Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Japanese Literature (possible author study of Kawabata?)


Group members:

Andy V.
Stephen C.
Carla C.

Looks like we are going to start with Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata. I think you'll enjoy it. There's some interesting background info here and you can also check out the wiki site.

25 comments:

CarlaC said...

i looked up some of the author that mr.g suggested i just dont know who to pick and what book would be best from who. i like the idea of Kobo Abe and his book the boxman its about a man who chooses to exist in a small cardboard box records life in the box and his
observations of the world from its small window its seems really fascinating to me so let me know what you think.

Stephen said...

Hey guys! I read summaries of all the men listed, and I got a sense that Yasunari Kawabata would be interesting. He won the nobel prize for literature, and the contemporary stories are pretty facinating (to me. Let me know how you think!

Stephen said...

So...what do you guys think we should decide on?

Andy V. said...

Hey, sorry for the delay. I think I heard of Snow Country before. I think Yasunari Kawabata would be a great author. I am willing to read it.

CarlaC said...

i REALLY want to read the boxman but if you guys feel that Yasunari Kawabata would be a better author then im ok with that =)

R. Gallagher said...

Maybe you should all start with "Snow Country" by Kawabata then--it's pretty short, and move onto one of these others (or something else) for the December book? If that's okay, I'll throw up the image and we can discuss reading schedule / blog posts early in the week. We can update your group that way.

Andy V. said...

Thats sounds good for me, we can go with what Carla wants for the second book.

Stephen said...

Sounds pretty good. Compromise is the name of the game...nobody says we can't read both books. Having looked up summaries for Boxman, I have no objection either way...I'm cool with reading both at different times.

Stephen said...

Hi Guys!
So! I have to pick up my book from the library on MONDAY (it just came in). I'm gonna talk about some interesting facts about Japan, especially about geisha.

Apparantly, Geisha are NOT prostitutes. Geishas recieved a bad reputation after American servicemen incorrectly reported back home that they had liasons with geisha. In truth, they were probably misinformed. In the Allied Occupation, prostitutes were marketed to the servicemen as "geisha girls" and the name stuck and became associated here in the United States with prostitutes. Geisha, apparantly, are entertainers . They sing, dance, recite poetry, and play games with the men who hire them. They can also play musical instruments and even flirt, although nothing is ever expected. They usually perform for a small group of men for high prices. While Geishas can have male lovers, the men are almost always vetted thoroughly, and unlikely to be one-night-stands. Geishas can also have wealthy male patrons who sponsor them.

"Onsens" are Japanese hotsprings. Due to the volcanic nature of the island, Japan has plenty of these. They are mostly used for relaxation. One reason why Geisha are sometimes confused with prostitutes is the prevalence of "onsen Geisha." These women were not actually geisha- they were prostitutes that marketed themselves as Geisha to attract a more refined crowd (refinement in "johns" is debatable). Reading summaries of "Snow Country," it seems as if the woman at the onsen is a "onsen Geisha," who works as a pseudo- prostitute.

Andy V. said...

Hey,
So, I will need to buy “Snow Country” as soon as possible, seeing how I will not be able to borrow it from the library. I will talk about the area the book “Snow Country” takes place.
The book Snow Country takes place in “Yukiguni” or Snow Country with a translation. Snow Country is not one location, but it can be any location with heavy amounts of snow. It is generally meant for parts of Japan that is affected by the winds of the North Sea and the mountains of the Japanese Alps. In these snow countries snow can fall over 3 meters (118 inches) in some areas. Buildings in the area even have special doors that open on the second floor for the purpose of the high amounts of snow.
The amounts of snow would make it extremely difficult to move and communicate during the times when “Snow Country” took place. Living during the blizzards would be very difficult and even dangerous with out the supplies needed to live. I wonder how this will affect the story and the characters with in the book. I have high hopes for this book, can’t wait to start reading it.

CarlaC said...

Hey guys sorry for the delay i have alot on my plate but i looked up just some simple facts on japan and here is what i found.
Official Name: Nihon or Nippon (Japan)- Land of the Rising Sun
Capital: Tokyo
Official Language: Japanese
Government: National Diet consisting of two legislative houses
Chief of State: Emperor
Head of Government: Prime Minister
Monetary Unit: Yen
Population: 126,398,000 in 1998
Area: 145,883 square miles (377,835 square kilometers)
Term for Citizens: Japanese
Religion: Shinto, various sects of Buddhism, and Christianity coexist.

Those are just some facts but also what i learned about japan is that it is a country that has strong cultural values in some spots and in other areas is almost like a new york or Boston. Its all about the night life in some places so i find Japan to be quite fascinating in that aspect. Im excited to read snow country and i should be getting the book by tommorow cant wait to start reading.

CarlaC said...

Hey guys so about the opening of the novel snow country he begins it with complete imagery, even when there is a bit of dialogue he is describing what he sees around him. I feel like he really wants his reader to get a grasp of where he wants this story to be what he wants it to look like and more importantly the vibe he wants it to give off. You can tell from the beginning that this main character is lonely or isolated because the first sight of this girl completely turned his whole world upside down he was enchanted by her when she just passed by him. I can already tell his is bit of a hopeless romantic. I feel like this book gives off a feeling of longing the fact that hes waiting at the train station to get to his destination the snow and avalanches that the conducter said prevented the trains from running, also how he had just caught a glimpse of her and it made him want to see her as much as he could even though he realized it was improper. Also the fact that this girl was speaking about her brother who worked at the station but was no where in sight and even though she was talking to the conucter it was all about her brother and how concerned she was about him. I feel like this book so far is about people needing to know that if they reach out their hand some one will be there to hold it and i think everyone wants that especially the main character.

ok thats what i thought =)

Stephen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R. Gallagher said...

Good start.

Carla, make sure you are referencing the text (and do some quick edits before you post for us who are reading your thoughts--shape paragraphs, punctuate more thoughtfully, spell check, and capitalize; it doesn't need to be perfect, but your language needs to be presented in a way to express your thoughts intellectually.)

Looking forward to your posts.

Stephen said...

Post 1
Part A

Hi Guys!
Reading the first few pages, I was struck by the use of a contemplative tone by the author. The characters don't speak much- most of the first few pages consist of the main character Shimamura's thoughts. The character seems to focus on images such as the snow covered countryside, the woman and sick man sitting across on the train, and the reflection created by light inside the train coupled with lack of light outside of the the train. The narrator, especially, waxes over the reflection, using elements from the outside world (light) to combine with the reflection of the girl inside the train, to create a single image. The author does this, I believe, to mark the girl, Yoko, as special, since there is no other mention of the superimposition of these two images. The narrator only goes on to note the change in the character's perception of Yoko as the environment changes. Words like "unreal" and "otherworldly" (11) heighten the sense of meaning and purpose in the simple act of one character staring at another in a window-mirror created by differences in light levels.

When Shimamura gets to the hotspring, he recognizes a geisha there, who remains unnamed in the beginning part of the novel. The narration almost implicitly assumes a familiarity: "In spite of what had passed between them, he had not written to her, or come to see her, or sent her the dance intructions he had promised..." The character then goes on to remark that it is her cold hair that is the most recognizable part of her and her dwelling place. The author doesn't directly answer the only question that comes to mind- what went on between them? What is their history before the events of this novel? I think that the author gradually reveals small details of their former relationship a part at a time, probably to further the plot, or for some other effect.

Part B
I totally agree with Carla’s analysis of the main character’s loneliness when on the train. Something is making him ride from Tokyo toward this hot spring town. Whether it is the geisha herself, or a need to “discover” something that he lost, Carla makes a great point by pointing to the fact that he keeps on looking at the woman on the other side of the train. I am, however, puzzled that he does not mention her again immediately after- she seems to depart from his life, at least for now. The narrator spends so much time on the imagery surrounding Yoko, and we don’t know what becomes of her, since the main character simply moves on to the hotel. Then the geisha is introduced. I think that Yoko will make a comeback in the story. It’s a small hot spring resort, after all, and she might play a part later in the story, especially the image of the reflection and the outside world merging into one.

What do you guys think?

Andy V. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen said...

Post 2
Part A
I find it interesting that as Shimamura, even when he renews his relationship with the geisha, the geisha’s name is hard to track down. It’s only after reading into the book for a while that the reader finds out that the geisha’s name is Komako, and that she lives in the same house as the sick man, and presumably Yoko as well. Is this significant? That the author would withhold the name? Perhaps this represents the clandestine nature of Shimamura’s relationship with Komako, or perhaps it reflects reluctance on Komako’s part of reveal her past.

The fact that Shimamura asks Komako during one of their meetings (where they pretty much catch up with each other) whether she can find him a geisha to entertain him is pretty interesting. She coldly refused to do so, and they have a heated conversation about it. You can tell that there are sexual undertones to the relationship between a geisha and a client- the geisha entertains, but can, at her discretion, do something a little bit extra. There was mention of some topics, such as the risk of pregnancy that came up in their conversation to underscore this point. After a young, unenthusiastic geisha comes and tries to entertain Shimamura, he “gives it up” and returns to Komako. He later reveals that he didn’t want to complicate his friendship with Komako by having a sexual relationship with her. I think that this entire episode reveals a rather complicated relationship- one starts wondering: perhaps they broke up- perhaps one stood the other up (this is the one that happened). Shimamura’s denial of his feelings for her before finally confessing: “he had from the start wanted only this woman, and that he had taken his usual roundabout way of saying so” (32) adds a bit of an unknown quality to the book- it makes the reader want to question: what happened to them before?

Finally, I want to point out that Shimamura’s appreciation for ballet and western forms of dance (25) rather than other Japanese forms of dance striked me initially as strange. It certainly revealed him to be urbane and sophisticated, to be able to enjoy foreign forms of art. One scene later in the book in particular, struck me. It was a scene of Shimamura being captivated by Komako’s playing of a Japanese instrument. This connection: a shared appreciation for music and art forms, seemed to me a subtle connection between the two that was fully intended by the author. It equalizes them in a way- Komako, far from being a dumb country geisha, is sophisticated too.

Part B
I think that Andy was right to mention the amount of snow that some parts of Japan sometimes gets. Far, far later in the book, it is revealed that the village that Snow Country takes place in is directly affected by the environment- it sits on the side of a mountain that consistently gets piles of snow. The snow’s connotations are evident: coldness and harshness. The effect of snow on a village is isolating , since it cuts off contact with the outside world and “buries” a place. I find it interesting that this place is described in surprisingly poetic terms, instead of the harsh words that I expected. I think that the words used by the summary on the back convey the environment perfectly: “desolate beauty.” However, I still don’t understand how the isolating aspect of the village will continue to play a role in the novel. Perhaps it will be revealed later.

Stephen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen said...

Post 3
Part A
So the author’s use of the blind masseuse is a bit of a mystery. Along with revealing some minor information about the main character (he’s of average build- doesn’t do physical work), the masseuse (who hears gossip throughout this small town) reveals some information about Komako. According to the masseuse, her fiancé was the music teacher’s son, and Komako became a geisha to pay for his medical bills. When Shimamura confronts her about it the next morning, she claims that the information is only rumor, that she was actually only a friend to the sick music teacher’s son. It would seem as if the only reason that the masseuse is in the story is because she plays the role of the “deliverer of information.” But why should she be blind? Does it reinforce the “gossipy” nature of her words? Is there a special meaning in Japan attached to blind people?

I love how the author slips in short, yet meaningful scenes into the story. The blind masseuse is one. The playing of the sami-sen (a musical instrument) may be another. The author certainly doesn’t stop to help the reader figure out anything; he drops in little scenes that may or may not have meaning. I think that this is his style, that this is how he writes: with scenes and conversations dripping with some sort of multilayered meaning. Scenes that seem innocuous early may be important near the end.
I’ve also noticed that dialogue is not used as much as a more narrative point of view. While the novel is obviously from a 3rd person limited point of view, the fact that the narrative is told so exclusively from Shimamura’s viewpoint might indicate that 1st person POV might have been a better match based only on this factor. The author may have chosen this specific point of view to allow himself to comment beyond the character’s eyes- the observations about the snow-covered environment are examples.

Part B
I read Carla’s post giving some modern facts about Japan. This sparked the realization that this story doesn’t take place in our time. I think that it is important to recognize the time period in which this story takes place, if only to know the setting. I assumed that this story takes place in the 50s, when it was published. It’s actually quite hard to pin down the exact time period in which this takes place. Anachronistic giveaways, such as trains in a modern world, don’t really work in Japan (Japan has one of the best train systems in the modern world that still operates strongly today). The culture and technology hasn’t changed much either. Japan still has public baths (though they are considered old fashioned nowadays, and wouldn’t be out of place in a resort town like the one in the story). Japan also still has kotatsus. In fact, many of the references to the time period can still be seen in modern Japan, either in traditional homes or hotels. Only tiny hints, such as the description of the locomotive pulling the carriages, the charcoal fired kotatsu brazier (modern ones run on electricity), and the monetary references (Komako described her wages as under a hundred yen, which wouldn’t make sense today due to inflation) show that this story takes place in Japan. The author makes no direct mention of the time period, indicating that it is unimportant to him. The focus of the story is not the characters’ interactions with their environment, though their interactions with their environment are important in providing themes. Rather, it is on the characters’ interactions with each other that are meant to resonate. The story takes on a timeless quality, one that can be applied to any Japan, not just the Japan of the 50s.

Stephen said...

Post 4
Part A

I find Shimamura’s relationship with Yoko to be very interesting. Shimamura first meets Yoko on the train to the village, where she is taking care of the sick man. He spies on her in the mirror created by light level differences in glass. Having been reunited with Komako in the village, he forgets about her for a while, until he finds that Yoko lives in the same house as Komako. There’s always an element of admiration in Shimamura as he observes Yoko. Some observations seem sexually suggestive- he even flirts with the idea of having an affair with Yoko before he rejects the idea quickly, thinking of Komako. Yoko always seems cold of the relationship between Shimamura and Komako. She definitely knows about it, but she doesn’t share her feelings, preferring to coldly leave. Now and again, she returns- she delivers the news that the ‘music teacher’s son’ is dying- Komoko, surprisingly, doesn’t care, and she surfaces later, after the man dies, as a maid in a hotel. I find that the interactions between Shimamura and Yoko quite interesting. She surfaces periodically, but never in a pattern. She apparently plays no role except as a rumored lover for the ‘music teacher’s son’ and as an intriguing distraction for Shimamura. While I suspect that she will play a huge role in the end of the novel, it is hard to speculate why she crops up periodically in the book. Any ideas?

Then, there are some characters that just…pop up once, and are never heard from again. The masseuse was one. Another character that I found was the Russian. She is described as very dirty, selling Japanese wares. The main character simply sees her get up and leave. There is no mention of her ever again. Why does Kawabata include such a character?

The idea of “leaving” is heavily explored. We find out that prior to the events in this book, Komako and Shimamura had parted ways once before. They had previously broken promises to meet each other, and they do so again. The “leaving” scene is repeated as Shimamura leaves to return to Tokyo again, and Komako is forced to ‘see him off.’ She later tells him that she didn’t like it, that she didn’t like “seeing him off.” This repetition of the theme of separation and reunification plays a prominent role in the novel, especially in defining the relationship between Shimamura and Komako. Will they part ways again? Will they stay together? What will happen to their love in the end? I think that these questions are exactly the ones that the author wants us to ask ourselves.

Part B
Responding to myself, I found it interesting that while reading on, after finding out that they leave each other, the next chapter practically steers the characters together again. After Shimamura leaves, the next chapter has him riding back to the hotspring town again on the train. This, I think reinforces assertion that the separation itself is relevant to the overall meaning of their relationship. If it were not, there would have been some interval between the time that he leaves and the time that he returns. Instead, the author has him back on the train. The author also disregards time in this instance: at least a few months pass before they meet again, although this is not immediately apparent until later. Komako has found new living arrangements, with a family in their home. They discuss why they didn’t rendezvous with each other as planned.

Loneliness is a common theme here as well. On page 102, Komako says,” You have plenty of money, and you’re not much of a person…I’m very lonely sometimes.” This loneliness and separation is accentuated by their positions. She is a poor geisha. He is a man who inherited money: a man of leisure. Coming from separate worlds and being together, neither demands much from the other. Komako doesn’t demand money, while Shimamura is not determined to stay, as discussed in the previous paragraph. I think that this separation is what will ultimately drive them away from each other: neither able to live in the other’s world.

Stephen said...

Post 5
Part A

I find it interesting that Kawabata ends Snow Country with tragedy. Shimamura goes on a journey “to see Chijimi country” (155). Chijimi, as is explained in the book, is a type of cloth treatment for grass linen. When he gets back, he encounters Komako with several fellow geisha. After a happy reunion, she demands to know why he went without her. Before he can fully answer, there is a fire alarm, and it soon becomes apparent that a cocoon warehouse, which was to house a movie night had succumbed to a fire caused by the movie projector. Most people get out, but a woman’s body “fall[s] through the flames” (172). Komako identifies the woman as Yoko. While her death is almost certainly an accident in context, it also serves to provide meaning for Kawabata. I think that she represents the fragility of human life after tragedy, in general. He has witnessed the death of the ‘music teacher’s son.’ She is forced to work for an inn. Whatever her feelings, toward Shimamura, or the teacher’s son, she is repulsed, and she presumably dies alone.

Even during the fire, Shimamura and Komako manage to continue their strained conversation about the broad state of their relationship. Earlier, while slightly intoxicated, he had said to her “You’re a good woman.” (147) Thinking that he is flattering her falsely, and seeing herself as very imperfect, she self consciously demands the truth. When he persists in telling her that she is “good,” she starts thinking that he is teasing. Back at the fire, she admits that she was very insecure following the incident and the unannounced trip that Shimamura took. “I hated it…You said I was a good woman, didn’t you? You’re going away. Why did you have to say that to me?” (166). She questions her self worth, laying bare a hopeless cycle that she sees in their relationship. They can’t progress it, since Shimamura is married, and they will always be separated by social class differences. This realization at the end of the book is juxtaposed with competing words on the Milky Way.

The Milky Way, when described in the book, evoke a sense of loneliness, especially in describing the vast expanse and endless depth of the Milky Way. It, I think, symbolizes the isolation of loneliness, and connects with the previous two thoughts. When Komako symbolically “walks away” on page 168, the author writes “Her retreating figure was drawn up into the mountain. The Milky War 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 deeper darkness.” He also describes his observation of the Milky Way as having a “quiet, chilly loneliness to it, “(168) further emphasizing the idea that the Milky Way represents loneliness. Finally at the end, the image of the Milky Way appears again, when Shimamura sees Yoko die, and he feels the Milky War “[flow] down inside him with a roar” (175). Yoko dies alone, and Shimamura, in the last few sentences of the novel, is alone as well. I think that the underlying theme of this novel is loneliness because it depicts an unrealistic relationship that cannot go any farther. It depicts a woman who has nothing and no one to live for, dying. He does all this in snow country, one of the most isolating places in Japan, based on the image of the town buried in snow.

Andy V. said...

Hey guys,
Post 1 Part A
In the first few pages of the novel, Kawabata introduces us to the characters in detail. It seemed that in the beginning that there is only two characters that matter at the moment, which is Yoko and Shimamura. There are other characters, like the sick man with Yoko or the woman in Shimamura‘s memory.

Through the actions and thoughts of the characters we can see that Yoko is a very caring young woman who worries about her brother working in the snow. She almost acts like a mother as she sees her brother as “’no more than a child,’” and even asks a person working with him to “’teach him whatever he needs to know.’” (Page 4) She also takes cares of the sick man that is with her. By the way she handles the conversation in the beginning we can also tell that she is a confident and sociable girl.

Shimamura on the other hand is a reserved and polite man that does not make sudden moves. Throughout the whole train ride he kept thinking about the young lady, but only in a sweet and gentle way. He kept thinking about her beauty and her gentleness with the sick man. He continues to watch Yoko, but only because of her beauty. Shimamura’s actions could be considered creepy; however he himself noticed the oddity “to stare at the girl so long and stealthily.” (Page 11) Shimamura seems to be polite and reserved however just like Carla said he does fit in as a “hopeless romantic.” I’m actually interested how Shimamura might change as the novel progresses.
Part B
The geisha he meets up was the woman in Shimamura’s past. Like Stephen, I am also left wondering what happened between them. I also wonder what kind of relationship they had with each other. It is odd that the woman’s name in Shimamura’s past is still left a mystery. There is so much mystery surrounding the girl he once knew. To add on some questions to Stephen’s post; why does his finger remember her? Why did he leave her in the first place? Why would she become a geisha?

Andy V. said...

Post 2 Part A
Shimamura is acting differently compared to what I thought he would be by the train ride scene. At first I believe he was this shy man that had innocent thoughts. However he asks his “friend” if she could get a geisha for him. It is obvious that he doesn’t want entertainment but he wants the geisha to stay over. I find it rather amazing how, without shame, he asked for a geisha. He just recently stated he had family as well. It really is hard to pin point the characters and how they will act. Kawabata doesn’t give much information on the characters. Like Stephen said the names of certain characters does not show up until much later. I am left wondering why Yoko was named but not the woman form his past. I also wonder why does Kawabata leaves so little background information on the characters of the book. More and more of Shimamura is revealed in the book but I still feel like I don’t know this character at all.
Part B
To respond to Stephen’s second post, I am still wondering why he keeps the names so hard to find. It seems like Kawabata wants to create some mystery in the characters. It disables the reader from guessing what could happen next. The first scene in the Snow Country could actually be a scene in the future and in the next few parts of the book Kawabata could explain more about the past. He might be letting the reader have the chance to connect the dots later on in the novel. I hoping it will turn out that way because I always find it exciting when a story ties everything together in the end.

CarlaC said...

Post 2 Part A

So after the first twelve pages of the book Kawabata starts going more into who Shimamura is and how he sees the world and his perspective of it at the beginning it was mainly a lot of imagery of what he was seeing for example on pg.3 “The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. The earth lay white under the night sky. The train pulled up at a signal stop.” He goes on to talk about his first citing of the girl who he focused all of his attention on for his train ride. Once he arrives at his stop how Kawabata narrates it changes its focal point changes from the girl and the train to what Shimamura was seeing as he went to the inn.

As I continued reading I found that Shimamura was becoming more difficult to read. At first I thought I had his character down pretty well he was a lonely man who saw this woman and who’s heart and mind were immediately drawn to her and all things that had to do with her but as the saying goes out of sight out of mind. There is a definite shift in his character, it shocked me how he changed from this shy, awkward, kind of lonely guy changed to this man who was not really bashful and came off to me as confident. It almost seems as if his weakness is women, or technically women who fit his mold of what a woman should be.

When he goes up to the geisha he almost charges at her, he seems eager for company. I was a bit confused on how he had come to know her it explains some things but Kawabata does it over a few pages so you never get it all at once. The reader does not even know what her name is until a bit later on her name evidently is Kamoka.

Part B
I definitely agree with Stephen I was pretty shocked how he acted like what he requesting of this young girl who obviously had a lot of emotional feeling towards him was no big deal. I thought he was being a bit of a “creep”. When she reacted like any woman would at what he was asking and trying to force her into doing she definitely stood her ground and he kept pushing her and she almost randomly agreed like she just gave in and was ok with it even though she had originally protested against it she immediately gave in. Even Shimamura felt bad about how easily he coaxed her into doing this for him. It was then he realized how young and naive she really was.

CarlaC said...

Post 3 Part A

So after reading on in the book i realized that Kawabata had never mentioned to us what the main character Shimamura looked like to be honest i did not even realize that it had not been brought up. When I read the description of what he looked like I still feel like it was not really in depth so it left that up for interpretation. I think this says a lot about Kawabata that he decided to leave out a large description of his appearance I feel as if the reason he left it out was that the story is about the people who affect Shimamuras life and they way their physical, and emotional traits play into that.

As for the blind masseuse I feel as though the reason Kawabata made the masseuse blind was if you look up Greek myths the Graeae or the "gray ones" they were in the form of three old and blind women who were sister and shared one eye. They were the wisest beings in greek mythology and held the information to the past, present, and future. Their power and wisdom were unbelievable. I feel as though a reason Kawabata made the masseuse blind was that the masseuse could not judge or be unfair of how she portrayed people, her judgments were only based off of what they said.

Part B

To Stephens comment i feel that Kawabata obviously did not set it in our modern times because he was not predicting the future or anything. The reason you might not be able to differentiate on what exactly the date is because he wanted it to be applicable to his reader.