Snow Country 雪国
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata (川端康成) is considered a classic of Japanese literature. I became interested in reading it after reading Donald Keene’s memoir which mentioned Kawabata’s suicide and Nobel Prize.
I was a bit surprised Snow Country wasn’t required reading in BYU’s Japanese program I went through. However, given that the book deals with Onsen Geisha and the consuming of adult beverages and BYU censors what their students read, it isn’t too surprising that we were left reading Christian Japanese authors like Shusaku Endo instead.
As I started reading this book I read about 10 pages in English and then the same 10 pages in Japanese. This proved very interesting. Eventually I read it all in English and only certain passages that seemed strange in English in Japanese as well. Not that the translator, Edward G. Seidensticker, did a poor job, but some things just don’t come across as well in English. For instance, in Japanese you can clearly tell who is speaking in the male-female dialogues as females speak differently than males in Japanese (ending sentences with wa, kashira, etc.) In English, Seidensticker doesn’t add “he said” or “she said” at the end of the quotes since that isn’t what it says in Japanese; nor is it necessary in Japanese to figure out who is saying what. However, it can be tricky, or at least unclear, to figure out just who is saying what at times in the English translation.
Also, with respect to the translated version, the writing doesn’t seem very smooth. The Japanese has a better flow. Again, this isn’t really Seidensticker’s fault. I’m not saying I could do a better translation. Rather, some things really need to be read in their original tongue to be fully appreciated.
I don’t imagine the English version of this book is for everyone. In fact, most people who read the English translation will probably say, “He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for that??” But if you enjoy highly symbolic writings, have had experiences with a Japanese girlfriend who left you puzzled, or wish to reflect on experiences you may have had in Japan then Snow Country is certainly worth a quick read (and quick it is at well under 200 pages).
Assuming you are reading the English translation by Edward G. Seidensticker be sure to read the Introduction after you read the book as he packs his Introduction with spoilers for some unknown reason.