SOKENDAI Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.18 (2022)

Examination of the Image of Tokyo
in Kawabata Yasunari’s Works with a Focus
on Hibiya and Asakusa in Tokyo no Hito
(People of Tokyo)

YE Xiaoyao

Department of Japanese Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI

Key words:

Tokyo, Hibiya, Asakusa, Occupation period, Yasunari Kawabata

This paper focuses on Tokyo no Hito (People of Tokyo), the last work by Yasunari Kawabata which features Tokyo in a focused way, in particular two places, Hibiya and Asakusa. This paper also discusses the characteristics of these places in combination with the experiences of the personae and the significance of these two places. By exploring the significance of these important places in Tokyo, we can understand the reasons for the decline of Tokyo and the rise of Kyoto in Kawabata’s works.

Firstly, focusing on the Hibiya intersection, the place where Yumiko and Akio parted, suggests reasons why the two abandoned their romantic relationship. The reasons can be sought from the relationship between Yumiko and Keiko, Akio’s ex-girlfriend. Yumiko was raised by Keiko with great affection, so she values her relationship with Keiko more than anything else. Yumiko eventually cuts herself off from their relationship, since Yumiko fears Keiko’s “cold eyes” on her. It can be said that Hibiya, which symbolizes “freedom in surveillance”, urges Yumiko to make a decision.

Secondly, I focused on the streets of Hibiya depicted in Maihime (The dancer), which was published four years earlier and in Hi mo Tsuki mo (Days and months), which was published two years earlier than Tokyo no Hito. It seems that “freedom in surveillance” symbolized by Hibiya is the common basis of these three works. We also understood that the influence of the Occupation Forces had still been lingering in the center of Tokyo even after the end of the Occupation period. Consequently, it can be said that the power relationship between the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers and the Imperial Household, which symbolized the two extremes of “new Japan” and “old Japan”, prompted people to leave Tokyo.

Finally, I focused on Asakusa as another important place depicted in the work. The characteristics of conventional Asakusa were gradually fading after the Great Kanto Earthquake, World War II, and the subsequent reconstruction projects. It was revealed that the new Asakusa was no longer a place to seek freedom but a place to leave. As we can see in the chapter title, To the Sky and the Sea, at the end of the story, it can be said that leaving Tokyo has become a marked trend.