ahead a few more days, and ends a few years after the match. The game begins in Chapter Four. In subsequent chapters he weaves together various points along the linear continuum, disregarding sequential order, and concludes with the Master's death and the shipment of his body to Tokyo. The careful recording of dates and time expenditures establishes a chronological framework which is then reshuffled, obscuring our sense of causality and forming a time-shape that is more fluid and subjective. In his Shosetsu no Kenkyu (Studies of the Novel) Kawabata wrote that a well-ordered plot is inconsistent with the laws of nature and that in his writing he attempts to follow nature as it is. His work reflects a spontaneous, organic process rather than an intellectually conceived one, and it produces the effect of flow but not progression. The movement can be compared to the unfolding of a picture scroll in which the sequence is not causal or linear but simultaneously part of a whole.

Despite the spontaneous associations and leaps in time, there is an underlying pattern that unifies and shapes the work. It begins and ends with the Master's death, thus creating one large circle embracing the entire narrative. In the middle of the novel is another circle that is created by the Master's own premonition of his death and the repetition of a conversation between Uragami and the Master. Chapter Eighteen begins:

Once shortly after play was resumed at Ito I asked the Master whether he meant to return to St. Luke's Hospital when the match was over, or winter as usual in Atami.

"The question is whether I last that long," he said as if taking me into his confidence.

And Chapter Thirty One ends:

I asked whether at the end of the match he meant to winter in Atami or Ito or return to St. Luke's.

He replied, as if taking me into his confidence: "The question is whether I last that long."

After this internal loop there is a noticeable change in the temporal progression. Events are depicted in a more chronological and linear fashion than previously. This change in form reflects the change occurring in the Master after his return from St. Luke's, i.e. his increased concern with clock-time. The over-all effect is of a unified whole, animated by its own internal rhythm.

In form and in content, Kawabata interweaves various external and internal time experiences. Besides the associative flow of memory and the precise time references, he creates a cyclical rhythm that is enhanced by his pervasive use of nature imagery and references to changing seasonal and weather patterns. Human actions and natural occurrences continually interact or merge in a kind of animated unity. In the following passage, for example, the tensing and easing of the mood surrounding the Go game is reflected in the cyclical rhythms of the natural world:

The sky was dark with the squall Otaké had called a tempest, and the lights were on. The white stones, reflected on the mirror-like face of the board, became one with the figure of the Master, and the violence of the wind and rain in the garden seemed to intensify the stillness of the room.

The squall soon passed. A mist trailed over the mountain, and the sky brightened from the direction of Odawara, down the river. The sun struck the rise beyond the valley, locusts shrilled, the glass doors at the veranda were opened again. Four puppies were sporting on the lawn as Otaké played Black 73. Once more the sky was lightly clouded over.

The nature images also reinforce the sense that the times are in a state of upheaval and conflict. On the day that Black 121 is played, the weather is unseasonably warm and red dragonflies lie dead on the ground. Other indications of disorder are the uncharacteristic weather patterns, with frequent rains and floods, and the appearance of an azalea with two unseasonal blooms. As the Master plays the decisive White 130, however, he recalls the words from a piece of music learned in his childhood: "From high in the hills, see the valley below. Melons in blossom, all in a row." These words from the past evoke a natural scene of order and calm, suggesting that a balance will ultimately be regained in nature as well as in human affairs. The changes and disruptions are part of the cyclic unity of the universe. In fact, Uragami provides the suggestion that the hollow and superficial times into which the way of Go has fallen will not be permanent: "Examples must be legion of wisdom and knowledge that shone forth in the past and faded toward the present, that have been obscured through all the ages into the present but will shine forth in the future."

Despite this subtle indication of eventual resurgence, the main focus in the novel is the evanescent moment of ending and death. Like the eleventh century Heian writers, Murasaki and Sei Shonagon, Kawabata depicts a time when "ripeness" is "moving into decay" and "one feels the sadness at the end of glory." He laments the fading sensibilities and elegance of the past but on a level that transcends the characters personally. As he says of Otaké, "The modern way was to insist upon doing battle under conditions of abstract justice, even when challenging the Master himself. The fault was not Otaké's." And he says of the Master, "The Master himself could not have measured the tides of destiny within him, or the mischief from those passing wraiths." Their lives have led them to this particular moment of transition from the past to the modern age, and they are but part of vaster forces at work in the flux of time. The fall of the grand Master, the corruption of his art, the decline of the old sensibilities and traditions of Japan are inescapable realities. On the wall behind the board is a framed inscription: "My life, a fragment of a landscape." All things are but a minute part of a greater whole, a brief instant in eternity.

Like the eternal fluctuation of yin and yang, the conflicts and dialectical tensions that arise from the Go game and the players generate the dynamism inherent in change within a simultaneous unity. Kawabata's novel draws its subtle, provocative strength from the tension of dialectics, its beauty from a poignant sensitivity to the ephemerality of life, and its sense of harmony from an acceptance of man's place in the eternal scheme of things.

Leza Lowitz (review date Spring 1988)

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SOURCE: "Oriental Angst," in The San Francisco Review of Books, Vol. XII, No. 4, Spring, 1988, p. 19.

[In the following review, Lowitz discusses the opposing forces of tradition and modernity in Kawabata's The Old Capital.]

Though Yasunari Kawabata, the only Japanese novelist to receive the Nobel Prize, is best known for the novels Snow Country and Thousand Cranes, readers will find The Old Capital a welcome addition to the English-language works of Japan's great elegiac writer. Written in 1961, The Old Capital was one of the three novels cited by the Nobel Committee, but has only now been translated into English by a doctoral student, J. Martin Holman, at Berkeley. The respectable translation embues the story with a stillness that allows the beauty of the language to surface while the mysteries of the character's lives open and close like a succession of folding screens.

The Old Capital takes place in Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital which struggles to keep its identity while incorporating influences from the West. The difficulties of such an adjustment are a cause for spiritual angst in the characters of the story, as they watch the familiar fabric of their kimonos turn into synthetic material and see their ancient summer festival become a crowded tourist's spectacle.

Chieko Sada is the novel's beautiful twenty-year-old protagonist who discovers that the people she has called her parents for twenty years are not her real parents, and that (like Kawabata himself) she is an orphan. This discovery is compounded by the chance meeting of her twin, Naeko, whom she never knew existed. Naeko lives in a forest village nearby, and has come to Kyoto to seek out her sister. The two become mirrors for each other and what each represents: country and city, tradition and change. Everything in the book has a counterpart and soon the dichotomy of opposing forces stretches into art vs. imitation, family-run business vs. industry, man-made forests vs. natural growth, all of which reverberate the concerns of modern Japan.

Chieko's father is a kimono merchant who struggles to keep the old way but soon the influence of Western artists like Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, and Marc Chagall find their way into his designs. His daughter is courted by two men, one a designer who handlooms obi (the thick sash worn around the kimono) and the other a son of a wealthy textile wholesaler.

Since every character has an alter ego, the central conflict in the novel becomes not how the twain shall meet, but whether a meeting is ever possible. Chieko looks at two violets and asks "Do the upper and lower violets ever meet? Do they know each other?… What could it mean that the violets 'meet' or 'know' one another?"

Kawabata's affinity for nature permeates the text and provides an odd sense of balance, as if somehow the Seasons are the only predictable, comfortable element of change. A lightning storm accentuates Chieko and Naeko's meeting: violets grow side by side as they do, close yet distant; and snow falls when they meet for the last time.

Kawabata once wished to be a painter, and his impressionistic writing often casts chiaroscuro patterns to play out the contrast of the characters. There are writers who see the similarities in the world, writers who see the differences. Kawabata sees them both at the same moment and draws into focus the tension between the two.

In each of Kawabata's novels there is a symbol which provides a metaphor for the character's plight. In Thousand Cranes, the tea bowl is used to symbolize the containment of dark histories. In Snow Country it is the Noh mask which serves to illustrate the denial of emotions and the paradoxical mask which makes expression possible. In The Old Capital it is the obi sash which symbolizes the transcendent moment when the worlds of past and present, East and West, young and old, are tied together. This sash becomes the landscape of synthesis, which Kawabata artfully ties only to finally untie, leaving the reader to make his own connections.

Sidney DeVere Brown (essay date Summer 1988)

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SOURCE: "Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972): Tradition versus Modernity," in World Literature Today, Vol. 62, No. 3, Summer, 1988, pp. 375-79.

[In the following essay, DeVere Brown discusses how Kawabata focused on traditional culture in his major works.]

Yasunari Kawabata is Japan's only Nobel laureate in literature. The prize, once monopolized by Western writers, was given to a Japanese for the first time in 1968. Japan had arrived as a modern nation in the economic and political sense, and it had staged the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 superbly. Perhaps the time had come to recognize a great Japanese writer, a hundred years after Japan's entry into the modern world with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The paradox is that Kawabata, who seems to have been recognized for Japan's modernity, focused on traditional culture and gave little attention to things modern and Western, even though he wrote in a Japan undergoing modernization and all his novels had a contemporary setting.

It is a truism that novels provide some of the best primary sources for writing social history, as the popularity of such works tells us what people think is important about themselves. One would expect that Japan's one writer to achieve worldwide celebrity as a Nobel laureate would provide a deep well of materials on class and family, on work and leisure. Such is not the case. The historian would do better to look to Kawabata's contemporaries such as Jun'ichiro Tanizaki, who wrote the classic novel of the Japanese family The Makioka Sisters, or even Yukio Mishima, who recreated both the world of the Taisho elites (in Spring Snow) and that of the right-wing patriots of the early Showa era (in Runaway Horses). Instead, it is a private world of beauty and culture that engages Kawabata, who belonged to the so-called lyric school of Japanese writing. He consciously rejected the "proletarian school," which was in vogue during his university days in the 1920s; and he eschewed commentary on social and political problems, at least in his literary works, throughout his career.

Still, the historian must put Kawabata in the context of his times and reconstruct those times as best he can from the fragments about the world around the writers and artists, the dilettantes and lovely traditional Japanese women who inhabit his stories. This most eminent writer lived and worked through turbulent times: the Taisho democracy, Showa militarism, the Pacific War, the American Occupation, and at the end the Economic Miracle—or at least its beginnings.

As with most Japanese writers, Kawabata's work tends to be autobiographical. Edward Seidensticker has asserted that Kawabata was much like the men he wrote about, in contrast to Tanizaki, who created protagonists very different from himself. The young student depicted in "The Izu Dancer" who goes down the Izu peninsula on vacation and carries on a tentative romance with the little dancer from the traveling troupe is undoubtedly the adolescent Kawabata. The Tokyo dilettante Shimamura who is the protagonist of Snow Country, with his half-baked learning about the European ballet, is ostensibly the kind of person Kawabata disdained, yet he has the same tastes in women and an identical love of traditional crafts such as the making of chijimi cloth by peasants working in the snows of the North. The old men who have memory lapses or face death or are romantically linked with much younger women in the later works are undoubtedly alter egos of the author. Kawabata was a man of his times, one who emphasized certain themes at the expense of others and was more concerned about the decline of an old culture than about the emergence of a new society or economy.

The two greatest translators and critics of Japanese literature in the West, Edward Seidensticker and Donald Keene, have both written about Kawabata. It was Seidensticker who translated the two finest Kawabata works, Snow Country and Thousand Cranes, into English—thereby enhancing his prospects for the Nobel—and who accompanied him to Stockholm for acceptance of the prize, in the role of interpreter. Together the two critics/translators have nurtured the reputation in the West of this most Japanese of contemporary writers. As Keene notes, "Kawabata was unquestionably a modern man, and his works dealt exclusively with the lives of contemporaries, but the Nobel Prize Committee honored him because of the special affinities his works revealed with Japanese traditions."

Kawabata was born in the mercantile city of Osaka in 1899, orphaned at the age of two, and deprived even of his grandfather in 1914, living a lonely life in school dormitories until he graduated from the English Literature Department of Tokyo Imperial University in 1920. A degree from the Japanese Literature Department of the same university followed in 1924. The great editor (and novelist) Kan Kikuchi, founder of the literary monthly Bungei Shunju, launched Kawabata's career with the publication of "The Izu Dancer" in 1926. By the time of the appearance of his masterpiece, Snow Country, in 1935, he was a presence in the world of Japanese letters. A look at his six major novels will help us discern his point of view toward this modern world into which he was propelled.

Snow Country, in its first published form, appeared during the era of Showa militarism, yet the reader will learn nothing of the national crisis or of governmental efforts at national spiritual mobilization from it. The 1957 movie version of the novel, starring Keiko Kishi, was fleshed out with contemptuous remarks about the young officers who murdered a senior bureaucratic general in Tokyo and with considerable asperity regarding corrupt provincial politicians, but there is no such preaching in the novel which has come down to us.

Modernity meets the reader in the very first sentence, however, a sentence denominated the most famous in all Japanese literature: "When the train emerged from the long tunnel at the provincial boundary, they were in the snow country." Shortly afterward, "The train stopped at the signalling station." Snowplows are waiting at another point, and we learn that an electric avalanche system has been installed at the entrances to the tunnel. Kawabata may have implicitly accepted the steam train as part and parcel of traditional Japan, not separate from it. Here he treats it poetically: "The train moved off in the distance, its echo fading into a sound of the night wind" as it returned to Tokyo. A famous image, the Light in the Window, utilizes the fogged-over window of the passenger car to intersect the light in the distance with the beautiful young Yoko's eye in reflection. Modern transportation facilitates traditional esthetic expression; there is no conflict between the two.

The railway has recently reached the hot-springs resort, which seems to be modeled on Tazawa in Akita prefecture. The telegraph is also available in this remote place, and Shimamura once hurries off to the post office to wire a request for money before it closes. Radios bring news of a disastrous snow avalanche (but not of tense Tokyo politics, so far as we know). A statement on the impact of the West on Japanese health appears indirectly through the tale of the music teacher's son, who has returned home from Tokyo suffering from "intestinal tuberculosis." This disease from the West in its deadly form was the scourge of Japan before antibiotics. Komako, the country geisha, goes to work at her profession to pay the young man's medical bills—out of love or out of some kind of obligation to his mother. The reason is unclear.

People in the back country include a White Russian refugee woman, here a peddler. Japanese rustic types in the background include small shopkeepers and even farmers at the rice harvest. The sway of the farm girl's hips as she throws the rice bundles up to a man for placement on the drying racks commands the attention of this connoisseur of women as much as the harvest itself.

Beauty, not modernity, is Kawabata's theme in Snow Country, the ambience of the hot-springs resort, a place of special pleasure to the Japanese. The snow-covered mountains and the village streets piled high with snow up to the second story of buildings form another dimension of Japan the beautiful; but it is the Japanese woman who occupies stage center here, specifically Komako, who plays the samisen and sings the traditional "Dark Hair." She has drawn Shimamura away from Tokyo. Her younger friend and possible rival in love, Yoko, possesses "a clear voice, so beautiful it was almost sad." The Light in the Window illuminates Yoko's eye, just as the Mirror in the Morning reflects the beauty of Komako's rouged face framed by the reflection of falling snowflakes.

The Master of Go is a celebration of a different aspect of Japanese tradition, unique to Japan as it has evolved and one favored by feudal warriors because of its simulation of the battlefield. This work is Kawabata's nonfiction novel, for essentially it is the story of a 1938 championship match which he covered as a newspaper reporter. Shusai, the Master, defends his title "at the advanced age of sixty-four," using the deliberate, traditional style of play against an aggressive young competitor half his age who wins by rapid, disconcerting moves near the end of the match. Death for the Master, and perhaps the demise of a tradition, follows the loss. The match occurred in 1938, at the height of Showa militarism; publication of the novel began during the Pacific War in 1942, but the definitive final version did not appear until 1954, after the American Occupation was over. Nothing of militarism or war attends the match as retold in the novel, even though Go was the game of early-day samurai militarists. The book is as divorced from political or social concerns as any work of literature could be. Seidensticker has described it as an elegy for a great tradition which had fallen just as had Japan in war, a work confined to the game, the psychology of the contestants, and the superbly beautiful settings in which play was conducted, most often at inns in hot-springs resorts.

The Naraya in Miyanoshita is an ideal setting for contemplation of the next move by Go competitors. The inn is quiet as well as scenic, unlike the inn by the waterfall which triggered the Master's insomnia, and it commands a view of the nearby mist-covered mountains. Testimonials to the inn's excellence come in the form of a memorial stone to the Emperor Meiji, who once stayed there, and a framed inscription by the early nineteenth-century historian Sanyo Rai, a revolutionary nationalist. (I have seen another framed inscription at the Naraya by the Meiji statesman Takayoshi Kido, who stayed there in 1876; it was shown to me by the elderly proprietress whose family has owned the inn for more than a century. Kido called the Naraya the best inn in Miyanoshita. An American vice-president who wanted to stay at a traditional inn was slated to come there, said the proud proprietress, but a rail strike prevented it; Spiro Agnew sent an autographed photograph instead. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Anderson, who did stay there, told her that he would like to take the scenic landscape back to America with him.) Writing during the war era, Kawabata chose to describe not battle deaths in China or political crises in Tokyo, but only the national cultural treasure, a game of Go, played out quietly in the rustic simplicity of a hot-springs inn.

Thousand Cranes is a product of the American Occupation period. The tea ceremony is the element of tradition and beauty featured in this moving novel, one of the three masterworks cited by the Nobel Prize Committee. In point of fact, the work is a lament for the decline of the ceremony into vulgarization and commercialism. Anyone might drop in on Chikako Kurimoto's weekly public demonstrations. "The other day I even had some Americans," she admits. The title was inspired by the kerchief with the thousand-cranes pattern carried to a tea ceremony by a Miss Inamura, who has been proposed as a bride for Kikuji Mitani, the protagonist. Chikako, a mistress to his father, regards the meeting as a miai. No marriage occurs, but the tangled personal relationships of his late father, the latter's mistress, and the son unfold. The war was still a fresh and unpleasant memory when this book was written, and Fumiko, daughter of one of the mistresses, was considered courageous because she "went to the country for rice, even during the raids."

The tea vessels are described in loving detail by Kawabata in Thousand Cranes and take on personalities of their own, especially the four-hundred-year-old Shino Bowl which seems to have a trace of the lipstick of the late Mrs. Ota. One American reviewer, in fact, believed the main character of the novel was that tea bowl. It is possessed with a curse, and only when Fumiko breaks the vessel is she freed from the curse and from the Mitani family. At a time when Japanese civilization itself seemed threatened under the American Occupation, Kawabata made his statement on behalf of the Way of Tea and the proper tea vessels, preserving in literature that indispensable part of Japan's past.

The Sound of the Mountain, also from the period of the American Occupation, celebrates the artistic mask of the No theater which old Shingo has begun to study with such enthusiasm as death nears. "Clouding" means dropping the mask to indicate sadness; "shining" means raising it to indicate joy, for example. The beauty of the mask in use is so great it makes him cry. It is the prospect of death which turns his attention to the beautiful aspects of Japan. Shingo's preoccupation with death began during the war, and he believes that the sound of the mountain is a forewarning. "I heard the mountain rumbling," he once remarks as he opens the shutters. If Shingo is Kawabata's alter ego, then the author may have meant to face up to the prospect of personal physical death here as well as the death of a civilization. One classmate of Shingo has gone to his death, ridiculed by others because he was tormented continually by his wife; another has died in the arms of his young mistress at a hot-springs resort. As the visages of those deceased friends appear in his dreams, Shingo regrets that he will never climb Mount Fuji as death beckons, and also that he has never seen Matsushima, one of the Three Great Sights of Japan, though he dreams of those pine covered islets.

Shingo is very attached to his young daughter-in-law Kikuko, whose husband has taken up with a mistress in the Hongo section of Tokyo. The Sound of the Mountain is a fuller, more complete story than Kawabata's earlier works, and we are treated to an exposition of the tangled relationships of the three generations of Shingo's family. The novel does for the postwar family what Tanizaki's Makioka Sisters did for the traditional prewar extended family, but inevitably in sparer detail. Shingo and his son Shuichi are commuters, riding the train in daily to their Tokyo office from North Kamakura, the seaside resort which is for them a remote suburb of the Tokyo metropolis. The American Occupation is a part of their lives but is barely hinted at. At the fishmonger's Shingo observes some "prostitutes of the new sort," their "bare backs, cloth shoes, and good figures" revealing that they cater to American military men.

The Old Capital provides a shift of locale to Kyoto, the home of artistic craft goods. The story of twin girls separated at birth and later reunited as young women seems incidental to the main task of presenting to the reader the old capital in all its traditional glory. Kyoto was the one great Japanese urban center untouched by the American air raids of the Pacific War. The Kiyomizu Temple at sunset, Mount Daimonji in bloom with colorful flowers, and the Heian Shrine at festival time are all described in loving detail. At the shrine's small pool, "cherry blossoms and pines seemed to tremble in the pond as goldfish surfaced." As Seidensticker has noted, Kawabata wanted to set down the beauty of the old city, Japan's capital from 794 to 1868, before it disappeared forever.

The cedars of Kitayama, north of the city, where the more rustic of the twins lives, provided wood of uniform size for teahouses in Tokyo and Kyushu. The cedars in their straight rows conjure up "the elegant air of the tea ceremony," but it is the silk-weaving business in small shops which trained apprentices that is important, and threatened. The obi, the kimono sash, should be designed to reflect the personality of the individual wearer. Industrialization has threatened all that. A portent of things to come is the Western-style, four-story factory, newly opened and capable of turning out five hundred obi per day. "Some home businesses like mine with hand looms will probably disappear within twenty or thirty years," a shopkeeper laments. Kawabata wrote at the beginning of the Economic Miracle. Doubtless small home work-shops, facing pressure from a government committed to economic modernization, were phased out much sooner than the shopkeeper anticipated.

The Americans have come to Kyoto, and the city is the worse for their presence. "These are the kind of customers who buy portable radios," notes a boy who needs extra work as his family's silk-cloth business declines, leading him to hire out as a guide. "They're American women staying at the Miyako Hotel." Another replies, "Portable radios or silks—a dollar is a dollar." Kawabata's feelings are obviously the opposite, that the city should be uncontaminated with Americans and their lack of taste. European judges may have elevated this work to a higher level than deserved in making it one of the three books on which the Nobel selection was based, believes Keene, but seemingly did so out of pleasure at Kawabata's re-creation of the Old Japan "unaffected by the blight of Americanization," which had its critics in Europe at the same time.

Beauty and Sadness likewise glorifies Kyoto in the early days of the Economic Miracle. Toshio Oki, a novelist who posts his daily installment to the newspaper at North Kamakura Station, has gone to Kyoto to hear the tolling of the New Year's bells at the Chionin Temple, 108 strokes at midnight. Previously he had only listened to this Buddhist ceremony on the radio. It is in fact a woman, Otoko Ueno, his mistress of two decades earlier, who has drawn him to the city. He last saw her in Tokyo, where an abortion was performed in a sleazy, remote suburb. Taken to Kyoto to live by her mother, Otoko has now become an accomplished artist in the traditional fashion. Her devious, vengeful, but beautiful young female protégée is sent to receive Oki and later makes contact with him back in Kamakura, bringing along her own avant-garde paintings of the Shizuoka tea fields; these tea fields represent a bad memory to her teacher Otoko, who had observed them as she fled Tokyo in disgrace. The book is a vehicle for Kawabata's comments on painting, both traditional Japanese and European, but it is also another tour of Kyoto and its classic sights: the Ryoanji, a garden which was "almost too famous, though it may be said to embody the very essence of Zen aesthetics," and the Moss Garden, another dry landscape which the priest Muso had laid out in 1939. The stone lanterns put in place by the abbot seem to have always been there.

There was by now the familiar complaint about the Americans and modernity. Those annoying Americans occupy a marginal position in Beauty and Sadness. The novelist-protagonist watches them photograph Mount Fuji from the train to Kyoto when the sacred mountain is still barely visible and then lose interest by the time the train nears the mountain in all its glory. The Americans' luggage includes a large leopard-skin handbag which is the epitome of bad taste, and American children chatter in a foreign language in the hall-ways of the novelist's Kyoto hotel, making life miserable.

Still, Kyoto is beautiful in spite of the disagreeable American presence: "Compared with Tokyo, Kyoto was such a small intimate city that the Western Hills are close at hand. As the writer gazed a translucent pale gold cloud above the hills turned a chilly ashen color, and it was evening." Kawabata's fascination with trains continues: "From somewhere off in the Western Hills came a plaintive, lingering whistle of a train entering … a tunnel"; as the novelist's train makes its way back to Tokyo, "the rails glinted crimson far into the distance in the rays of the setting sun." Trains were a part of Kawabata's old-fashioned world. Typewriters were not; neither were printing presses. The Tale of Genji makes an entirely different impression on Oki when he reads it in "handsome old block-printed" characters rather than in the mechanically printed version; and he has taken to reading Saikaku, the writer of stories about bawdy merchants, in contemporary "seventeenth-century facsimiles."

The old ways were better, Kawabata seems to say here and in the earlier novels. He was a cultural nationalist who sought to preserve the world of tradition in novels before those traditions vanished forever. It is doubtful that he was a true ultranationalist in the political sense during the Pacific War. He was "esteemed by the militarists, even though he had done nothing to ingratiate himself," notes Donald Keene. He did such things as visit the Kamikaze pilots of the Special Attack Force in Kagoshima and stayed a month, but he did not lament the lost war much. Defeat "actually brought freedom of the spirit and the sense of what it means to live in peace," he said.

Between defeat in 1945 and his death in 1972 Kawabata wrote to preserve the world of tradition. It was the world of hot-springs resorts and old-fashioned compliant Japanese beauties who played the samisen and sang "Dark Hair," of the tea ceremony and its ancient artistic vessels, of No masks and all that they symbolized, of the game of Go and its traditions, and above all of the old capital of Kyoto, whose temples and gardens had emerged from the war intact. Kawabata wrote about small shopkeepers, craftsmen, and silk traders in the export business. He seemed only remotely aware of the big bankers and large industrialists, and of the Liberal-Democratic Party politicians who were the movers and shakers of the New Japan (in his novels at least, though he supported one of them for governor of Tokyo in 1972). The Americans, important though they may have been to the remaking of Japan, inhabit only the fringe of his novels, at most tourists with debased tastes or low-class soldiers in pursuit of Japanese prostitutes. Businessmen and politicians dominated the emerging Japanese superstate, but their world held little interest for Kawabata. The modern world provides merely a dim, mostly unseen context in his novels for the admirable people and culture rooted in Old Japan.

Frederick Smock (review date January/February 1989)

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SOURCE: "Small Lanterns," in American Book Review, Vol. 10, No. 6, January/February, 1989, p. 15.

[In the following review, Smock calls Kawabata's Palm-of-the-Hand Stories one of "those dozen or so volumes necessary to life."]

Somewhere in my future is a small, simple apartment, maybe a couple of rooms near the sea somewhere, with high windows and a fireplace. On the mantel over the fireplace is a small stack of books, the only books in the place, those dozen or so volumes necessary to life. One of those books is Yasunari Kawabata's Palm-of-the-Hand Stories.

These very short stories, which span his writing life, are the distillation of a beautiful talent. Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968 for his novels, The Izu Dancer, Thousand Cranes, Snow Country, and the others, which were so important to Japan's modern literature. But Kawabata believed that the very short story—the story that fits into the palm of one's hand—holds the essence of the writing art. It is to fiction what the haiku is to poetry. (His last work was a miniaturized version of Snow Country, shortly before he committed suicide in 1972.)

The grand themes are all here—love, loneliness, our capacity for disillusionment, the tensions between old and new—under the lens of Kawabata's microscope. The short form is suited to his love of detail, his preference for the finite gesture whose meaning reverberates through time.

In "A Sunny Place," the oldest story in the collection, a young man meets a woman at a seaside inn—it is the beginning of love—but the woman is painfully disconcerted by his habit of staring, and turns her head away. Embarrassed, he averts his own gaze, to a sunny spot on the beach, and thus discovers the origin of his bad habit. "After my parents died," he tells us, "I had lived alone with my grandfather for almost ten years in a house in the country. My grandfather was blind. For years he sat in the same room, in the same spot, facing the east with a long charcoal brazier in front of him. Occasionally he would turn his head toward the south, but he never faced the north…. Sometimes I would sit for a long time in front of my grandfather staring into his face, wondering if he would turn to the north…. I wondered if the south felt ever so slightly lighter even to a blind person." As a happy result, this memory heightens the intimacy the young man feels toward the woman.

A further testament to the power of Kawabata's economical stories: a movie was once made of "Thank You," a four-page story whose dialogue consists chiefly of thank-yous. It tells of a bus driver who takes a mother and daughter from their harbor town to the city, where the daughter is to be sold into a wealthy man's harem; but the driver's politeness to the cartmen they pass on the way so touches the daughter that her mother implores him to allow her one night of genuine affection before her enslavement.

I have returned many times to this story, looking for the source of its power—their (ambiguous) night together, the enigmatic figure of the bus driver, the journey's dreaded end? And I cannot be sure that I have located it. But I have felt it.

His better stories work this way. Swiftly. Mysteriously.

Kawabata wrote nearly 150 "palm" stories, of which 70 are published here, including "Gleanings from Snow Country," his last. The translators have rendered the stories in faultlessly simple language, as befits them.

For these stories are like small lanterns whose colored lights can be seen from very far away—little truths, nestled in a valley, the valley of the palm.

James T. Araki (essay date Spring 1989)

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SOURCE: "Kawabata: Achievements of the Nobel Laureate [1969]," in World Literature Today, Vol. 63, No. 2, Spring, 1989, pp. 209-12.

[In the following essay, Araki traces Kawabata's changing style and notes "a steady progression in the refinement of his technical mastery and a development of the ability to enter deeply into his characters."]

Although Yasunari Kawabata has for years been considered the most distinguished member of the Japanese world of letters, the news of the selection of the sixty-nine-year-old author as the recipient of the 1968 Nobel Prize in Literature—a surprise to readers throughout much of the world—was initially received with a sense of disbelief by his countrymen. The insight revealed in the citation by the Novel Committee, which praised the author for "his narrative mastership, which with great sensibility expressed the essence of the Japanese mind," seemed to mystify all but the most sensitive readers and critics, to whom the judgment seemed incredibly astute.

The typical Japanese reader tends, like readers elsewhere, to favor a well-paced narrative designed to quicken his interest in the story. He has been content to accept the high evaluation of Kawabata by professional critics and, rather than read his stories, has been inclined to enjoy them through the modified medium of the cinema. Indeed, Japanese moviemakers since the early fifties have produced some twenty film versions of his novels. The general reader in Japan has probably regarded Kawabata as a modernist rather than a traditionalist, for his stories are often difficult to apprehend fully, owing to the rich, allusive imagery, a suggestive quality that requires a matured sensibility of the reader, an elliptical sentence style, and a mode of story progression that often relies on linking through imagery rather than through contextual or sentence logic—a technique of the traditional renga or "linked verse." Many native readers are now avidly reading Kawabata novels to discover for themselves the traditional Japanese qualities that foreign readers were able to perceive through the reading of translations.

Snow Country (Yukiguni), Thousand Cranes (Semazuru) and The Old Capital (Koto) are the novels by which the Nobel Committee judged Kawabata's worth as a writer of fiction. These are novels in which the author's bent for the traditional is particularly evident, in depiction of outward forms of traditional culture (the tea ceremony, folk art, Shinto festivals, Buddhist temples) and the use of nature imagery for their cumulative, traditional lyrical implications, yet they do not fully represent the vast range of the author's creative capacity…. Translations of several of Kawabata's short stories have appeared in anthologies or magazines—among them, "The Izu Dancer" ("Izu no odoriko"), "The Mole" ("Hokuro no tegami") "Reencounter" ("Saikai"), and "Moon on the Water" ("Suigetsu").

In Japan, in the twentieth century, new literary trends were frequently set by coteries of writers who cooperated in the publication of literary journals. A particularly memorable year was 1924, when, in June, "Literary Battle Line" (Bungei Sensen) was founded as a monthly for Marxist writers and, in October, the publication of "Literary Era" (Bungei Jidai) was inaugurated by a group of young authors who were concerned primarily with the esthetics of literature. Yokomitsu Toshikazu (1898–1947) and Kawabata were the prime movers of the latter group, who were promptly labeled the "neoperceptionists" by the critic Kameo Chiba. In an essay, "The Birth of the Neoperceptionists" (in Seiki, November 1924), Chiba stated, "There is no doubt whatever that these writers, whom we might call the 'Literary Era' coterie, are sensually alert to diction, lyricism, and rhythm that are far fresher than anything ever before expressed by any of our sensitive artists." The expressive style of the neoperceptionists, literary historians tell us, was influenced considerably by the many startling examples of figurative language those young writers discovered in Paul Morand's Ouvert la nuit, which had appeared in Japanese translation that year.

Kawabata, by his own admission, has probably participated in the setting of more new trends than any other living writer. More important, however, has been his ability to experiment with new approaches and techniques and to adopt them into a larger embodiment which can be identified as a style uniquely his own; and his many years of experience, starting in his twenties, as a practicing critic have without doubt contributed much to the development of his own literary sensibility.

Although imprints of literary expressionism and psychological realism are rather clearly evident in Kawabata's stories, traditional Japanese themes have been more subtly infused into his writings. We may note coursing through all his major novels a sense of sorrow and loneliness, a recognition of an emotional and spiritual vacuity in man, and the recurring theme of the evanescence and meaninglessness of passion, even of temporal existence. The general tenor of the author's outlook has much in common with that of the Tale of Genji and diaries of the Late Classical Era (10th-12th century), with much of the prose of the Medieval Era (12th-16th century), and with traditional poetry. Because Kawabata avoids the explicit, his stories often seem veiled by vagueness, a quality that the native reader finds attractive. Because his writings contain so many diverse elements, they are at once subtle and complex, and they can be enjoyed for their sheer tonal and textural beauty.

Reading Kawabata's major works in chronological sequence, one may note a steady progression in the refinement of his technical mastery and a development of the ability to enter deeply into his characters. "The Izu Dancer," best known among his earliest writings, is a lyric description of a journey made by a high-school student, from the vicinity of Mount Fuji to the lower tip of Izu Peninsula, in the company of a troupe of traveling entertainers. Narrated in the first person and in a confessional vein, the short tale depicts a love that stirs the heart of the youth, whose eyes filter out the unsightly and create an idealized image of a lovely dancer who is about to blossom into womanhood. The inevitable parting and the lonely aftertaste remind him of the sorrow of having grown up an orphan, yet the memory of the fleeting encounter becomes a pleasurable one even while he continues to shed tears of regret. In composing this attractive tale, the author employed none of the techniques that were to characterize his later writings.

Kawabata's first full-length novel, The Crimson Gang of Asakusa (Asakusa kurenaidan), published in 1930, is considered the only noteworthy product of a short-lived movement for modernity and artistry that was launched by a loosely organized group of writers intent on stemming the tide of proletarian literature. This novel is in many respects antithetical to "The Izu Dancer." The Crimson Gang is a band of delinquents whose members are caught in a web of sex and violence. The setting is Asakusa, the colorful, raucous and sinful center of urban entertainment for the middle and lower classes of Tokyo. The author presents a panorama which unfolds in a series of rapidly changing scenes sketching various aspects of life in Asakusa. The ugly and evil are depicted along with the innocent and beautiful. Descriptions of the activities of the gang are woven into the panorama so that some semblance of unity is achieved. The author is a keenly sensitive observer, uninvolved in the story.

Snow Country, which was written sporadically between 1934 and 1937 and expanded into its present form after the war, is the first novel in which we find all the artistic elements, both modern and traditional, that have since characterized the distinctive style of Kawabata. Rich in imagery and symbolism, suggestive by association, the novel can be reexplored through repeated readings to new discoveries of meaning. The opening passage is arresting: "When the train came out of the long tunnel separating the provinces, it was in the snow country. The bottomless depth of the night was imbued with whiteness." Typical of the author's style is the delicacy of expression that verbalizes the profundity of a common winter scene, the subtle contrast between black sky and night-darkened snow.

The hero, Shimamura, studies the face of a girl reflected in the train window. The mirror filters out the ugly and the unpleasant; what remains for Shimamura to observe is only the beautiful, detached from those associations of sadness and pain that are evident in the totality of the image. As Shimamura concentrates on the reflected face, his time track shifts from the external to the "concrete" or internal psychological time; we are presented with a flashback, and then a flashback within a flashback, as the image evokes one recollection and then another in his mind.

Even though the point of view of Snow Country is essentially that of Shimamura, the author does not enter deeply into him. The novel can hardly be considered autobiographical. Shimamura is the observer of two women—the innocent Yoko, whose reflected image has fascinated him, and the sensual geisha Komako. Through his characterization of these two, the author describes the eternal sorrow of the Japanese woman as well as his admiration for her quality of forlornness and passivity. The vacuity in Shimamura's heart, however, may well be the vacuity in the heart of the author, or of an archetype of the modern Japanese male. The concluding paragraph presents the reader with an example of the author's elliptical sentence style: "The voice that shouted the half-crazed Komako Shimamura tried to get nearer to…." This English approximates the syntactic and idiomatic level of the original. A Japanese would reread and ponder it before he could grasp the intended meaning: "The voice that shouted was Komako's; Shimamura recognized it and tried to get nearer to the half-crazed Komako…." The concluding sentence, "The River of Heaven (the Milky Way) seemed to flow down with a roar into Shimamura," seems to be an expressionistic attempt to objectify an inexpressibly complex state of mind.

Thousand Cranes is a novel that exhibits many of the qualities of Snow Country, but we note a bolder approach to the topic of eroticism. The mode of fiction is that of imaginative storytelling, the author being nowhere evident. The relationship depicted is at best an unhealthy one—that between a young man and the women who had been mistresses to his late father. The motif is similar to that in Maupassant's "Hautot and His Son," but the eroticism in Thousand Cranes is more explicit, and is pervaded by a sense of sin and guilt which is absent from the French story. Kawabata adds to the complexity of incestuous relationship by involving the young hero in carnal association with the daughter of his father's former mistress. Here, as in Snow Country, we are afforded glimpses of traditional esthetic forms—graphic patterns, the tea ceremony, ceramics—often invested with symbolic suggestion. The instant transitions and fantastic leaps in time are techniques that anticipated those used many years later in films—recently in The Graduate, for instance.

Kawabata's finest novel in his unique modernist-traditionalist mode of fiction is Sound of the Mountain (Yama no oto), published in 1954. Because the novel sheds much light on the immemorial Japanese household—an extended family—and on the often fast-and-loose world of Japanese business, we may say that it resembles the "novel of manners," which Japanese literary critics tend to regard with disdain. Sound of the Mountain, however, is essentially a psychological novel in which the process and effects of aging are drawn with remarkable sensitivity.

The narrative point of view is that of the sixty-year-old Ogata, who might be a fictional extension of the youthful "I" of "The Izu Dancer" and Shimamura of Snow Country. Like the shadowy hero of Snow Country, the gentle, aging Ogata is constantly observing and listening, absorbing all that happens about him, but, unlike Shimamura, he is keenly aware of his own reactions and gropes to identify the motives for his own thoughts and actions. His married son is involved in a sordid extramarital liaison with a war widow. Kikuko, the son's neglected wife, has a beauty that symbolizes purity and innocence—womanly qualities attractive to Ogata—and a mutual bond of sympathy and understanding draws the two close together. Kikuko shares Ogata's sensibilities, which his wife does not. The Western reader might be amused to note the corresponding levels of perceptivity assigned to Ogata, his daughter-in-law, and Mrs. Ogata, and to Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth, and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. The fading but persistent yearning for youthful femininity in Ogata's unconscious is revealed to him occasionally in erotic dreams. In a moment of stupefying realization, Ogata identifies the faceless woman he has often embraced in dreams with his own daughter-in-law. The eroticism, however, is presented subtly, and the texture of Sound of the Mountain is softened considerably by frequent references to traditional esthetics.

Although, having completed Sound of the Mountain, Kawabata could have rested on his laurels, he was busily at work in 1954 writing The Lake (Mizuumi), a novel of stark psychological realism, infused with a dark lyricism which places it a fictional world apart from Sound of the Mountain and marks the beginning of yet another phase in the author's creative career. It is remarkable for its absence of references to traditional beauty. Instead, its emphasis is on symbolism, the bold use of interior monologue, the constantly shifting time track, and particularly the characterization of the hero: Gimpei's overpowering desire for beautiful women will never be fulfilled because of the ugliness of his feet—feet which he himself can regard only with morbid fascination, if not with abhorrence.

Another novel in a similar vein, House of the Sleeping Beauties (Nemureru bijo), depicting the behavioral and psychological manifestations of eroticism in the aging male, was published in 1961 and was immediately acclaimed as Kawabata's major work by a number of critics and authors. The novelist Yukio Mishima, among others, expressed regret that the Nobel Committee could not have read Sleeping Beauties to learn how the passing years had served to hone, rather than to dull, Kawabata's perceptivity and to enrich his creative and expressive capacities.

In The Old Capital (Koto), published in 1962, Kawabata reverted abruptly to the beauty and sadness he sees in youth and innocence. As in The Crimson Gang of Asakusa, the story itself is less important than the traditional beauty of Kyoto, which is woven into a soft brocade, attractive for its sheer textural elegance.

Thanks to the Nobel Committee, readers of English should soon be given access by our commercial publishers to translations of Kawabata novels which have won praise for their literary quality but have seldom been published in large editions in Japan. The reader might be forewarned, however, of one peculiarity of Kawabata's stories that is distinctly Japanese. Almost all of his stories represent a non-dramatic mode of fiction and remain unresolved. There is no explicit statement of what the tomorrow will bring to Shimamura, Ogata, Gimpei, "old" Eguchi of Sleeping Beauties, or the many women in his stories. Most Japanese readers enjoy the pathos born of such vagueness. We too might learn to enjoy pondering the eventual fates of characters in novels. Their lives are no less real than our own. No one, after all, lives quite happily or unhappily ever after.

Paul Anderer (review date November 1989)

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SOURCE: A review of Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 48, No. 4, November 1989, pp. 865-66.

[In the following review, Anderer discusses the style and themes of Kawabata's Palm-of-the-Hand Stories.]

Palm-of-the-Hand Stories gives us an opportunity to redirect attention and critical inquiry toward the beginnings of what we have come to know—chiefly on the evidence of longer and later shosetsu—as Kawabata's style. In this collection of 70 tanagokoro no shosetsu, Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman, working independently, have made available not just some fine Kawabata writing but much of his earliest work. Forty-three of these stories were published between 1924 and 1929. Since literary historians generally agree that Kawabata wrote 146 such stories throughout his career, and that 85 of these had been written by 1929, this abridged collection reflects the distribution of this work over the course of Kawabata's writing life. In every decade through to his final publication ("Gleanings from Snow Country"), Kawabata wrote tanagokoro no shosetsu, although it is apparent that he most intensively cultivated such writing in his youth.

The opening editorial note acknowledges the especially close link between tanagokoro no shosetsu and youth, quoting Kawabata's own retrospective remark in evidence: "the poetic spirit of my young days lives on in them." In the same context, Kawabata observes that "many writers, in their youth, write poetry: I, instead of poetry, wrote the palm-of-the-hand stories." It is also the case that in his youth, Kawabata was better known for his criticism and reviews than for his fiction, and for his advocacy of a modernist movement—the Shinkankaku-ha—of which he was an active and crucial participant.

I mention this not to deflect from the pleasures of Kawabata's text, which Dunlop and Holman have rendered in uniformly good English prose (there are differences: Dunlop seems more concerned with getting the diction right, Holman more with sentence rhythm), but to suggest that many of these stories possess a sharp experimental intention and edge that is dulled if we search too deeply for traces of a renga tradition or are mesmerized by an image of Kawabata as a master traditionalist. At its best Japanese modernism of the 1920s, as pursued by the young Kawabata and Yokomitsu Riichi, represented a challenge to normative literary perception and response and cultivated a willful idiosyncrasy, even eccentricity, of style. This could invite a less conventional treatment in English than many of the stories receive here. A more concentrated, experimental translation might have produced interesting results (when Kawabata published his Yukigunisho in the Sand Mainichi, typographically it appeared in verse form).

There is a sense of warmth and fragility in the earliest stories, conveyed in their very titles—"A Sunny Place," "The Weaker Vessel," "The Girl Who Approached the Fire"—which offsets the cool formalism of Kawabata's spare and rigorous method. We encounter here an abstract "world without sound" whose contours are powerfully determined by memory and dream. Yet this world seems close to experience, to the feeling of some actual loss or betrayal, and so issues of a personal or a generational history are as pressing as the aesthetic method that distills beauty from them. Again, many of the stories appear childlike in their innocence of realism or of sociopolitical incident ("Glass" and "Water" are notable exceptions to this). But they often take bizarre, less-than-innocent turns. And so "a perfect snowy morning scene" is broken as sparrow heads poke through the breast holes of a dying girl's discarded corset ("The Younger Sister's Clothes") leading the narrator to say, as readers might, to describe the effect of many such stories: "It was like a painful fairy tale."

Indeed very basic elements generate Kawabata's condensed, almost implosive short fiction: sun and snow, light and darkness, desire and deprivation. Over time this style, increasingly refined and abstracted from experience, drifts more toward a cold isolation: "the snowy landscape was all there was" ("Snow").

At the very end, red cheeks, detached from a woman's face, "float[ed] amid the snow" ("Gleanings from Snow Country") Preoccupied as he had been for so long with the snow country of his art, it is no wonder that in his last tanagokoro no shosetsu, Kawabata distilled and crystallized his favorite landscape, his own otherworldly and deeply modernist home.

Sidney DeVere Brown (review date Winter 1990)

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SOURCE: A review of Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, in World Literature Today, Vol. 64, No. 1, Winter, 1990, p. 197.

[In the following review, DeVere Brown praises the spare style of Kawabata's Palm-of-the-Hand Stories.]

Kawabata's masterpiece, the novel Snow Country, is written in a spare, elliptical style. It seems as abbreviated as a work of literature can possibly be—until one reads the author's "palm-of-the-hand stories," which often tell a story or evoke an image in less than a page. "Gleanings from Snow Country," indeed, presents the highlights of the novel in a series of haiku-like images in five pages. That is much longer than the usual story, however.

Most of the selections juxtapose two images in less than a page and reveal a story by indirection. If Japanese literature requires much of its readers because it relies on suggestion rather than graphic detail and because resolution of the plot is incomplete, then the palm-of-the-hand stories require an incredible effort, but an enjoyable one. The orphaned girl of "A Sunny Place" stares at her blind grandfather as he turns toward the sun; at the same time she remembers being at a sunny place on the beach with him earlier. In "Hair" an exhausted hairdresser who is called upon to do the hair of all the village girls because soldiers are billeted in town passes word to her hairdresser friend in the next village that she would do well if she followed soldiers around; the second woman's husband, a miner, is not amused and slaps her around just as a trumpet sounds. "Hometown" centers on a village festival to which everyone is invited back to partake of dumplings in bean soup. Men are few in wartime, and the sister-in-law who has a letter from the front has grown plump.

What do the stories mean? Each reader will craft his own plot from the fragmentary evidence, which often is even less revealing than in the three examples cited above. Kawabata wrote palm-of-the-hand stories throughout his career, from 1923 to 1972, and they evidently had a market value in the periodicals of his time. Certain themes recur. Kawabata was a cultural traditionalist who wrote of hot springs, girls in the bath at an inn, or beautiful black hair in several contexts; but he also wrote of a taxi dancer in Asakusa (1932), of the water shortage in wartime Manchuria (1944), and of a woman who fled to London to recover from a failed marriage (1962). Prewar pride in culture, wartime privation, and postwar affluence and cosmopolitan life-style all come through in the works of this most Japanese of modern writers. The translators have performed the exacting task of transferring the obscure thoughts and misty images of his palm-of-the-hand stories into English successfully.

Nobuko Miyama Ochner (review date Spring 1991)

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SOURCE: A review of The Old Capital, in Southern Humanities Review, Vol. XXV, No. 2, Spring, 1991, pp. 197-203.

[In the following review, Miyama Ochner analyzes the problems involved in translating Kawabata's work and asserts that J. Martin Holman's translation of Kawabata's The Old Capital "emerges as a generally faithful and competent work."]

There have been many English translations of novels and essays by Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972), Japan's only recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1968) to date. Seven titles (The Izu Dancer and Other Stories; Snow Country; Master of Go; Thousand Cranes; The Sound of the Mountain; Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself; and House of Sleeping Beauties) have been translated by Edward G. Seidensticker, who, since he has also translated other short stories by Kawabata, is the person most responsible for introducing Kawabata's works to the West. Other book-length English translations of Kawabata's works, all of which appeared after his Nobel Prize award, include The Lake by Reiko Tsukimura, Beauty and Sadness by Howard S. Hibbett, The Existence and Discovery of Beauty by V. H. Viglielmo, and Palm-of-Hand Stories by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman. Therefore, The Old Capital is Holman's second translation of Kawabata's fiction.

Together with Snow Country and Thousand Cranes, this novel was cited by the Nobel Prize Committee as grounds for selection. The committee had available several European-language translations, including one in German by Walter Donat entitled Kyoto. The prominent Japanologist Donald Keene states in his history of modern Japanese literature, Dawn to the West, that The Old Capital "by no means deserved" such distinction. Now, nearly two decades after Kawabata received the Nobel Prize, English-speaking readers have access to the novel that generated such apparently divergent assessments.

To know certain aspects of Kawabata's life that appear to have influenced his development as a writer would be a helpful preface to a discussion of the novel. Born to a physician's family near Osaka, Kawabata was orphaned early in his life; between the ages of two and fifteen, he lost, one after another, his father, mother, grandmother, older sister, and grandfather. He called himself "an expert at funerals," and the sense of loneliness, of not belonging to a family (an extremely important social unit in Japanese society), pervades the spiritual life of many a protagonist in his works. After going through the elite course of the First Higher School (1917–1920) and the Imperial University of Tokyo (1920–1924), where he majored first in English then in Japanese literature, he and several friends began an avant-garde literary magazine, Bungei jidai (Literary Age, 1924–1930), and published stories, poems, and criticism heavily influenced by European modernism (e.g., Dadaism, Surrealism, et cetera). Calling themselves Shinkankakuha, which may be rendered as Neo-Perceptionist (or Neosensualist, or New Sensationalist) School, the group advocated the creation of a new style to express new perceptions: they favored startling images, unusual metaphors, and abrupt transitions. Although the modernist movement of the Shinkankakuha was short-lived, it had a lasting influence on many modern writers, perhaps because it struck a sympathetic chord with traditional poetic practice, in which associational leaps and linking between images or juxtapositions of seemingly unrelated images were frequent features. Kawabata's fiction is often explained as having the quality of haiku or renga (linked poetry). Extremely short paragraphs, often consisting of single sentences, also give a poetic rhythm to his narrative. His diction, too, is artfully simple yet subtle and evocative.

From the youthful lyricism of "The Izu Dancer" to the old man's fantasy and reverie in The House of Sleeping Beauties, Kawabata pursued his preoccupations with beauty, loneliness, transience, decay, death, and eroticism. He was already an established writer in the 1930s and 1940s with the publication of Snow Country, among others. His works usually contained both topicality and timelessness. Changing human events were often contrasted with nature in its recurrent cycle of seasons and renewal.

Kawabata was detached from the jingoism of the World War II years; he showed his independent spirit during the postwar era, when it was popular to denounce the old Japan and cater to the prevalent waves of Westernization, by declaring that henceforth he would write only elegies for the beauty of old Japan. Traditional arts and crafts, such as those represented by the ceramic tea bowls (Thousand Cranes) and the No masks (The Sound of the Mountain), are described in loving detail to emphasize their sensuousness and virtual timelessness, which are the expressions of the love and care that went into the creating and preserving of those artifacts. The same admiration for artistic excellence and the craftsman's devotion to his work are portrayed in The Old Capital as well.

Kawabata was active during the postwar era, serving as president of the Japan P.E.N. Club (1948–1965) and hosting its International Congress in Tokyo in 1957. In 1961 he was awarded the Order of Culture, Japan's highest recognition of achievement for a man of letters. His award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968 signified the international recognition of Japanese culture, a century after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Kawabata's sudden suicide in 1972, therefore, surprised the world.

The Old Capital was serialized in the Asahi Shinbun, one of the three leading Japanese newspapers with national circulation, between October 1961 and January 1962. Newspaper serialization is a commonly used means of publication in Japan, and distinguished novelists such as Soseki Natsume (1867–1916) have published their novels in newspapers. Serialization has left its mark on The Old Capital in some repetitions or overlaps that were necessary to remind the reader of what had occurred earlier in the story. Kawabata revised the novel extensively prior to its publication in book form. Another curious fact about this novel, according to Kawabata's own afterword to the Japanese edition, is his heavy use of sleeping medicine during its writing; after the novel was completed he stopped the medication, and consequently had to be hospitalized because of severe withdrawal symptoms. It is noteworthy that hardly any hint of such an abnormal state of mind can be observed in the novel (with the possible exceptions of the heroine's father's obi [sash] design, which suggests his spiritual desolation, and of the heroine's nightmares).

The story is set in contemporary Japan, in the traditional city of Kyoto, the capital of Japan from AD 794 to 1868. The central character is a beautiful young woman named Chieko, a foundling adopted and cherished by the childless couple named Takichiro and Shige, who own an established but declining wholesale dry goods business. Takichiro is an artist by temperament and ill-suited to business. His gentle nature and lack of business acumen are taken advantage of by his employees. The story of a foundling who grows up to become a beautiful woman has its classic precedent in The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a late-ninth- to early-tenth-century tale of Kaguyahime, the "shining" princess of the moon, who is temporarily banished to the earthly realm and, after rejecting all suitors, returns to the moon. Kawabata refers to this tale in The Old Capital. The tale of the beautiful unearthly princess Kaguyahime had deeply impressed the young Kawabata, as he explained in his 1969 lecture titled The Existence and Discovery of Beauty.

The events in The Old Capital take place between spring and winter, and in nine chapters they encompass seasonal observances and famous festivals of Kyoto, such as the Hollyhock Festival in May, the Bamboo Cutting Ceremony of Kurama Temple in June, the Gion Festival in July, the Daimonji bonfires in August, and the Festival of Ages in October. Running through the parade of festivals, reminiscent of picture scrolls in traditional art, is the plot line involving beautiful identical twin sisters, Chieko and Naeko, who have been separated since infancy. Chieko had been abandoned by her poor parents. The sisters meet by chance during the Gion Festival, but they are destined to live apart because of their different stations in life. Chieko and Naeko are typical Kawabata heroines—beautiful, pure, virginal, and good. Such young women represent the essence of beauty and pure love in Kawabata's aesthetic. The critic Makoto Ueda points out in Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature that Kawabata's concept of pure love relies on its unattainability and that young maidens are the ones most capable of it. The emphasis on purity and beauty connects aptly with the religious element of the novel: Chieko is a parishioner of the Yasaka Shrine; in Shinto belief, the purification ritual is of central importance, since it is believed that one can become blessed only in a state of purity.

Revolving around the twins are Chieko's devoted parents and her three admirers. Chieko's beauty attracts her childhood friend Shin'ichi, his brother Ryusuke, and a young obi weaver named Hideo. One of the characteristics of The Old Capital is the absence of a "villain" among major characters: everyone is basically kind and considerate. The conflict, or tension, in the novel is therefore much more internalized within each character than in some other novels by Kawabata, such as Thousand Cranes, in which the tea master Chikako assumes the role of the villain. This internal conflict in The Old Capital is usually between duty and sentiment, a recurrent theme in the Kabuki and puppet theater of the Edo Period (1600–1868). For instance, Chieko does not feel free to choose her own marriage partner despite her affection for Shin'ichi, because her choice will directly affect her father's business and her parents' future security. She feels that she must honor their wishes. This constraint is largely self-imposed, as that of a dutiful and loyal daughter, to repay the kindness of her parents by doing what is right. Her parents, on the other hand, do not really wish to impose their will on her. The orphaned Naeko, a country girl of the working class, feels strongly that her presence should not jeopardize the happiness of her sister, the heiress to a comparatively affluent merchant household. Therefore, she restrains her natural desire to see her sister more often. Naeko is depicted as the more resolute of the two sisters: by refusing to benefit from her family connection to Chieko, she demonstrates her sense of honor and independence. Hideo, an expert weaver of the Nishijin district, is in love with Chieko, but he knows that he cannot presume to propose to her because of his family's poverty. The only expression of his feelings for her he allows is the obi he weaves for her, into which he pours his heart and soul. When he discovers that Chieko has a twin sister, he asks Naeko to marry him. However, it is strongly suggested that Naeko will refuse his proposal, because she does not wish to become a substitute for her sister. In the meantime, Shin'ichi's older brother, who is the more forceful of the two, becomes enamored of Chieko and hopes eventually to marry her. Caught in the network of human relationships, Chieko at the end of the novel looks into the falling snow, as her twin sister departs after spending a night at Chieko's home for the first and the last time. With a typically Kawabatan sense of open-endedness, there is no clear resolution of plot.

The self-restraint of the characters is remarkable, in contrast to such typically Kawabatan self-indulgent male characters as Shimamura in Snow Country or Kikuji in Thousand Cranes. One might say that the characters in The Old Capital are idealized and somewhat lacking in complexity, at least on the narrative surface. Sensuality, a quality prominent in many of Kawabata's works, is suppressed in this novel, with no description of sexual encounters between men and women.

The beauty of nature provides the backdrop to the human drama. From the cherry-blossom viewing in spring to the appreciation of the austere beauty of the cedars (actually cryptomerias) at Kitayama in winter, the characters derive pleasure and solace from flowers and trees in season. White bush clovers attract Takichiro, while camphor trees calm the spirit of Hideo's father. The backdrop of nature is a constant reminder of the brevity of human life, and possibly of its duality, i.e., its inconsequentiality and preciousness. Another aspect of nature in Japan that is discussed in this novel is its bonsai-like quality: it is not wild nature but nature cultivated by man. Kitayama cedars are the prime example, being shaped and grown to a uniform size to produce fine timber.

One of the major impulses that caused Kawabata to write this novel is his apparent wish to preserve in writing some of the traditional beauty of Kyoto. The period from the late 1950s to the early 1960s was marked by the Japanese national resolve to achieve economic advancement, symbolized by Premier Hayato Ikeda's call to double the income of all Japanese. Such an "economic miracle" was often achieved at the expense of aesthetic and cultural considerations. Thus, in virtually all episodes Kawabata contrasts the old and the new, and what is new seems almost invariably negative in its impact. For instance, the great wave of tourism caught the old capital in the postwar economic recovery, causing Zen temples to "sell" mass-produced and hurriedly served tea ceremonies or to have monks give loud speeches to large numbers of tourists, in the interest of efficient processing. Even the traditional craft of silk weaving was being replaced gradually by mechanized looms that could produce five hundred obis in a day; hand weavers like Hideo were no match in productivity. These changes are viewed with regret by the characters in The Old Capital; however, their emotions are more resignation and acceptance than revolt or rejection. Thus the author's attitude toward social change parallels the protagonist's attitude toward her lot in life.

The emotional timbre of the novel is strongly Japanese, in the pervasive mood of sadness and acceptance of one's circumstances. However, it is not a defeat but a choice on the part of the characters. Choosing self-sacrifice for the sake of others instead of seeking self-fulfillment without regard to others signifies inner strength and stoic fortitude. For this reason, a part of Chieko's and Naeko's, character is reminiscent of the Japanese self-discipline described so eloquently by Lafcadio Hearn in his essay "The Japanese Smile" nearly a century ago.

Despite its emphasis on the traditional culture of Japan, The Old Capital also contains topical non-Japanese references, such as those to the surrealistic paintings of Marc Chagall (1887–1985) and the abstract paintings of Paul Klee (1879–1940), which appear to have been fashionable in Japan in the early 1960s. For example, Chieko gives her father a volume of photographic reproductions of paintings by Klee, Chagall, and other modern painters. The novel refers several times to the fact that the postwar occupation of Japan by the Allied (American) Forces had officially ended in 1952 and the American housing in the Kyoto Botanical Garden was vacated. The atmosphere thus created, and reinforced by such events as the discontinuation of streetcar service, is one of transition and mutability. It is a time of nostalgic retrospection of the old capital in its various seasonal moods. For this reason, the critic Kenkichi Yamamoto regards the city of Kyoto as the true protagonist of the novel, with the story of the twin sisters only subsidiary in importance. Nevertheless, the depiction of subtle emotions and thought sequences, much of which clearly reflect Japanese modes of human relationship, makes the novel a valuable "case study" of self versus other in traditional Japanese society. Consideration for others always comes before fulfillment of self. Such a manner of life is beautiful but also can be painful, as evidenced in the frequent pauses and silences of the characters. Keene notes in Nihon bungaku o yomu that what is Japanese about Kawabata is more the suggestiveness (yojo), i.e., the unstated but implied meaning, of his prose than any direct material indebtedness to classical Japanese literature.

Holman's translation is generally accurate, but it contains a number of problems, including omissions, misunderstandings of idioms, changing of nuances, misleading English equivalents, and errors of fact. Kawabata's use of the Kyoto dialect undoubtedly caused more than the usual level of difficulty for the translator, since Kawabata's dialogues are often cryptic and suggestive, never loquacious. This point is underscored, for instance, by Seidensticker, who states in his essay "Translation: What Good Does It Do?" in the collection Literary Relations East and West: Selected Essays, that he prefers to translate Kawabata's works, because they are more ambiguous and elusive, hence more challenging, than the works by Tanizaki (1886–1965) or Mishima (1925–1970). Since it is impractical to discuss all the problems in this translation of The Old Capital, only a few examples will be treated below.

Omissions are presumably the conscious choice of the translator and they are justified in passages containing too many specific details that add little to the substance of the work or puzzle those unfamiliar with the language and culture of Japan. A case in point is the list of eighteen terms for types of fabrics and styles of kimono. Omissions may be problematic when they affect the substance of the novel. For instance, Chieko's adoptive mother, Shige, tells her, "If you wanted to seek out your real parents [and leave us], I couldn't stop you, but I would probably die." The bracketed words are omitted. Since Shige's concern is not about Chieko's desire to find her real parents but about her leaving, the omission seems to alter Shige's characterization. At several points in the novel whole sentences, generally descriptions, are omitted; these do not detract substantially from the effect of the novel.

Misunderstanding of idioms occurs occasionally, and sometimes it creates an odd situation. For instance, in conversation with her friend, Chieko is described as being curt: "Chieko cut her off shortly." But the passage actually means that "Chieko paused for a moment." At another juncture, Naeko cries out in surprise, "although she was alone"; however, this phrase "hitoride ni" should be rendered as "spontaneously" or "automatically." In two passages the expression "aratamatta" or its variant "aratamatte," meaning "formal" or "formally," is confused with "aratamete," which means "again" or "anew."

Changes of nuances and uses of misleading English equivalents occur sporadically. The most frequent case (about ten times) is the consistent rendition of "shibaraku" (for a while as "for a moment." Even though it is not too far off the mark, the translation speeds up the action, thus altering the emotional tone of the novel. If the action in an Ozu film, such as Tokyo Story, is faster, with fewer silences and pauses, the audience will receive a different impression of it. Similarly, the genteel people of Kyoto would speak and act more slowly and deliberately than average Westerners. Another example of change of nuance occurs when Kawabata's characteristic ambiguity is removed by rendering passages containing such terms as "yo da" (seem to) or "rashii" (appear to) as definite statements of fact. For instance, "Chieko seemed to envy Masako's freedom," is rendered as "Chieko envied Masako's freedom." The choice concerns a shift in point of view, whether the narration at that point is external or internal to Chieko's mind. Generally, Kawabata carefully controls his narrative point of view, as seen in such masterpieces as Snow Country, Thousand Cranes, and The Sound of the Mountain. In the case of The Old Capital, the perspective shifts among Chieko, Takichiro, and a few other characters, showing the characters sometimes internally and at other times externally.

Misleading English equivalents include the following: a "storage shed" should be a "storehouse," which is more like a strongroom and much more substantial than the term "shed" implies. Another example of this sort is Chieko being described as wearing "galoshes over her shoes": Japanese rubber rain boots are not worn over any shoes, since there is no need for indoor footwear. A number of such misleading English equivalents suggest that this is a cultural problem; either the translator was unfamiliar with certain aspects of Japanese life or he was unable to convince the editor who was.

A few examples of errors of fact are as follows: for "two or three hundred houses" read "a hundred twenty or thirty houses"; "one hundred candles" should be large candles weighing "one hundred momme [unit of weight]"; for "their kimonos looked so shabby" read "I felt sorry for their fine kimonos [because their dance was so unskillful]." Errors of fact also occur when an action is attributed to a wrong person, a situation possible in translating from the Japanese language in which the subject of a sentence is omitted when the context makes it clear. For instance, in the recollected scene when Takichiro found the abandoned baby in front of his shop, he tells Shige, "I'm in a daze now"; however, the remark actually means "Why do you look so dazed?" Another example occurs when Shin'ichi and Ryusuke are visiting Chieko. Shin'ichi tells his brother that Chieko had said that since some years earlier she had regarded the two violets growing separately in the trunk of an old maple tree as adorable sweethearts and that they were close to each other but they would never be able to come together. To this, Chieko replies, "Stop it. Aren't you ashamed?"; however, the actual remark is "Stop it. You are embarrassing me."

Incidentally, the same passage paraphrased above is rendered in the translation as "Some years ago, Chieko said that the two violets are like two lovers. Though they are close to one another, they've never met." The parts emphasized by this reviewer have the wrong tense (or aspect, according to some linguists). The rendition of this passage raises interesting interpretative differences concerning the symbolism of the violets. The Japanese version suggests at least two possibilities for the "two lovers," namely Chieko and Shin'ichi for one and Chieko and Naeko for another. The English translation, on the other hand, by specifying that "they've never met," seems to limit the possibility to one couple, Chieko and Naeko, who had longed for each other but had not met; the use of the term "lovers," however, is problematic.

The above are but samples of problems in translation that this reviewer noted. However, it should be reiterated that, given the inherent ambiguities of Kawabata's evocative style and the use of dialect in all his dialogue, the translation emerges as a generally faithful and competent work. Most importantly, The Old Capital offers readers without direct access to the Japanese original a chance to read another acclaimed novel by Kawabata and to judge for themselves how it fits into the totality of the writer's aesthetic and novelistic vision. To that end the translator's efforts should be welcomed and appreciated.

Masaki Mori (essay date May 1994)

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SOURCE: "Decoding the Beard: A Dream-Interpretation of Kawabata's The Sound of the Mountain," in The Comparatist, Vol. XVIII, May, 1994, pp. 129-49.

[In the following essay, Mori uses dream-interpretation to analyze the dreams of the main character of Kawabata's The Sound of the Mountain. He concludes that the analysis "shows at once Kawabata's great interest in Freudian concepts and his adroit use of psychoanalytic motifs in one of his major novels."]

Apart from the Japanese sensibility and literary tradition woven into many of his works, Kawabata Yasunari eagerly absorbed new ideas and techniques from the West during the early stage of his career as a writer. For instance, it is well known that, together with his friend Yokomitsu Riichi, Kawabata was involved with the activities of Shin Kankakuha (Neosensualism or Neoperceptionism), a literary movement that tried to incorporate such avant-garde trends as cubism, dadaism, futurism, symbolism and expressionism into Japanese literature in 1920s. Kawabata was also greatly interested in surrealism and stream of consciousness. Psychoanalysis is not an exception. Although Jungian psychology has been well accepted in Japan, it is Freudian psychoanalysis which has made remarkable impacts, direct or indirect, on Japanese artists including Kawabata.

Suisho Genso [Crystal Fantasy], for example, has often been noted for its experimental use of the stream of consciousness to express the contour of the distressed mind of a childless married woman. In this early novella, Kawabata already shows his unmistakable interest in Freud by having his female protagonist mention the Austrian scholar's name twice along with such terms as "psychology," "psychologist" and "the death instinct." Nor is this an isolated instance of an interest in Freud. According to Kim Chae-Soo, through his early tentative use of Freudianism and the stream of consciousness, Kawabata established a mode of "internal narration" in which the author describes things through the "limited viewpoint" of only one character, and most of Kawabata's critically acclaimed novels such as Yukiguni [Snow Country], Senbazuru [Thousand Cranes] and Nemureru Bijo [The House of the Sleeping Beauties] are written in this way. Moreover, twenty years after Crystal Fantasy, the writer seems to have found a long-awaited opportunity to make extensive use of the psychoanalytical approach in Yama no Oto [The Sound of the Mountain].

In the case of The Sound of the Mountain, the story is almost entirely narrated from the viewpoint of the protagonist Ogata Shingo. While still retaining an active role as the head of a family at Kamakura and as an executive of a Tokyo company, this man over sixty has two fundamental problems which are related to each other—anxiety about his weakened sexuality and fear of impending death. He is keenly aware of the latter problem when his old friends die one after another a few years after World War II. The former problem is often repressed by his moral consciousness, because the object of his sexual interest is his daughter-in-law Kikuko who lives with his three-generational family.

Throughout the novel, Shingo has a number of dreams, most of which readily yield to Freudian dream-interpretation, suggesting a disguised, repressed incestuous desire. However, at least one of his dreams seems totally irrelevant to the psychological scheme which underlies the work: this is the dream of a man with an elaborate beard which conforms to American ethnic patterns. Always regarded as "naïve, uncomplicated," according to the text, this dream, unlike the other ones, has not attracted serious critical attention. At the same time, four of Shingo's dreams appear in two pairs on separate occasions. One pair of successive dreams in the second chapter is about Shingo's encounter with two of his dead acquaintances. The other pair of dreams, which includes the one about the extraordinary beard, happens much later at a moment of moral crisis. Apart from what each of these dreams might indicate, the significance of coupling itself has been little explored. When correlated with the overall meaning of the work, however, the nonsensical dream about the beard and the coupling of dreams also acquire a certain psychological significance.

Freudian psychoanalysis as presented in Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1916–17) and Freud's other works are helpful here, because the protagonist makes good use of this popular approach in his attempts to understand the hidden messages of his dreams. Thus, our study is doubly comparative, first in exploring Kawabata's use of Freudianism in his novel, and subsequently in applying Freudian psychoanalysis to reveal the meanings of some of Shingo's dreams.

In order to develop the full implications of a Freudian interpretation of Shingo's dream about the beard, the protagonist's preoccupations with a death fear and sexual dysfunction will first be situated in relation to the arts, nature, and other people. Then, his dreams will be explored in order to extract the possible meanings of the double dreams and the dream of the beard. In dealing with the dream of the beard, the social background of occupied Japan and the role played by the United States will be examined, since the American presence at that time penetrated many aspects of people's lives, both real and fictional. In the end, these dreams will hopefully enhance our sense of the organic coherence of this novel, in spite of its loose sequence of chapters, which has created the misleading impression that its components are "assembled but unconnected," as Miyoshi Masao puts it, and are like "the stringing together of little vignettes with no great regard for over-all form," as Edward Seidensticker has argued.

The Sound of the Mountain is fraught with psychological symbolism. The title itself derives from an undefinable sound which Shingo hears on a quiet summer night at the beginning of the story:

He thought he could detect a dripping of dew from leaf to leaf.

Then he heard the sound of the mountain….

It was like wind, far away, but with a depth like a rumbling of the earth…. He wanted to question himself, calmly and deliberately, to ask whether it had been the sound of the wind, the sound of the sea, or a sound in his ears. But he had heard no such sound, he was sure. He had heard the mountain.

Somehow convinced of the reality of the eerie phenomenon, Shingo immediately associates the sound with his fear of death, since he feels with a chill "as if he had been notified that death was approaching." Remarkable here is the description suggestive of the unconscious from which a dream emerges, for there is "a vast depth to the moonlit night, stretching far on either side." While the primary sense is auditory with tense quietude intoning the sound of the mountain, the visual sense, which dominates our dream, introduces Kikuko with the unreality of her moonlit dress "hanging outside, unpleasantly gray," like an obtrusive, insubstantial dream image. This unpleasantness around Kikuko's first appearance should be regarded as a result of the unconscious, instantaneous negation of what Shingo might otherwise feel sexually attracted to. A moment later, he imagines this piece of clothing "sweat-soaked," thereby divulging his latent interest.

This entire nocturnal scene resembles a bad joke, which is characteristic of anxiety-dreams as Freud defined them. Moreover, Shingo remembers the discarded suicide plan he heard ten days earlier from a geisha. She intended to die with her lover, but, not sure of the effect of the potassium cyanide he brought, she changed her mind at the last moment. The sudden recollection of the planned love suicide, which also looks like a spoiled game, is reminiscent of dream formation, because this "strange memory" is taken at random from an everyday, unimportant occurrence and is forcibly associated, through the notion of death, with an unrelated, significant element. Although not an actual dream, this nocturnal scene distinguishes itself from a working of the conscious mind by its temporary, hallucinatory nature. Moriyasu Masafumi calls this scene "a reality transformed into another reality by a dream," and Takahashi Hideo considers it "a dream sphere." In this initial stage, we already notice the effect of Shingo's two obsessions, death and sexuality, in a Freudian framework.

A few days later, the sound of the mountain is traced back to the remote past in a conversation with Kikuko and his wife Yasuko. As Shingo tells them of his uncanny experience, Kikuko recalls that, according to her mother-in-law, Yasuko's beautiful sister had a similar experience just before her death in her twenties. This precedent, however, which took place a few decades before, had not come to Shingo's mind until his daughter-in-law mentioned it. Shingo as a young man loved Yasuko's elder sister. With his desire unfulfilled, he married Yasuko, hoping in vain that his offspring would inherit his sister-in-law's beauty through his wife. He is attracted to Kikuko partly because her "delicate figure made him think of Yasuko's sister." His attachment to his daughter-in-law is so perceptibly strong as to invite some criticism from the other family members.

Although Shingo is used to his own frequent forgetfulness of recent events, his failure to associate the two occurrences of the same phenomenon shocks him. In this case, we should rather suspect that the two instances of the sound, which originates in the death of someone dear to him, were unconsciously kept from being associated with each other in memory by his fear of death. The sound of the mountain as a foreboding of death is thus related to sexual desire still lingering from Shingo's younger days, and the sound turns out to be the psychological undertone of the novel, although he hears it only once.

The death knell actually sounds inside and around Shingo in far more tangible ways. His fitful senile amnesia, one typical instance of which opens the novel, is ironically a constant reminder of "a life … being lost," and makes him feel "a twinge of something like fear." Later in the last chapter, Shingo temporarily forgets how to tie a necktie, "a process he had repeated every morning through the forty years of his office career," and he fears that he might be facing "a collapse, a loss of self." As Jaime Fernández argues, his loss of memory is equated with the loss of life. And, one year before hearing the sound of the mountain, Shingo spits blood, presumably from his lungs. Although there has been no other symptom indicative of tuberculosis since then, "to spit blood at his age gave him the darkest forebodings." When he is shaken with emotion, he feels "the fatigue of his years" come "flooding over him."

At the same time, like the recurring tones of a reminding bell, Shingo hears of the deaths of friends from his university days. All of these reported deaths take place in autumn, which seems to be a corresponding metaphor for the age of Shingo and his generation. They are all far advanced in the penultimate season of life, and there is no turning back in time as they experience daily the steady approach of death. Moreover, a devastating storm called war has made the autumn of Shingo's generation far worse than usual:

His schoolmates were now in their sixties. Among them were considerable numbers whose luck, from the middle of the war on into the defeat, had not been good. Since they were already then in their late fifties, the fall was cruel and the recovery difficult. And they were of an age to lose sons in the war.

The "scar" left by the war, from which the title of the twelfth chapter is derived according to Ochi Haruo, often extends far into the psyche. Kitamoto, who was one of Shingo's friends from his school days and who died during the air raids, lost three sons and went insane when, having proven useless in his wartime company, he was forced to stay home. According to a friend who tells Shingo of Kitamoto's last years, he sat all day in front of a mirror, pulling out his white hairs in an effort to strive "against the years." Once his obsession "to be young again" had resulted in complete baldness, his resistance against time seemed to bring about "a miracle," for a "fine crop of black hair came out on his naked head." But he died shortly thereafter, since he apparently "used up all his energy growing that crop of dark hair."

In Shingo's case, although he does not lose his son in the war, he loses his virility and can not regain it. He knows that he is "not very old," but "[w]hat had been killed by the war had not come to life again" and "that was how it was with him." Lying down beside Yasuko at night, he no longer reaches out to touch his wife except when he tries to stop her snoring, which he takes as an "infinitely saddening" fact. Even when he has a chance with a young geisha in Tokyo, he does "nothing out of the ordinary" and resignedly accepts the idea that "in sex, too, there were riches and poverty, good luck and bad." Obviously, World War II profoundly affected the inner life of Shingo's generation in terms of both sexuality and a fear of death.

Shingo's existence is shaken because of "a fundamental sense of debility" in Ookubo Takaki's words, or of "the most inner aging" which enfeebles "the energy of life," as Iwata Mitsuko puts it. In this situation, although not as single-mindedly as the deranged Kitamoto, Shingo nevertheless feels an irresistible attraction to things which seem to resist, freeze, or reverse the flow of time—specifically, to certain works of arts and to certain objects in nature.

Shingo's fascination with the arts is easily understandable, for the arts freeze time within their creations and give us a sense of pseudoeternity, a motif Keats celebrated in "Ode on a Grecian Urn." The list of artifacts which interest Shingo includes Noh masks, a Buddha statue, a filmed Kabuki play, a framed scroll of calligraphy, paintings by ancient masters, haiku and tanka poems, and a few lines from a Noh play. The most important object is a Noh mask called jido. Having been handed down from one generation to another for about four hundred years, and representing the seductive beauty of the opposite gender for Shingo, this mask of an early teenage male symbolizes "eternal youth." Shingo has one of the closest, emotional contacts with his daughter-in-law when she utters, through the mask which she has placed in front of her face, her hope of staying with him after her probable divorce. Putting it away in a closet on the day of purchase, Shingo avoids the sight of the jido mask that inadvertently discloses his latent desire for restored youth and sexuality.

Wild vegetation also tends to be endowed with symbolism peculiar to the workings of Shingo's mind. A large gingko tree behind Shingo's house, stripped bare of its leaves by a typhoon, sprouts new leaves in the fall. Partly because of his position at the dinner table, Shingo, not the observant Kikuko, first takes notice of this unseasonable phenomenon. The dialogue between the two on this occasion is telling:

"I've been thinking the ones that live long are different from the others. It must take a great deal of strength for an old tree like that to put out leaves in the fall."

"But there's something sad about them."

"I've been wondering whether they'd be as big as the leaves that came out in the spring, but they refuse to grow."

Besides being small, the leaves were scattered, too few to hide the branches. They seemed thin, and they were a pale yellowish color, insufficiently green.

It was as if the autumn sun fell on a gingko that was, after all, naked.

With their short promise of life, these new leaves anticipate the anecdote of Kitamoto's renewed black hair, and Shingo's close observation of the change in the gingko tree betrays his latent wish for rejuvenation. Shingo is also impressed by the strength of "a broken thistle," the stem of which still stands "fresh green," in the midst of winter (December the 29th).

His latent wish to get away from death by stopping time, and to have his life reinvigorated and renewed, manifests itself most clearly when he talks about staying buried in the ground "without dying" only to "wake up after fifty thousand years and find all your own problems … and the problems of the world" solved, which, he says, would put him "in paradise." This fantasy is induced by a newspaper article on the excavated lotus seeds that came to life with shoots and flowers after having stayed dormant for as long as fifty thousand years, or in Shingo's words, for "[a]lmost an eternity, when you compare it with a human life."

In some cases, plants are shown to have explicit sexual connotations. One afternoon during the same summer when he hears the sound of the mountain, Shingo finds himself with Kikuko gazing up at blooming sunflowers in front of a neighbor's house. Each of these plants has a flower "larger in circumference than a human head," and he is particularly impressed by "the strength of the great, heavy, flowering heads" and by the orderly arrangement of the stamens. According to Kobayashi Ichiro, Shingo's interest in these specific aspects of the sunflowers is analogically generated by his wish for a brain of "systematic reason or intelligence," including clear memory, which he feels he is losing with "futile searchings" in his old age. On this occasion, Shingo, who is confessedly "tired," tells Kikuko that his head "hasn't been very clear these last few days," and he wishes that his head "could be as clean as they [the sunflowers] are."

These sunflowers are highly suggestive of Freud's phallic symbolism. Not surprisingly, Shingo looks upon the flowers as a symbol of male sexuality, although the yellow petals around the stamens look feminine:

He felt the regularity and order with which they were put together. The petals were like crowns, and the greater part of the central discs was taken up by stamens, clusters of them, which seemed to thrust their way up by main strength. There was no suggestion that they were fighting one another, however. They were quietly systematic, and strength seemed to flow from them….

The power of nature within them made him think of a giant symbol of masculinity. He did not know whether they [stamens] were male or not, but somehow he thought them so.

Shingo rightly suspects that "it was Kikuko's coming that had set him to thinking strange thoughts." The admired sunflowers stand for what he is now losing, that is, clearheadedness and, more importantly, his sexual vigor. The fate of the sunflowers is highly suggestive of this psychic correlation, for all of them are later struck down in a typhoon:

Blossoms had lain in the street, broken off with six inches or so of stem. They had been there for several days, like severed human heads.

First the petals withered, and then the stems dried and turned dirty and gray.

The remaining, standing stems are left leafless by the gate. Shingo walks over the fallen flowers every day on his way to and from work. By trying to avoid the sight of the decaying plants, Shingo unconsciously identifies with the fate of the once vigorous sunflowers in terms both of his waning masculinity and his approaching death.

The question is how Shingo tries to cope with "something flickering inside" (my translation), "a flicker of youth," or "a flicker of something youthful" in himself, which he unconsciously has kept unquenched from his young days only to find its potential fulfillment in his daughter-in-law. He is vaguely aware that what he seeks in his daughter-in-law goes far beyond mere kindness. However, his moral consciousness cannot admit the full emergence of such a latent sentiment, because that would suggest incest. Even if he admitted to that sentiment and followed up on it, he would still have to face his weakened potency. On the other hand, he cannot do without this suppressed feeling, which now functions for him as an indispensable means of resisting eroding time and the fear of death. As Ochi and Kim argue, sex stands for life here. To deal with this dilemma, we as well as the protagonist have to understand his dreams through Freudian psychoanalysis.

In Shingo's dreams, his two major concerns of death and sexuality appear time and again in distorted forms. Before we begin our dream-interpretation, however, two points ought to be noted. First, according to Freud, the problem which discloses itself in a dream is fundamentally based on an unsolved problem in the dreamer's childhood. In The Sound of the Mountain, Shingo's problem of unfulfilled love stems, if not from childhood, then from a quite early stage in his life. In fact, Kawasaki Toshihiko infers from the fact that Shingo calls the house where he is finally reunited with Yasuko's sister-in-law in the seventh dream "his home" (my translation) that "Shingo was probably brought up as an orphan boy in the house of Yasuko and her sister (or at least in its vicinity)." Perceiving a projection of the orphan Kawabata in Shingo, Isogai Hideo assumes that Shingo did not have a home of his birth after all. Second, when he has physical contact with a woman in some of his dreams, which usually does not happen in Freud's examples, we should consider Shingo's age and experience. As a man over sixty, Shingo has a sense of morality which, while it does not restrict his dreams of direct sexual contact, is strong enough to prohibit him from enjoying unrestrained sexual fantasies involving his daughter-in-law.

Shingo is aware that he has many dreams in his old age, in spite of his basic hope to have a sound sleep of "no dreaming." The novel reports eight of his dreams and one of Yasuko's (excluding the one at the end of the sixth chapter ["The Cherry in the Winter"], in which Shingo only hears Yasuko's sister call his name). All of Shingo's dreams have some sexual connotation, and he has physical contact with young girls in three of them. In his waking consciousness, he cannot remember who those girls were. In his old age, Shingo seldom has obscene dreams, which makes him all the more curious about the identity of the dreamed girls.

In the first dream, for instance, which takes place at dawn on the same day he looks up at the impressive sunflowers, he finds himself in the house of a cabinetmaker whom he had occasionally employed but who has been dead for three years. The cabinetmaker has six daughters, whose faces Shingo does not remember. Still, it seems to Shingo that he slept with one of them in the dream and that he knew who she was when he momentarily woke up before resuming sleep. Yet, in the evening, he vainly tries to recall her identity, and is not even sure whether she was one of the cabinetmaker's daughters:

He remembered clearly having touched someone, but he had no notion who she might have been. He could remember nothing that even gave him a hint.

All that remains is a dull sensation with the awareness that she was a virgin, "a mere girl":

Not, of course, that it had been a sharp enough sensation to wake him.

Here, too, nothing definite of the dream remained. The figure had gone, and he could not bring it back; all that remained was a sense of physical disparity, a failure of physical contact.

This "certain sensual disappointment," which "reduced the sexual excitement almost to insipidity" (my translation), betrays his concern about the dwindling vigor of his life and sexuality. Most probably, the dream-work intervened to disguise the object of his latent desire. In fact, Shingo asks himself if it would not be "true to the laws of dreams" for him to have been "awakened at the shock of contact with the girl," although "the clearest image in his mind" upon waking up was "the noodles" offered by the cabinetmaker. He also wonders whether, "from feelings of guilt, he had managed to forget" who that girl was.

In a second dream, which follows immediately on the same night, he sees someone else who had died less than a year before. This time, it is Aida who had been a director of Shingo's company until about ten years before. In the dream, he visits Shingo at home. Although he did not drink alcohol in real life, Aida appears to have "drunk a good bit already" to the extent that the "pores on his red face were agape." Instead of "a medicine bottle" which he always used to carry around, he brings "a half-gallon bottle of sake in his hand." He is not emaciated, as he was near his death, but fat.

There are two points to be noted about this dream in relation to the preceding one. First, Shingo's strong concern with death is evident, in that both Aida and the cabinetmaker are dead. Shingo thinks, with half joking superstition, that these two men might have come to take him to their world. These two men, however, appear in the dreams "as living people." Moreover, Aida is endowed with perfect health, which he never had in reality. Second, a certain object has symbolical importance in each dream. Tsuruta Kinya thinks that the noodles of the first dream, which were "laid on bamboo, in a frame lacquered black on the outside and red on the inside," might stand for the female sexual organ, while the large bottle of sake in the second dream could symbolize the penis ("Jikan to Kukan"; "Yume no Kaishaku"). Moriyasu shares this view, in support of which Siegfried Scharschmidt finds a parallel between "the dreaming Shingo—the noodles—the young girl" and "Shingo in reality—meals—Kikuko." We may suspect again the strong intervention of the dream-work in substituting these symbols for sexual organs.

When two seemingly unrelated dreams occur successively, we as dream interpreters are supposed to provide the missing semantic conjunction, understanding that the mode of expression in dreams is regressive. In Freud's words, because "in the course of the dream-work all the relations between the dream-thoughts drop out" and result in the "picture-language" of manifest dreams, "it is the task of the interpretation to re-insert the omitted relations," such as "'because,' 'therefore,' however,' etc." In this case, the noodles, details of which he remembers most vividly at the very moment of awakening, pose a hard challenge to the dreaming Shingo. As a symbol of the female genitalia, they represent an object of desire which he has no confidence to deal with after his failed contact with the unidentified girl in the dream. To enjoy her, he has to regain his vitality, just as a patient recuperates from a very serious illness and gains exuberant health, or even as a dead person comes back to life. Therefore, the link to be semantically supplied between the two dreams is "because," and the hidden message can be summed up as follows: "because" he lacks the virility to handle the object of his desire, he has to be sexually invigorated beyond any probability. The large bottle, which Aida brings Shingo, thus represents what he ultimately wishes to obtain.

The motifs of an unidentified girl and a lack of sexual excitement persist in the next two dreams. In the third dream, a few months later in early winter, Shingo finds himself holding a girl in his arms on the grass under the pine trees of an island (hence the title of the fifth chapter, "A Dream of Islands"). He is not sure about his own age in the dream. Here we may observe a synthesis of contraries (youth and old age), which is one of the operations characteristic of dream formation:

He did not seem to feel a difference in their ages as he held her in his arms. He embraced her as a young man would. Yet he did not think of himself as rejuvenated, nor did it seem to be a dream of long ago. It was as if, at sixty-two, he were still in his twenties. In that fact lay the strangeness.

Yet, far from enjoying this adventure, he feels frightened and tries to hide himself. This is an instance of an anxiety-dream, in which the pleasure expected of a fulfilled, but forbidden wish is transmuted into distressful non-pleasure. And, once more, Shingo remembers "neither face nor figure" of the girl, although he does not forget that the woman was "very young, a mere girl." Even the sense of touch eludes him.

The situation remains largely the same in Shingo's fourth dream during the early spring of the following year, a dream about a girl in her mid-teens who "has become a holy child forever" after an abortion:

The girl must have had a name, and he must have seen her face, but only her size, or more properly her smallness, remained vaguely in his mind. She seemed to have been in Japanese dress.

Shingo thinks that it is not "a vision of Yasuko's beautiful sister." The evening before, he was shocked by a newspaper article reporting on the unexpectedly high rate of pregnancy of high school girls, which Shingo believes is the "source of the dream." The recurrent physical immaturity of the dreamed girls seems to be just another indication of Kawabata's partiality for young female virgins, as best exemplified by the student-protagonist who feels greatly relieved to find out that the girl he likes is "a mere child" in Izu no Odoriko [The Izu Dancer]. In The Sound of the Mountain, however, Shingo is often found to be attentively observing the smallest change of Kikuko's maturing body, in spite of a lack of conscious lasciviousness. By transforming the original shock of repugnance into "something beautiful," the dreaming self probably carried out the paradoxical wish of rendering the sexually initiated Kikuko virginally pure. Tachibana argues that this fleeting balance of virginity and sexuality poses the most desirable femininity for Kawabata. This is another instance of coalesced opposites, which is only possible in dreams. In any case, Shingo was "completely the onlooker" in this dream, without any direct sexual involvement. This distance removes all of his anxiety, in contrast to the foregoing dream where a decisive action uncharacteristic of the dreamer brings about a fear of punishment.

Another few months later, one night in the pre-summer rainy season, Shingo has two dreams again, the first of which is the dream about the unique beard:

It took place in America, where Shingo had never been….

In his dream, there were states in which the English were most numerous, and states in which the Spanish prevailed. Accordingly, each state had its own characteristic whiskers. He could not clearly remember, after he awoke, how the color and shape of the beards had differed, but in his dream he had clearly recognized differences in color, which is to say in racial origins, from state to state. In one state, the name of which he could not remember, there appeared a man who had gathered in his one person the special characteristics of all the states and origins. It was not that all the various whiskers were mixed in together on his chin. It was rather that the French variety would be set off from an Indian beard, each in its proper place. Varied tufts of whiskers, each for a different state and racial origin, hung in sprays from his chin.

The American government designated the beard a national monument; and so he could not of his own free will cut or dress it.

Sometime before Shingo's dream, Kikuko returned to Kamakura after a few days spent at her parents' house in Tokyo in order to hide her embarrassment about her secret abortion, bringing a gift for every family member in Shingo's house. The present for her husband was "an American comb" while Shingo got "an electric razor of Japanese make." On the subsequent mornings, Shingo enjoys shaving "his own face clean" with the small device which was a rarity in those days. Waking up first from the dream of the long American beard that rainy night, he naturally ascribes the dream content to the new electric razor and comb, and considers the dream just "naïve, uncomplicated."

And then, falling asleep again, he has another dream which appears to have nothing to do with the foregoing one. This is the last of the three dreams in which Shingo makes physical contact with a girl. The lack of sexual excitement, which haunted his dubious encounter with the dreamed girls in the previous cases, defines the entire nature of this dream:

His hands were against drooping, vaguely pointed breasts. They remained soft, refusing to rise. The woman was refusing to respond. All very stupid.

At first, the image is no more than "two breasts floating in space," and then, it takes the shape of a woman. Characteristically, the dreamer is unable to recognize her. More precisely, it is "not so much that he did not know as that he did not seek to find out." But when Shingo asks himself in the dream who she is, he sees her assume the identity of the younger sister of a friend of his son. The recognition neither excites him nor vexes him with a sense of guilt. He considers her to have no experience with childbirth, and he is surprised to see "traces of her purity on his finger." Still, he does not feel particularly guilty, and he wakes up.

Interestingly, Shingo himself develops a highly Freudian psycho-analysis of this dream upon awakening. At first, he ascribes the insipid nature of the dream to his strong moral disapproval of adultery. Then, he remembers that, contrary to the dream, this specific girl has full breasts in reality. The fact that he dreamed about such a girl who has little to do with him appears to be perplexingly inexplicable. But, suddenly, he finds the relevance of the dream when he also remembers that, before Shuichi got married to Kikuko, there was some talk of arranging his marriage to this girl. The two young people kept company for a while. He now suspects that his superego intervened in the dream and replaced his daughter-in-law by the other girl to disguise his latent incestuous desire:

Had not moral considerations after all had their way even in his dream, had he not borrowed the figure of the girl as a substitute for Kikuko? And, to coat over the unpleasantness, to obscure the guilt, had he not made her a less attractive girl than she was?…

Even in the dream, had he sought to hide it, to deceive himself?… [T]hat he had given her an elusive, uncertain form—was it not because he feared in the extreme having the woman be Kikuko?

This reflection exhibits distinctly Freudian concepts, such as repression and displacement. Because of the intervention of the superego which does not permit any aberration from the dreamer's moral standard, the "subconscious wish" for a sexual relationship with Kikuko is "[s]uppressed and twisted" in the dream. The pleasure which might arise from the intercourse is denied in the dream. The woman with whom he unconsciously desires physical contact is replaced by a totally different individual with some "unlovable" disfigurement. Furthermore, the seemingly innocent words "All very stupid," which Shingo mutters in the dream, are indirectly related to Shingo's other psychological problem, death, because he remembers that they were the last words of a famous novelist (Mori Ogai) on his deathbed.

The relevance of this self-interpretation to the past dreams is evident. It explains the dull sensation devoid of sexual excitement, typically felt in the first dream. Shingo suspects that he latently wishes he could redesign his life and love "the virgin Kikuko, before she was married to Shuichi." This accounts for the persistent virginity of the dreamed girls, including the curiously mixed case of the fourth dream in which an abortion is turned into a purifying act of eternally preserving virginity. This analysis also accounts for the ambivalence of his age in the third dream, where the dreaming self is felt to be specifically "still in his twenties," that is, of his son's age. Shingo unconsciously wishes to embrace Kikuko by taking the place of Shuichi, at once without losing his self-identity as a man in his early sixties and without being troubled with his age-plagued sexuality. In the end, he realizes once and for all that his inability to identify the girl upon awakening and the obscurity of the dream's plot might have been caused because "at the moment of awakening, a certain cunning went adroitly to work at erasing the dream."

Upon discovering his naked desire for his daughter-in-law, Shingo immediately attempts to get over this moral crisis by having recourse to a conventional measure, that is, by rejecting this "evil dream" (my translation) as a fleeting vision that is meaningless, unreliable, and not founded on any fact. In order to reassure himself, he thinks of the dream about the beard, which he had experienced earlier that night, as a good example of a mere, senseless dream. He even tries to deny what he has found out with analytical reasoning, telling himself that he does not believe in "dream-interpretation" (my translation). However, in light of the uninterrupted continuation of the two dreams and the poignant complexity of the second dream, we should not dismiss the first dream about the monumental beard as just naïve and simple as Shingo tries to.

The image of America, to which the beard is inseparably linked, has to be examined before we can fully understand what the dream stands for. In spite of the scarcity of direct references to political situations, Kawabata was not totally indifferent to, nor unaffected by, social upheaval. Far from "completely precluding the air fraught with keen, strong, violent motion and tension" of "people's rough life," as Sugiura Akihira has argued, Kawabata rendered in some of his works the social and political situations around him as something more than "vaguely atmospheric" indexes of "intense reality." In The Sound of the Mountain, with the story set in the early years of post-WWII Japan when the loss of national sovereignty was a reality, there are several short but unmistakable references to the occupying forces and to their formidable weapons. For example, foreign military airplanes roar over Shingo's house in otherwise peaceful Kamakura, reminding the protagonist of his war-time experience of air raids:

Two American military planes flew low overhead. Startled by the noise, the baby [Kuniko, one of Shingo's granddaughters by his daughter Fusako] looked up at the mountain….

Shingo was touched by the gleam of surprise in the innocent eyes….

"I wish I had a picture of her eyes just now. With the shadow of the airplanes in it. And the next picture…."

Of a dead baby, shot from an airplane, he was about to say;…

In fact, there were numberless babies like Kuniko as he had seen her in the two pictures.

A few pages earlier, when he hears astoundedly from Shuichi about Kikuko's abortion, Shingo does not forget family privacy and, though on a train, he makes sure that the fellow passengers seated in front of them are indeed "two American soldiers" who probably do not understand their conversation in Japanese. As these instances demonstrate, Americans represented conspicuously the main forces of occupation in those days. With its overwhelming military presence, America stood for power in occupied Japan.

In The Sound of the Mountain, American power connotes more than sheer military might. The United States appeared to the war-devastated Japanese as a nation of affluence. The American luxuries include the "German pointer" which an American family takes for a walk in a park in central Tokyo and the latest fashion for which Shuichi's mistress, who is a dressmaker, reads "all sorts of American magazines." It is also the technologically advanced country to which the excavated ancient lotus seeds are sent to measure their age with "[c]arbon radiation tests." And wonderful things can happen there. A newspaper article, for example, reports that, thanks to the doctor's immediate grafting treatment, an accident-torn ear was successfully "stuck … back on" the original body in Buffalo, New York. Especially important are the two episodes of the lotus seeds and the torn ear, for they imply Shingo's concerns with the brevity and potential resuscitative power of human life. In a word, the United States is viewed as a place of economic, intellectual and miraculous power, not merely as an immense military warehouse. People's interest in such a land is also indicated by other passing references. Another newspaper article, which Shingo mentions to his new secretary, tells of a questionnaire distributed to one thousand secretaries, which "some sociologists at Harvard University and Boston University" had designed in order to learn what pleases them most. When Fusako utters Popeye's name in an emotion-fraught dinner at the beginning of chapter eleven ("A Garden in the Capital"), even her old mother perfectly understands this popular American symbol of diet-empowered masculinity.

On the other hand, the military aspect of American power is often tinged with sexual vigor. Shingo perceives this mixed symbolism in a foreign soldier whom he finds sitting in front of him one day on a train. The soldier appears to be about Shingo's age, but he possesses an energetic body which is far bigger than the meager counterpart of the ordinary Japanese. He has "a fierce countenance," a thick neck, and heavy arms which remind Shingo of "a shaggy red bear." Above all, he is accompanied by a Japanese boy who is apparently a male prostitute. Except for the hint of homosexuality, this kind of sight which betrays the powerful sexuality of the occupying troops constitutes a part of Shingo's everyday experience. In the first chapter ("The Sound of the Mountain"), he furtively observes two female prostitutes with "good figures" in a fish shop. One of these girls considers lobsters for her foreign customer, whom she calls her "boy friend." In the park of central Tokyo, Shingo notices not only the American couple with a German pointer but also a "white soldier" (my translation) who is "joking with a prostitute."

Similar instances are not too difficult to find in Kawabata's other novels written around the Occupation. In Hamachidori [Beach Plovers], which is an unfinished sequence to Thousand Cranes, the newly married protagonist watches together with his bride, from their honeymoon hotel, several American warships "loaded with the thirst of sexual desires" (my translation), coming to a town of hot springs for one night of pleasure. This makes an ironical contrast to the new husband who, with his mind disturbed by previous affairs, cannot consummate his marriage. Later at night, he watches the warships exhibit their deadly force in naval firing practice off the shore. In this case, the symbolism of male sexuality is obvious because of the thundering cannons. On the other hand, the General Headquarters offer the important background of a secret date that opens the story Maihime [The Dancer]. The austere GHQ building, at the top of which the U.S. and U.N. flags are visible in the daytime, and red lights flicker in the evening, seems to be another instance of the same symbolism. In Kawa no Aru Shitamachi no Hanashi [A Story of a Town with a River], the militarism of masculinity takes the form of direct action. A beautiful, timid girl, who has become a waitress at a night club near an American base, is half jokingly abducted by a few GIs on her way back home, and her young admirer, who barely rescues her, receives a fatal wound during the incident.

What counts here is that, in Shingo's mind as well as Kawabata's, American military power connotes sexual vitality; this throws light on the hidden nature of the dream about the beard. Given the common psychoanalytic reading of a head with a full-grown beard as a phallic symbol, it follows that this monumental beard is a symbol of male sexuality. Important here is the shifted attribution of American nationality from the son's comb to the dream content, the emergence of which Shingo unreflectively ascribes to his newly acquired Japanese electric razor. Of course, the more absurd and unrealistic the dream, the better are the chances of censorship and disfigurement of the latent desire; this is probably one reason why a foreign land far away, picked at random from recent experience, is chosen as the location of the dream. However, there seem to be other, subtle workings of the mind which explain the transference of American nationality from the comb.

Perhaps in Shingo's unconscious, his pains of aging overlap with those of his contemporary, war-traumatized Japan, and he wishes to get away from them. In the park where Shingo has a date-like walk with Kikuko, the "vast green expanse" fashioned with a Western "vista" makes him feel "free" as if they were "getting out of Japan." According to Hyodo Masanosuke, in his own life Kawabata was heavily despondent over the defeat of Japan until the writing of The Sound of the Mountain. As Kawasaki points out, Shuichi's extramarital affair, which causes Shingo nothing but distress, is "a part of the 'national' desolation." At the same time, as a Japanese of the old moralistic school, he is at a loss with this new "freedom of feelings" which "inevitably leads to sexual association," in Catherine Merken's words. The exotic, Edenic situation, amidst which he unexpectedly finds himself, "did not rest well with him," and he feels it "very odd" to walk with his daughter-in-law among "liberated" young people, including some Americans.

Probably more relevant is the preoccupation with hair, which forms one of the serious concerns of Shingo and his friends in terms of their waning life power, and which is acutely illustrated in Kitamoto's case. Cleaning the electric razor which he calls "a finely tooled product of modern civilization," Shingo finds "only white hairs" falling on his knees to his silent dismay. By extracting an intangible attribute from Shuichi's comb, Shingo's dreaming ego wishes to be as young as his son, as it had once happened in the sexually overt dream of the islands.

At the same time, the extracted American nationality is associated with the beard through the electric razor, because this small device that mechanically removes the beard is functionally similar to the American militarism that eliminates its enemy with such machines as bombers and men-of-war. By contrast, in its unproductive, "peaceful" use, the comb more fittingly stands for Japan that had little industrial capability immediately after World War II and proclaimed in its new constitution the abandonment of war as a means of solving international disputes. What takes place covertly in Shingo's dream is thus a shift from metonymy to metaphor, that is, from nationality linked to original places of production to a nationality of qualitative attributes.

Furthermore, the dislocated nationality has a more immediate political implication in the dream. The bearded man cannot "of his own free will" change his beard, since it is now designated a national monument by the American government. Tsuruta stresses the significance of the governmental authority in this prohibition. But why does the government in the dream have to be American? In fact, this kind of forcibly imposed restriction was commonplace in occupied Japan. For instance, on January 31, 1947, an impending general strike was miscarried not because of the opposition of the Japanese government but through an order from the GHQ. The dream-work cunningly puts it so that the man must let the beard grow with the authority of none other than the American government.

Significantly, Kikuko, who provided the day's residues of the comb and the electric razor, is completely deleted from the manifest dream, a fact that makes us suspect her as the real cause of this dream in Shingo's latent desire. In this sense, the beard in the dream stands for the wished-for vitality of a man's exuberant life.

Earlier in the novel, Shingo was similarly impressed by another phallic symbol, i.e., the huge sunflower heads with their stamens systematically arranged. In his persistent, but stifled desire for revitalization, the beard of the dream is associated with this botanic image in four ways. First, they are both symbols of male sexuality in a Freudian sense. Second, in terms of head imagery, the sunflowers, which made Shingo think of "heads of famous people," at least partially have given rise to the dream of a celebrated head with a monumental beard. Third, the massive, but calm "strength" that Shingo felt in the flowers is analogous to several kinds of power, especially sexual and miraculous ones, statically inherent in the very American nationality of the cumbersome beard. Fourth, the repeated orderliness of "quietly systematic" stamens and various whiskers "each in its proper place" reveals Shingo's incessant longing for a brain of unclouded intellect. This last point is compatible with his notion of a technologically advanced America. In addition, as if to reinforce the symbolic connection between beard and plants, the quiet manner he brushes away his "very short white hairs" cut off with the electric razor reminds us of how he did not like to see the fallen sunflowers.

In this dream, Shingo seeks the vitality of life—especially sexual life, which he always feels is being lost—in the shape of a wonderful but impossible beard. This is verified at the end of the dream, when "[l]ooking at the wondrous assortment of colors in the beard, Shingo half felt that it was his own;" and further, "[s]omehow he felt the man's pride and confusion as his own." It follows that the dream about the beard is a reversal of the fear of death his old age brings about. Only after he regains confidence in his sexual power in this dream, is his dreaming ego directed to the unconsciously desired physical relationship with his daughter-in-law in the next dream as a possible antidote to that fear.

With the pictorial, regressive nature of dreams in mind, the missing conjunction between two successive dreams ought to be supplemented again. In the earlier set of two dreams, the hidden conjunction was "because," since the fact of Shingo's crippled sexuality was first exposed and then he wished for a revitalized self. In the present case, the erased conjunction is "if," for something improbable first happens before the dreaming ego turns to the real object of its desire. "If" he became rejuvenated and acquired the sexual vigor symbolically inherent in the foreign beard, "if" such impossibilities came true, then, he would be able to enjoy the love of his daughter-in-law with secure confidence. But, because of the intervening superego, the second dream undergoes great changes and is made extremely insipid and unpleasant. Unlike the earlier cases in which he felt "a flicker of youth," he considers it to be "too dreary that no flicker of lust had come over him" this time, and he calls it the "ugliness of old age." His failure in the unconscious attempt at a revitalized life is obvious.

Having interpreted the second dream in a disturbing way, Shingo momentarily resists his own moral conscience:

What was wrong with loving Kikuko in a dream?

What was there to fear, to be ashamed of, in a dream? And indeed what would be wrong with secretly loving her in his waking hours? He tried this new way of thinking.

But a haiku by Buson came into his mind: "I try to forget this senile love; a chilly autumn shower." The gloom only grew denser.

Admittedly, he still keeps his emotional attachment to Kikuko after this night of two dreams, and his last two subsequent dreams contain some sexual elements. But it is only after this full recognition of his latent desire that Shingo comes out of the "filthy slough" of his psyche. Now that this libidinal problem is undisguisedly detected, he understands what it is and where it lies. With this realization, it is impossible for his moral conscience to let his smoldering, incestuous impulse run its course. He not only tries to detach himself from his daughter-in-law, but also makes more serious attempts to resolve family problems, especially the marriage troubles involving Kikuko, Shuichi, and his mistress.

Towards the end of the novel, when Shingo suggests that she live with Shuichi away from him and Yasuko, he feels "a certain danger" in Kikuko's wish rather to look after him if she gets divorced. Her words sound to him "like a first expression of ardor." Still, unlike upon the previous occasion when Kikuko made a similar confession from behind the Noh mask, he can consciously resist the undoubtedly imagined seduction and tell her, in Shuichi's words, that she should be "freer" from him. In the seventh dream, as Tsuruta notices, Shingo appears as a young army officer with a number of phallic symbols (a sword and three pistols) ("Jikan to Kukan"; "Yume no Kaishaku"). This time, it is not Kikuko but Yasuko's sister whom he visits after a perilous trip through the mountains. According to Tsuruta's interpretation, one of the two eggs, from which a small snake is hatched in the eighth dream, might stand for the procreative result of his intercourse with his disfigured daughter-in-law in the "evil dream" ("Jikan to Kukan"; "Yume no Kaishaku"). At the same time, however, this last dream no longer shows even implicitly a desire for sexual contact itself, a fact that suggests his mixed sentiments of lingering affection and growing restraint.

Thus, the pair of dreams on that rainy night force Shingo to directly face what has been covertly kept from conceptualization. As Hatori Tetsuya points out, once he is confronted with the real desire of his unconscious, he can no longer have dreams of the same sexual implications. This new self-awareness eventually makes him prepared to reject the terminative linearity of time, since his artificial means of resisting time have collapsed. He accepts instead, as Tsuruta argues, the unending cyclicity of time which includes death as a natural solution ("Jikan to Kukan"; "Yama no Oto to Ishi no Tenshi"). In the last chapter, talking about the seasonal topoi in haiku, Shingo compares himself to an autumn trout. "Worn out, completely exhausted," these creatures descend to the sea after they "have laid their eggs" for the next cycle of life. Shingo thus reaches a final, relatively peaceful state of mind. The dream of the beard is particularly significant in the sense that, with its implicit symbolism, it provides the requisite condition for the liminal wish-fulfillment of Shingo's latent desire. And, through the ultimate failure of this desire, this dream helps him bring about his self-realization as a man of full maturity and responsibility.

Along with the coupling of the dreams, the dream of the extraordinary, foreign beard shows the protagonist's grave concern with life and death. It is also closely related to the reality of occupied Japan where the American military presence penetrated all the strata of society, even the psyche of an aging man. Far from being absurd or irrelevant, the dream of the beard thus proves to be an integral part of the novel. Originating in dispersed references to the social situation as well as in the protagonist's unsolved psychological problems, this particular dream gives more coherence to a work that critics tend to regard as loosely organized. Its fundamental problem is aging which brings about the fear of death symbolized by the rumbling sound of the mountain. Shingo's dream visions, including the beard and the pairing, are the attempts of his psychic being to resist and escape this fear. The Freudian model proves to be of pivotal importance in this analysis that shows at once Kawabata's great interest in Freudian concepts and his adroit use of psychoanalytic motifs in one of his major novels.


Kawabata, Yasunari


Kawabata, Yasunari (Vol. 18)