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川端 康成
Yasunari Kawabata

Kawabata Yasunari
Born 14 June 1899(1899-06-14)
Osaka, Japan
Died 16 April 1972 (aged 72)
Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan
Occupation writer
Nationality Japanese
Ethnicity Japanese
Citizenship Japanese
Period 19241972
Genres novels, short-stories
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature
1968
In this Japanese name, the family name is Kawabata.

Yasunari Kawabata (川端 康成 Kawabata Yasunari?, 14 June 1899 – 16 April 1972) was a Japanese short story writer and novelist whose spare, lyrical, subtly-shaded prose works won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, the first Japanese author to receive the award. His works have enjoyed broad international appeal and are still widely read.

Contents

Biography

Born in Osaka into the family of a well-established doctor's family,[1] Yasunari was orphaned when he was four, after which he lived with his grandparents. He had an older sister who was taken in by an aunt, and whom he met only once thereafter, at the age of ten (July 1909) (she died when he was 11). Kawabata's grandmother died when he was seven (September 1906), and his grandfather when he was fifteen (May 1914).

Having lost all close relatives, he moved in with his mother's family (the Kurodas). However, in January 1916, he moved into a boarding house near the junior high school (comparable to a modern high school) to which he had formerly commuted by train. Through many of Kawabata’s works the sense of distance in his life is represented. He often gives the impression that the characters have built up a wall around them and moves them into isolation. In a 1934 published work Kawabata wrote: “I feel as though I have never held a woman’s hand in a romantic sense[…] Am I a happy man deserving of pity?”. Indeed this does not have to be taken literally, but it does show the type of emotional insecurity that Kawabata felt, especially experiencing two painful love affairs at a young age.

After graduating from junior high school in March 1917, just before his 18th birthday, he moved to Tokyo, hoping to pass the exams of Dai-ichi Koto-gakko (First Upper School), which was under the direction of Tokyo Imperial University. He succeeded in the exam the same year and entered the Humanities Faculty as an English major (July 1920).

A monument to the birthplace of Kawabata.
Kawabata Yasunari Museum

Kawabata graduated in 1924, by which time he had already caught the attention of Kikuchi Kan and other noted writers and editors through his submissions to Kikuchi's literary magazine, the Bungei Shunju.

In addition to fiction writing, Kawabata also worked as a reporter, most notably for the Mainichi Shimbun. Although he refused to participate in the militaristic fervor that accompanied World War II, he also demonstrated little interest in postwar political reforms. Along with the death of all his family while he was young, Kawabata suggested that the War was one of the greatest influences on his work, stating he would be able to write only elegies in postwar Japan. Still, many commentators detect little thematic change between Kawabata's prewar and postwar writings.

Kawabata apparently committed suicide in 1972 by gassing himself, but a number of close associates, including his widow, consider his death to have been accidental. Many theories have been advanced as to his reasons, among them poor health (the discovery that he had Parkinson's disease), a possible illicit love affair, or the shock caused by the suicide of his friend Yukio Mishima in 1970. Unlike Mishima, Kawabata left no note, and since (again unlike Mishima) he had not discussed significantly in his writings the topic of taking his own life, his motives remain unclear. However, his Japanese biographer, Takeo Okuno, has related how he had nightmares about Mishima for two or three hundred nights in a row, and was incessantly haunted by the specter of Mishima. In a persistently depressed state of mind, he would tell friends during his last years that sometimes, when on a journey, he hoped his plane would crash.

Artistic career

While still a university student, Kawabata re-established the Tokyo University literary magazine Shin-shichō ("New Tide of Thought"), which had been defunct for more than four years. There he published his first short story, "Shokonsai ikkei" ("A View from Yasukuni Festival") in 1921. During university, he changed faculties to Japanese literature and wrote a graduation thesis titled, "A short history of Japanese novels". He graduated from university in March 1924.

In October 1924 Kawabata, Kataoka Teppei, Yokomitsu Riichi, and a number of other young writers started a new literary journal Bungei Jidai ("The Artistic Age"). This journal was a reaction to the entrenched old school of Japanese literature, specifically the Japanese movement descended from Naturalism, while it also stood in opposition to the "workers'" or proletarian literature movement of the Socialist/Communist schools. It was an "art for art's sake" movement, influenced by European Cubism, Expressionism, Dada, and other modernist styles. The term Shinkankakuha, which Kawabata and Yokomitsu used to describe their philosophy, has often been mistakenly translated into English as "Neo-Impressionism". However, Shinkankakuha was not meant to be an updated or restored version of Impressionism; it focused on offering "new impressions" or, more accurately, "new sensations" or "new perceptions" in the writing of literature.[2]

Kawabata started to achieve recognition with a number of short stories shortly after he graduated, receiving acclaim for "The Dancing Girl of Izu" in 1926, a story about a melancholy student who, on a walking trip down Izu Peninsula, meets a young dancer, and returns to Tokyo in much improved spirits. This story, which explored the dawning eroticism of young love, was successful because he used dashes of melancholy and even bitterness to offset what might have otherwise been overly sweet. Most of his subsequent works explored similar themes.

In the 1920s, Kawabata was living in the plebeian district of Asakusa, Tokyo. During this period, Kawabata experimented with different styles of writing. In Asakusa kurenaidan (The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa), serialized from 1929 to 1930, he explores the lives of the demimonde and others on the fringe of society, in a style echoing that of late Edo period literature. On the other hand, his Suisho genso (Crystalline Fantasy) is pure stream-of-consciousness writing. He was even involved in writing the script for the experimental film A Page of Madness.[3]

Kawabata relocated from Asakusa to Kamakura, Kanagawa prefecture in 1934 and, although he initially enjoyed a very active social life among the many other writers and literary people residing in that city during the war years and immediately thereafter, in his later years he became very reclusive.

One of his most famous novels was Snow Country, started in 1934 and first published in installments from 1935 through 1947. Snow Country is a stark tale of a love affair between a Tokyo dilettante and a provincial geisha, which takes place in a remote hot-spring town somewhere in the mountainous regions of northern Japan. It established Kawabata as one of Japan's foremost authors and became an instant classic, described by Edward G. Seidensticker as "perhaps Kawabata's masterpiece".

After the end of World War II, Kawabata's success continued with novels such as Thousand Cranes (a story of ill-fated love); The Sound of the Mountain; The House of the Sleeping Beauties; Beauty and Sadness; and The Old Capital .

His two most important post-war works are Sembazuru (Thousand Cranes) from 1949 to 1951, and Yama no Oto (The Sound of the Mountain), 1949-1954. Sembazuru is centered on the tea ceremony and hopeless love. The protagonist is attracted to the mistress of his dead father and, after her death, to her daughter, who flees from him. The tea ceremony provides a beautiful background for ugly human affairs, but Kawabata’s intent is rather to explore feelings about death. The tea ceremony utensils are permanent and forever, whereas people are frail and fleeting. These themes of implicit incest, impossible love and impending death are again explored in Yama no Oto, set in Kawabata’s home town of Kamakura. The protagonist, an aging man, has grown disappointed of his children and has lost all passion for his wife. He is strongly attracted to someone forbidden — his daughter in law — and his thoughts for her are interspersed with memories of another forbidden love, for his dead sister-in-law.

The book that he himself considered his finest work, The Master of Go (1951), is in severe contrast to his other works. It is a semi-fictional recounting of a major Go match in 1938, on which Kawabata had actually reported for the Mainichi newspaper chain. It was the last game of the master Shūsai's career and he lost to his younger challenger, only to die a little over a year later. Although the novel is moving on the surface as a retelling of a climactic struggle, some readers consider it a symbolic parallel to the defeat of Japan in World War II.

Kawabata left many of his stories apparently unfinished, sometimes to the annoyance of readers and reviewers, but this goes hand to hand with his aesthetics of art for art's sake, leaving outside any sentimentalism, or morality, that an ending would give to any book. This was done intentionally, as Kawabata felt that vignettes of incidents along the way were far more important than conclusions. He equated his form of writing with the traditional poetry of Japan, the haiku.

As the president of Japanese P.E.N. for many years after the war (1948-1965), Kawabata was a driving force behind the translation of Japanese literature into English and other Western languages.

In 1968 Kawabata became the first Japanese to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature "for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind." In awarding the prize, the Nobel Committee cited three of his novels, Snow Country, Thousand Cranes, and The Old Capital.

Notes

  1. ^ Kawamoto Saburō, Kawabata Yasunari: Explorer of Death and Beauty, Japan Book News, No. 63, Spring 2010, p. 13
  2. ^ Okubo Takaki (2004), Kawabata Yasunari--Utsukushi Nihon no Watashi. Minerva Shobo
  3. ^ Gerow, Aaron (2008). A Page of Madness: Cinema and Modernity in 1920s Japan. Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan. ISBN 9781929280513. 

Selected works

Year Japanese Title English Title English Translation
1926 伊豆の踊子
Izu no Odoriko
The Dancing Girl of Izu 1955, 1998
1930 浅草紅團
Asakusa Kurenaidan
The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa 2005
1935-1937,
1947
雪國
Yukiguni
Snow Country 1956, 1996
1951-1954 名人
Meijin
The Master of Go 1972
1949-1952 千羽鶴
Senbazuru
Thousand Cranes 1958
1949-1954 山の音
Yama no Oto
The Sound of the Mountain 1970
1954 みづうみ(みずうみ)
Mizuumi
The Lake 1974
1961 眠れる美女
Nemureru Bijo
The House of the Sleeping Beauties 1969
1962 古都
Koto
The Old Capital 1987, 2006
1964 美しさと哀しみと
Utsukushisa to Kanashimi to
Beauty and Sadness 1975
1964 片腕
Kataude
One Arm 1969
掌の小説
Tenohira no Shōsetsu
Palm-of-the-Hand Stories 1988, 2006

Nobel Prize

Kawabata Yasunari was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, becoming the first Japanese to receive such a distinction. His Nobel Lecture, titled "Japan, The Beautiful and Myself"(美しい日本の私) is surprising in many ways.

Zen Buddhism becomes a key focal point of the speech. Much talk is devoted to practitioners and the general practices of Zen Buddhism, and how it differs greatly from that of other types of Buddhism. He presents a severe picture of Zen Buddhism, where disciples can only enter salvation through their efforts and where they are isolated for several hours at a time, but how from this isolation there can come beauty. He notes that Zen practices focus on simplicity, and it is this simplicity that proves to be the beauty. "The heart of the ink painting is in space, abbreviation, what is left undrawn" From painting he begins to talk about Ikebana and Bonsai, also as art forms that emphasize the simplicity and the beauty that arises from the simplicity. “The Japanese garden too, of course symbolizes the vastness of nature”

On top of the numerous mentions of Zen and nature, one distinctive point that was briefly mentioned in Kawabata’s lecture was that of suicide. Kawabata reminisces of other famous Japanese authors who have committed suicide. He particularly speaks of author, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and his suicide. Here, he contradicts the custom of suicide being a form of enlightenment. He mentions priest Ikkyu, who has also thought of suicide twice. He quotes Ikkyu in saying, “Among those who give thoughts to things, is there one who does not think of suicide?” There was much speculation about this quote being a clue to Kawabata’s suicide in 1972, two years after Mishima had also committed suicide.

References

  • Keene, Donald (1984). Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era; Vol. 1: Fiction, "Kawabata Yasunari" pp. 786-845

Further reading

  • Starrs, Roy (1998) Soundings in Time: The Fictive Art of Kawabata Yasunari, University of Hawai'i Press/RoutledgeCurzon

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

That play of black upon white, white upon black, has the intent and takes the form of creative art. It has in it a flow of the spirit and a harmony of music.
Because you cannot see him, God is everywhere.

Yasunari Kawabata [川端 康成 Kawabata Yasunari], (14 June 1899 - 16 April 1972) was a Japanese short story writer and novelist known for his spare, lyrical, and subtly-shaded prose. In 1968 he became the first Japanese writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Contents

Sourced

  • The "secret" of their being up in the tree had continued for almost two years now. Where the thick trunk branched out near the top, the two could sit comfortably. Michiko, straddling one branch, leaned back against another. There were days when little birds came and days when the wind sang through the pine needles. Although they weren't that high off the ground, these two little lovers felt as if they were in a completely different world, far away from the earth.
    • "Up in the Tree" [Ki-no Ue] (1962)
  • Because you cannot see him, God is everywhere.

Snow Country (1948)

Snow Country'『雪国』[Yukiguni] (1948) ISBN 0679761047
  • 国境のトンネルを越えると雪国であった。夜の底が白くなった。
    • The train came out of the long border tunnel — and there was the snow country. The night had turned white.
      • First lines, as translated by Edward Seidensticker)
  • In the depths of the mirror the evening landscape moved by, the mirror and the reflected figures like motion pictures superimposed one on the other. The figures and the background were unrelated, and yet the figures, transparent and intangible, and the background, dim in the gathering darkness, melted into a sort of symbolic world not of this world. Particularly when a light out in the mountains shone in the center of the girl's face, Shimamura felt his chest rise at the inexpressible beauty of it.

The Master of Go (1951)

A masterpiece of a game can be ruined by insensitivity to the feelings of an adversary.

Translated from the Japanese Meijin by Edward G. Seidensticker (1972), ISBN 0-399-50528-8

  • 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.
    • Ch. 12, p. 52
  • Maybe vagueness has been good for me. The word means two different things in Tokyo and Osaka, you know. In Tokyo it means stupidity, but in Osaka they talk about vagueness in a painting and in a game of Go.
    • Ch. 18, p. 76
  • That play of black upon white, white upon black, has the intent and takes the form of creative art. It has in it a flow of the spirit and a harmony 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.
    • Ch. 38, p. 164

Japan, the Beautiful and Myself (1969)

Nobel lecture (12 December 1968) as translated in Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980 (1993) Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore
The winter moon becomes a companion, the heart of the priest, sunk in meditation upon religion and philosophy, there in the mountain hall, is engaged in a delicate interplay and exchange with the moon; and it is this of which the poet sings.
  • Seeing the moon, he becomes the moon, the moon seen by him becomes him. He sinks into nature, becomes one with nature. The light of the "clear heart" of the priest, seated in the meditation hall in the darkness before the dawn, becomes for the dawn moon its own light.
  • The winter moon becomes a companion, the heart of the priest, sunk in meditation upon religion and philosophy, there in the mountain hall, is engaged in a delicate interplay and exchange with the moon; and it is this of which the poet sings.
  • Dr. Yashiro Yukio, internationally known as a scholar of Botticelli, a man of great learning in the art of the past and the present, of the East and the West, has summed up one of the special characteristics of Japanese art in a single poetic sentence: "The time of the snows, of the moon, of the blossoms — then more than ever we think of our comrades." When we see the beauty of the snow, when we see the beauty of the full moon, when we see the beauty of the cherries in bloom, when in short we brush against and are awakened by the beauty of the four seasons, it is then that we think most of those close to us, and want them to share the pleasure. The excitement of beauty calls forth strong fellow feelings, yearnings for companionship, and the word "comrade" can be taken to mean "human being". The snow, the moon, the blossoms, words expressive of the seasons as they move one into another, include in the Japanese tradition the beauty of mountains and rivers and grasses and trees, of all the myriad manifestations of nature, of human feelings as well.
  • That spirit, that feeling for one's comrades in the snow, the moonlight, under the blossoms, is also basic to the tea ceremony. A tea ceremony is a coming together in feeling, a meeting of good comrades in a good season. I may say in passing, that to see my novel Thousand Cranes as an evocation of the formal and spiritual beauty of the tea ceremony is a misreading. It is a negative work, and expression of doubt about and warning against the vulgarity into which the tea ceremony has fallen.
How ever alienated one may be from the world, suicide is not a form of enlightenment. However admirable he may be, the man who commits suicide is far from the realm of the saint.
  • Ryokan, who shook off the modern vulgarity of his day, who was immersed in the elegance of earlier centuries, and whose poetry and calligraphy are much admired in Japan today — he lived in the spirit of these poems, a wanderer down country paths, a grass hut for shelter, rags for clothes, farmers to talk to. The profundity of religion and literature was not, for him, in the abstruse. He rather pursued literature and belief in the benign spirit summarized in the Buddhist phrase "a smiling face and gentle words". In his last poem he offered nothing as a legacy. He but hoped that after his death nature would remain beautiful. That could be his bequest.
  • I have an essay with the title "Eyes in their Last Extremity".
    The title comes from the suicide note of the short-story writer Akutagawa Ryunosuke... It is the phrase that pulls at me with the greatest strength.
    Akutagawa said that he seemed to be gradually losing the animal something known as the strength to live, and continued:
    "I am living in a world of morbid nerves, clear and cold as ice... I do not know when I will summon up the resolve to kill myself. But nature is for me more beautiful than it has ever been before. I have no doubt that you will laugh at the contradiction, for here I love nature even when I am contemplating suicide. But nature is beautiful because it comes to my eyes in their last extremity."
    Akutagawa committed suicide in 1927, at the age of thirty-five.
    In my essay, "Eyes in their Last Extremity", I had to say: "How ever alienated one may be from the world, suicide is not a form of enlightenment. However admirable he may be, the man who commits suicide is far from the realm of the saint." I neither admire nor am in sympathy with suicide.
The Zen disciple sits for long hours silent and motionless, with his eyes closed. Presently 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 the emptiness of the West. It is rather the reverse, a universe of the spirit in which everything communicates freely with everything, transcending bounds, limitless...
  • "Among those who give thoughts to things, is there one who does not think of suicide?" With me was the knowledge that that fellow Ikkyu twice contemplated suicide. I have "that fellow", because the priest Ikkyu is known even to children as a most amusing person, and because anecdotes about his limitlessly eccentric behavior have come down to us in ample numbers. It is said of him that children climbed his knee to stroke his beard, that wild birds took feed from his hand. It would seem from all this that he was the ultimate in mindlessness, that he was an approachable and gentle sort of priest. As a matter of fact he was the most severe and profound of Zen priests. Said to have been the son of an emperor, he entered a temple at the age of six, and early showed his genius as a poetic prodigy. At the same time he was troubled with the deepest of doubts about religion and life. "If there is a god, let him help me. If there is none, let me throw myself to the bottom of the lake and become food for fishes." Leaving behind these words he sought to throw himself into a lake, but was held back. ... He gave his collected poetry the title "Collection of the Roiling Clouds", and himself used the expression "Roiling Clouds" as a pen name. In his collection and its successor are poems quite without parallel in the Chinese and especially the Zen poetry of the Japanese middle ages, erotic poems and poems about the secrets of the bedchamber that leave one in utter astonishment. He sought, by eating fish and drinking spirits and having commerce with women, to go beyond the rules and proscriptions of the Zen of his day, and to seek liberation from them, and thus, turning against established religious forms, he sought in the pursuit of Zen the revival and affirmation of the essence of life, of human existence, in a day civil war and moral collapse.
Enlightenment comes not from teaching but through the eye awakened inwardly. Truth is in "the discarding of words", it lies "outside words".
  • I myself have two specimens of Ikkyu's calligraphy. One of them is a single line: "It is easy to enter the world of the Buddha, it is hard to enter the world of the devil." Much drawn to these words, I frequently make use of them when asked for a specimen of my own calligraphy. They can be read in any number of ways, as difficult as one chooses, but in that world of the devil added to the world of the Buddha, Ikkyu of Zen comes home to me with great immediacy. The fact that for an artist, seeking truth, good, and beauty, the fear and petition even as a prayer in those words about the world of the devil — the fact that it should be there apparent on the surface, hidden behind, perhaps speaks with the inevitability of fate. There can be no world of the Buddha without the world of the devil. And the world of the devil is the world difficult of entry. It is not for the weak of heart.
  • "If you meet a Buddha, kill him. If you meet a patriarch of the law, kill him."
    This is a well-known Zen motto. If Buddhism is divided generally into the sects that believe in salvation by faith and those that believe in salvation by one's own efforts, then of course there must be such violent utterances in Zen, which insists upon salvation by one's own efforts. On the other side, the side of salvation by faith, Shinran, the founder of the Shin sect, once said: "The good shall be reborn in paradise, and how much more shall it be so with the bad." This view of things has something in common with Ikkyu's world of the Buddha and world of the devil, and yet at heart the two have their different inclinations. Shinran also said: "I shall not take a single disciple."
    "If you meet a Buddha, kill him. If you meet a patriarch of the law, kill him." "I shall not take a single disciple." In these two statements, perhaps, is the rigorous fate of art.
  • The Zen disciple sits for long hours silent and motionless, with his eyes closed. Presently 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 the emptiness of the West. It is rather the reverse, a universe of the spirit in which everything communicates freely with everything, transcending bounds, limitless. There are of course masters of Zen, and the disciple is brought toward enlightenment by exchanging questions and answers with his master, and he studies the scriptures. The disciple must, however, always be lord of his own thoughts, and must attain enlightenment through his own efforts. And the emphasis is less upon reason and argument than upon intuition, immediate feeling. Enlightenment comes not from teaching but through the eye awakened inwardly. Truth is in "the discarding of words", it lies "outside words". And so we have the extreme of "silence like thunder", in the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra.
The single flower contains more brightness than a hundred flowers.
  • Ikenobo Sen'o, a master of flower arranging, once said (the remark is to be found in his Sayings): "With a spray of flowers, a bit of water, one evokes the vastness of rivers and mountains." The Japanese garden too, of course symbolizes the vastness of nature. The Western garden tends to be symmetrical, the Japanese garden asymmetrical, and this is because the asymmetrical has the greater power to symbolize multiplicity and vastness. The asymmetry, of course, rests upon a balance imposed by delicate sensibilities. Nothing is more complicated, varied, attentive to detail, than the Japanese art of landscape gardening. Thus there is the form called the dry landscape, composed entirely of rocks, in which the arrangement of stones gives expression to mountains and rivers that are not present, and even suggests the waves of the great ocean breaking in upon cliffs.
  • The single flower contains more brightness than a hundred flowers. The great sixteenth-century master of the tea ceremony and flower arranging, Rikyu, taught that it was wrong to use fully opened flowers. Even in the tea ceremony today the general practice is to have in the alcove of the tea room but a single flower, and that a flower in bud. In winter a special flower of winter, let us say a camellia, bearing some such name as White Jewel or Wabisuke, which might be translated literally as "Helpmate in Solitude", is chosen, a camellia remarkable among camellias for its whiteness and the smallness of its blossoms; and but a single bud is set out in the alcove. White is the cleanest of colors, it contains in itself all the other colors. And there must always be dew on the bud. The bud is moistened with a few drops of water.
Wistaria sprays, as they trail in the breeze, suggest softness, gentleness, reticence. Disappearing and then appearing again in the early summer greenery, they have in them that feeling for the poignant beauty of things long characterized by the Japanese as mono no aware.
  • Among flower vases, the ware that is given the highest rank is old Iga, from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and it commands the highest price. When old Iga has been dampened, its colors and its glow take on a beauty such as to awaken on afresh. Iga was fired at very high temperatures. The straw ash and the smoke from the fuel fell and flowed against the surface, and as the temperature dropped, became a sort of glaze. Because the colors were not fabricated but were rather the result of nature at work in the kiln, color patterns emerged in such varieties as to be called quirks and freaks of the kiln. The rough, austere, strong surfaces of old Iga take on a voluptuous glow when dampened. It breathes to the rhythm of the dew of the flowers.
  • Ikenobo Sen'o remarked on another occasion (this too is in his Sayings) that "the mountains and strands should appear in their own forms". Bringing a new spirit into his school of flower arranging, therefore, he found "flowers" in broken vessels and withered branches, and in them too the enlightenment that comes from flowers. "The ancients arranged flowers and pursued enlightenment." Here we see awakening to the heart of the Japanese spirit, under the influence of Zen. And in it too, perhaps, is the heart of a man living in the devastation of long civil wars.
My own works have been described as works of emptiness, but it is not to be taken for the nihilism of the West. The spiritual foundation would seem to be quite different...
  • Wistaria sprays, as they trail in the breeze, suggest softness, gentleness, reticence. Disappearing and then appearing again in the early summer greenery, they have in them that feeling for the poignant beauty of things long characterized by the Japanese as mono no aware.
  • The Tale of Genji in particular is the highest pinnacle of Japanese literature. Even down to our day there has not been a piece of fiction to compare with it. That such a modern work should have been written in the eleventh century is a miracle, and as a miracle the work is widely known abroad.
  • Myōe exchanged poems with Saigyo and the two discussed poetry together. The following is from the biography of Myoe by his disciple Kikai: "Saigyo frequently came and talked of poetry. His own attitude towards poetry, he said, was far from the ordinary. Cherry blossoms, the cuckoo, the moon, snow: confronted with all the manifold forms of nature, his eyes and his ears were filled with emptiness. And were not all the words that came forth true words? When he sang of the blossoms the blossoms were not on his mind, when he sang of the moon he did not think of the moon. As the occasion presented itself, as the urge arose, he wrote poetry. The red rainbow across the sky was as the sky taking on color. The white sunlight was as the sky growing bright. Yet the empty sky, by its nature, was not something to become bright. It was not something to take on color. With a spirit like the empty sky he gives color to all the manifold scenes but not a trace remained. In such poetry was the Buddha, the manifestation of the ultimate truth."
    Here we have the emptiness, the nothingness, of the Orient. My own works have been described as works of emptiness, but it is not to be taken for the nihilism of the West. The spiritual foundation would seem to be quite different. Dogen entitled his poem about the seasons, "Innate Reality", and even as he sang of the beauty of the seasons he was deeply immersed in Zen.

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Simple English

Yasunari Kawabata (14 June 1899 – 16 April 1972) Japanese writer and novelist whose spare, lyrical, subtly-shaded prose works won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, the first Japanese author to receive the award.

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