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Mystery of Novelist Kawabata’s Tragic First Love Is Solved – Japan Real Time – WSJ

July 14, 2014

Yasunari Kawabata left and Hatsuyo Ito Courtesy of the Kawabata FoundationYasunari Kawabata first saw Hatsuyo Ito in 1919 at Café Elan in Tokyo. Kawabata was 20 and thinking of studying Japanese literature in college; Hatsuyo was 13, a waitress at the café, which catered to a literary clientele. She was energetic, beautiful and alone—she had lost her mother when she was nine years old. Kawabata, too, had grown up as an orphan.The two fell in love, and only grew more attached when Hatsuyo’s guardian left Tokyo and she moved to live with the guardian’s sister in far-away Gifu prefecture. On Oct. 8, 1921, she agreed to marry him. They exchanged a series of hopeful letters, planning for their future.Then, a month after their engagement, she wrote to him that she could never see him again. Years later, the figure of Hatsuyo—Kawabata’s first, tragic love–would resurface in many of his celebrated works. Yet the reason for Hatsuyo’s abrupt refusal always remained unclear.Now Kawabata’s son-in-law, Kaori Kawabata, says in the monthly magazine Bungei Shunju that he believes he has solved the mystery by piecing together evidence in newly discovered letters as well as an unpublished entry in the novelist’s diary.While Yasunari Kawabata would later be renowned as the first Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature for such works as “Snow Country” and “The Dancing Girl of Izu,” in Hatsuyo’s letters, he is simply “Yasu-san.”The newly found letters date from the time of the broken engagement—September to November 1921—and were discovered in Kawabata’s former residence in Kamakura. Ten letters are from Hatsuyo addressed to Kawabata, and one letter, unsent, is in Kawabata’s own hand.Hatsuyo’s letters, tucked in small, dainty envelopes, are full of a young woman’s innocent, straightforward love. “I have never written the word love in a letter before. Today is the first time,” she writes on Oct. 23, according to a text of the letter published in Bungei Shunju. “I finally understand what love is.”In the opening line of his unsent letter, Kawabata asks whether Hatsuyo had received the letter he had sent on Oct. 27. “You haven’t replied, so day after day I can’t sit still—I’m so worried. I yearn for you— I can’t do a thing until I see you again,” he writes. “I miss you, I miss you.”  He wonders whether the temple in Gifu where she was staying had found out about their correspondence or even intercepted his letters.He urges her to trust him and says everything will be all right once she joins him in Tokyo: “I will do everything the way you want it.” Many words are scratched out in blue ink and rewritten throughout the letter.On Nov. 8, Hatsuyo delivers a thunderbolt: She is breaking off the engagement because of an “emergency” that she can’t say more about. “You will probably ask me to tell you about this emergency, but I would rather die than tell you,” she writes. “This is goodbye.”Three years later, Kawabata published a short story called “Emergency” in Bungei Shunju. A side-by-side comparison shows that he used many of Hatsuyo’s own words, with few modifications.But what was the “emergency?” Kaori Kawabata, the novelist’s son-in-law, says the new letters help explain an unpublished entry in Yasunari Kawabata’s diary, dated Nov. 20, 1923. The novelist wrote that in Saihoji, the temple where Hatsuyo was living, she “was violated by a monk.” With the loss of her virginity, she must have felt unable to marry someone of Kawabata’s family status, surmises Kaori Kawabata.“This is the most reasonable explanation for her sudden refusal of Kawabata’s offer,” said Sonohiro Mizuhara of the Kawabata Foundation in an interview with Japan Real Time.“Scholars have been puzzling over this mystery for decades,” said Mr. Mizuhara, whose foundation supports Kawabata research. “With these letters, it is the first time the details of this ‘emergency’ have been disclosed.”With their separation, Hatsuyo went on to waitress again, married a café owner, remarried and had children. She died in February 1951.In the July 2, 1965, issue of Asahi Weekly, the 66-year-old Kawabata wrote of his young heartbreak. “I was a 20-year-old man, and I promised marriage to a 14-year-old,” he wrote. “Everything was broken senselessly, and I was left deeply wounded. After the Kanto Earthquake [in 1923], I wandered the burned fields of Tokyo, because I wanted to make sure she was safe… But that girl no longer exists in this world.”The novelist died in 1972. The remains of both Hatsuyo and Kawabata lie in the same graveyard in Kamakura.

via Mystery of Novelist Kawabata’s Tragic First Love Is Solved – Japan Real Time – WSJ.

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