Kawabata, Yasunari (yäsōnäˈrē käwäˈbätä) [key], 1899–1972, Japanese novelist. His first major work was The Izu Dancer, (1925). He came to be a leader of the school of Japanese writers that propounded a lyrical and impressionistic style, in opposition to the proletarian literature of the 1920s. Kawabata's melancholy novels often treat, in a delicate, oblique fashion, sexual relationships between men and women. For example, Snow Country (tr. 1956), probably his best-known work in the West, depicts the affair of an aging geisha and an insensitive Tokyo businessman. All Kawabata's works are distinguished by a masterful, and frequently arresting, use of imagery. Among his works in English translation are the novels Thousand Cranes (tr. 1959), The Sound of the Mountain (tr. 1970), and The Lake (tr. 1974), and volumes of short stories, The House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories (tr. 1969) and First Snow on Fuji (tr. 1999). In 1968, Kawabata became the first Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Four years later, in declining health and probably depressed by the suicide of his friend Yukio Mishima, he committed suicide.
See his Nobel Prize speech, Japan the Beautiful and Myself (tr. 1969); study by G. B. Petersen (1979).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.