Birthplace: Osaka, Japan
Location of death: Zushi, Japan
Cause of death: Suicide
Race or Ethnicity: Asian
Sexual orientation: Straight
Executive summary: The Masters of Go
Yasunari Kawabata was the first Japanese writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Virtually unknown beyond Japan before receiving his Nobel honors in 1968, Kawabata's short stories and novels are brilliantly-crafted but generally despondent in tone, telling tales of lonely people yearning for love, sex, or human contact, who often finding only enduring disappointment. He also translated L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into Japanese. He killed himself in 1972, leaving no note.
Orphaned in infancy, Kawabata was raised by his grandparents until they too died while he was still a boy. He then briefly lived with his mother's family, but moved into a university dorm at 16, while he was still attending secondary school. In college, Kawabata led a collective that established the artistic journal Bungei Jidai (The Artistic Age) in 1924, and his story "Shokonsai Ikkei" ("A Scene from a Sťance") in the magazine's second issue was well received, and launched his long career. Among his best works, Sembazuru (Thousand Cranes) is a virtual soap opera of characters interacting against a backdrop of recurring tea ceremonies, and Kawabata spent twelve years writing and rewriting Yukiguni (Snow Country), the story of an urban artist's sporadic love affair with a country geisha. The author's own favorite work was The Masters of Go, a novel based on a 1938 top-level Go match he had covered while working as a reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper. That novel's plot-line, in which the experienced champion eventually lost to a brash upstart, is often interpreted as an allegory for Japan's loss in World War II.
Kawabata's works have long been a staple of Japanese cinema, with more than two dozen movie adaptations. His most famous film credit is 1954's Yama no Oto (released in America as The Sounds from the Mountains), a story of infidelity, indiscretion, abortion, and betrayal among in-laws. A lesser-known but perhaps more accessible film to Western audiences is Arigato-san (Mr Thank You), filmed in 1936 and based on Kawabata's short story of strangers on an extended bus ride together.
Father: Eikichi Kawabata (physician, d. 1901 tuberculosis)
Mother: (d. 1902)
Wife: (m. 1931)
High School: Kyoyo Gakubu College of General Education, Tokyo, Japan (1920)
University: BS Japanese Literature, University of Tokyo (1924)
Nobel Prize for Literature 1968
Author of books:
Izu no Odoriko (The Izu Dancer and Other Stories) (1927)
Asakusa Kurenaidan (The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa) (1930)
Yukiguni (Snow Country) (1948)
Meijin (The Masters of Go) (1951)
Sembazuru (A Thousand Cranes) (1952)
Yama no Oto (The Sound of the Mountain) (1954)
Mizuumi (The Lake) (1954)
Nemureru Bijo (The House of Sleeping Virgins) (1960)
Koto (The Old Capital) (1962)
Utsukushisa to Kanashimi (Beauty and Sadness) (1964)
Kataude (One Arm) (1964)
Tanpopo (Dandelion) (1974, published posthumously)
Palm-of-the-Hand Stories (1988, collected short stories, published posthumously)
First Snow on Fuji (2000, collected short stories, published posthumously)
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