Photo/IllutrationYasunari Kawabata receives the Nobel Prize in Literature from Swedish King Gustaf VI Adolph in Stockholm in December 1968. (Provided by the Nobel Foundation)

  • Photo/Illustraion

STOCKHOLM--Author Yasunari Kawabata won Japan’s first Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968 by beating out British poet W. H. Auden, French novelist Andre Malraux and French playwright Samuel Beckett after being praised as a “true representative of Japanese literature.”

The Swedish Academy, which selects the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, released records on the nominees, the short list and the selection process as the 50-year embargo on information expired for the 1968 prize.

The academy awarded the prize to Kawabata (1899-1972) for “his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind.”

The Nobel Prize in Literature went the following year to Beckett.

The released records, which were written in Swedish, were obtained by The Asahi Shimbun on Jan. 2.

For the 1968 prize, two other Japanese literary figures--novelist Yukio Mishima and poet Junzaburo Nishiwaki--also made it to the list of 83 candidates.

But the academy apparently thought that Mishima would be considered again, depending on his works in the coming years. Mishima, whose novels include “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion,” was in his early 40s at that time.

Kawabata appeared on the list of candidates for the first time in 1961.

But at that time, the translation of his works into foreign languages was limited to “Thousand Cranes,” which was released in serial form from 1949, and “Snow Country,” the novel that was published in serials between 1935 and 1947 and cemented his status as a leading author in the Japanese literary world.

The academy did not award the prize to Kawabata as it deemed that it “cannot accurately evaluate his accomplishments due to a paucity of available translations of his novels.”

But Kawabata kept appearing on the list of nominees in each successive year.

In the year Kawabata received the prize, the German translation of “Izu Dancer,” his 1926 short novel, went to print, along with the Swedish translation of his 1962 novel “Old Capital.”

But three years before Kawabata landed the honor, the Swedish Academy interviewed 10 people well-versed in Japanese literature and researched and compared the works of four Japanese candidates Kawabata, Junichiro Tanizaki, Mishima and Nishiwaki, a separate set of archives released recently showed.

The academy had considered Tanizaki for the prize since 1958 as it gave high marks for “The Makioka Sisters” and “Some Prefer Nettles.”

The reports on the assessment suggested that the academy was split over Kawabata and Tanizaki. The members passed up Mishima on the grounds of his relative youth.

On Kawabata, a Japanese literature researcher asked whether it is possible to fully translate his delicate works into another language as his writing excels in psychological descriptions and style.

Another remarked that they simply could not “judge.”

Tanizaki was widely regarded at the time as the favorite among Japanese nominees to be the first to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. But he passed away in July 1965 at 79.

In 1970, Mishima committed ritual hara-kiri at the age of 45 after he failed in his attempt to stir a rightist movement in Japan.

Two years later, Kawabata took his own life by putting a gas hose into his mouth. He was 72.

Nishiwaki died in 1982 at age 88, also never winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.