Monday, September 28, 2015

Study Guide: Kawabata Yasunari “Pomegranate” (Zakuro)

Study Guide: Kawabata Yasunari “Pomegranate” (Zakuro)[1]

*Kawabata Yasunari 川端康成 (1899-1972): Son of a highly-cultivated physician, Kawabata was born in 1899 in Osaka. After the early death of his parents he was raised in the country by his maternal grandfather and attended the Japanese public school. From 1920 to 1924, Kawabata studied at the Tokyo Imperial University, where he received his degree. He was one of the founders of the publication Bungei Jidai, the medium of a new movement in modern Japanese literature. Kawabata made his debut as a writer with the short story, “Izu dancer,” published in 1927. After several distinguished works, the novel Snow Country in 1937 secured Kawabata’s position as one of the leading authors in Japan. In 1949, the publication of the serials Thousand Cranes and The Sound of the Mountain was commenced. He became a member of the Art Academy of Japan in 1953 and four years later he was appointed chairman of the P.E.N. Club of Japan. At several international congresses Kawabata was the Japanese delegate for this club. The Lake (1955), The Sleeping Beauty (1960) and The Old Capital (1962) belong to his later works, and of these novels, The Old Capital is the one that made the deepest impression in the author’s native country and abroad. In 1959, Kawabata received the Goethe-medal in Frankfurt. (source:

*Palm-of-the-hand story: According to Kawabata himself, the essence of his art was to be found in a series of short stories-which he called “Palm-of-the-Hand Stories”-written over the entire span of his career. He began experimenting with the form in 1923 and returned to it often. In fact, his final work was a “palm-sized” reduction of “Snow Country,” written not long before his suicide in 1972. Dreamlike, intensely atmospheric, at times autobiographical and at others fantastical, these stories reflect Kawabata’s abiding interest in the miniature, the wisp of plot reduced to the essential. In them we find loneliness, love, the passage of time, and death. (Source: Buffalo Library)

Study Questions

1. What season is it? How does this season relate the mood/themes of the piece?

2. When is the story set? Describe that time period.

3. How would you describe the life of Kimiko and her mother? Where is the father?

4. Are there any symbols in the piece? Explain the significance/function of the pomegranate.

5. Describe the mother. How in tune with her daughter’s emotional life is she?

6. Explain the significance of the following passage: “It [the mother’s comment that she had forgotten about the pomegranate] made Kimiko think of their loneliness. The pomegranate over the veranda too seemed lonely and forgotten.”

7. What function does the seven-year-old cousin serve in the piece?

8. Is this a linear story? Or are there flashbacks (i.e. analepses, external or internal) embedded in it? Explain.

9. From what point of view is the story told? If third person, is it omniscient? Where is/are the point(s) of focalization?

10. Why does Kimiko feel “somehow apologetic”? Toward what/whom?

11. Explain the scene where Keikichi first sees Kimiko coming down the stairs: “He greeted her with his eyes, as if it were more than he could do to wait for her to come down. She stopped on the stairs.” Why does Keikichi drop the pomegranate?

12. Why does Kimiko refuse the pomegranate at first, and then take it?

13. In what ways does the form (“palm-of-the-hand story”) determine the content/style? Is the style more poetic/symbolic/literary OR straightforward/prosaic/transparent?

14. Can you find any examples of “synesthesia” in the piece? Explain. Write three sentences that employ the technique.

15. Explain the significance of the following passage: “With her mother watching her, it would have been strange for Kimiko to refuse to eat. She bit nonchalantly into it. The sourness filled her mouth. She felt a kind of sad happiness, as if it were penetrating far down inside her.”

16. Why does the mother say she was “afraid to comb my hair” after her husband’s death?

17. What is Kimiko’s “private happiness” (himitsu no yorokobi)? Why does it make her “feel shy before her mother”?

18. Why is she afraid to bite into the pomegranate in the last sentence?

19. If Kawabata had expanded this into a full-length novel, what sort of novel would it be? Write a brief summary of the plot of that novel.

“The Pomegranate” by Kawabata Yasunari

In the high wind that night the pomegranate tree was stripped of its leaves.
The leaves lay in a circle around the base.
Kimiko was startled to see it naked in the morning, and wondered at the flawlessness of the circle. She would have expected the wind to disturb it.
There was a pomegranate, a very fine one, left behind in the tree.
“Just come and look at it,” she called to her mother.
“I had forgotten.” Her mother glanced up at the tree and went back to the kitchen.
It made Kimiko think of their loneliness. The pomegranate over the veranda too seemed lonely and forgotten.
Two weeks or so before, her seven-year-old nephew had come visiting, and had noticed the pomegranates immediately. He had scrambled up into the tree. Kimiko had felt that she was in the presence of life.
“There is a big one up above,” she called from the veranda.
“But if I pick it I can’t get back down.”
It was true. To climb down with pomegranates in both hands would not be easy. Kimiko smiled. He was a dear.
Until he had come the house had forgotten the pomegranate. And until now they had forgotten it again.
Then the fruit had been hidden in the leaves. Now it stood clear against the sky.
There was strength in the fruit and in the circle of leaves at the base. Kimiko went and knocked it down with a bamboo pole.
It was so ripe that the seeds seemed to force it open. They glistened in the sunlight when she laid it on the veranda, and the sun seemed to go on through them.
She felt somehow apologetic.
Upstairs with her sewing at about ten, she heard Keikichi’s voice. Though the door was unlocked, he seemed to have come around to the garden. There was urgency in his voice.
“Kimiko, Kimiko!” her mother called. “Keikichi is here.”
Kimiko had let her needle come unthreaded. She pushed it back into the pincushion.
“Kimiko had been saying how she wanted to see you again before you leave.” Keikichi was going to war. “But we could hardly go and see you without an invitation, and you didn’t come. It was good of you to come today.”
She asked him to stay for lunch, but he was in a hurry.
“Well, do at least have a pomegranate. We grew it ourselves.” She called up to Kimiko again.
He greeted her with his eyes, as if it were more than he could do to wait for her to come down. She stopped on the stairs.
Something warm seemed to come into his eyes, and the pomegranate fell from his hand.
They looked at each other and smiled.
When she realized that she was smiling, she flushed. Keikichi got up from the veranda.
“Take care of yourself, Kimiko.”
“And you.”
He had already turned away and was saying goodbye to her.
Kimiko looked on at the garden gate after he had left.
“He was in such a hurry,” said her mother. “And it’s such a fine pomegranate.”
He had left it on the veranda.
Apparently he had dropped it as that warm something came into his eyes and he was beginning to open it. He had not broken it completely in two. It lay with the seeds up.
Her mother took it to the kitchen and washed it, and handed it to Kimiko.
Kimiko frowned and pulled back, and then, flushing once more, took it in with some confusion.
Keikichi would seem to have taken a few seeds from the edge.
With her mother watching her, it would have been strange for Kimiko to refuse to eat. She bit nonchalantly into it. The sourness filled her mouth. She felt a kind of sad happiness, as if it were penetrating far down inside her.
Uninterested, her mother had stood up.
She went to a mirror and sat down. “Just look at my hair, will you. I said goodbye to Keikichi with this wild mop of hair.”
Kimiko could hear the comb.
“When your father died,” her mother said softly, “I was afraid to comb my hair. When I combed my hair I would forget what I was doing. When I came to myself it would be as if your father were waiting for me to finish.”
Kimiko remembered her mother’s habit of eating what her father had left on his plate.
She felt something pull at her, a happiness that made her want to weep.
Her mother had probably given her the pomegranate because of a reluctance to throw it away. Only because of that. It had become a habit not to throw things away.
Alone with her private happiness, Kimiko felt shy before her mother.
She thought that it had been a better farewell than Keikichi could have been aware of, and that she could wait any length of time for him to come back.
She looked toward her mother. The sun was falling on the paper doors beyond which she sat at her mirror.
She was somehow afraid to bite into the pomegranate on her knee.



[1] Written in 1943. Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker, in Contemporary Japanese Literature, edited by Howard Hibbett (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1977), 293-295. For a translation of the entire collection, see: Kawabata Yasunari. Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. Translated from the Japanese by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman. Imprint Rutland, Vt. : Charles E. Tuttle Co. 1988.

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