1968 Nobel Prize in Literature
Yasunari Kawabata
"for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind."
  • 10 October 1968 (announcement)
  • 10 December 1968
LocationStockholm, Sweden
Presented bySwedish Academy
First awarded1901
WebsiteOfficial website
← 1967 · Nobel Prize in Literature · 1969 →

The 1968 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972) "for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind."[1] He is the first Japanese recipient of the prize.


Main article: Yasunari Kawabata

Yasunari Kawabata's short story Izu no odoriko ("The Dancing Girl of Izu"), published in 1927, served as his literary debut. After producing a number of noteworthy works, Kawabata's 1937 novel Yukiguni ("Snow Country") established him as one of Japan's most renowned writers. In 1949, he published two serial novels Senbazuru ("Thousand Cranes") and Yama no Oto. His later works include Mizuumi ("The Lake", 1955) and Koto ("The Old Capital", 1962). Both in the author's home country and abroad, The Old Capital left the biggest impression.[2][3]



Kawabata was nominated on 8 occasions starting in 1961. He was annually nominated with single nominations made by members of the Swedish Academy. In 1968, his nomination was made by Eyvind Johnson, member of the said academy.[4]

In total, the Nobel Committee received 112 nominations for 76 writers from various academics, literary critics and societies. Among the repeated nominees were Ezra Pound and E. M. Forster – both dismissed on account of their advancing ages[5]Max Frisch, Louis Aragon, Charles de Gaulle, Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov and Eugène Ionesco – the latter two authors were set aside because of their controversial works.[5] Nineteen of the nominees were newly nominated such as Patrick White (awarded in 1973), Luis Buñuel, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Friedebert Tuglas, Tadeusz Różewicz, Vladimír Holan, Angus Wilson, Zbigniew Herbert, and Sławomir Mrożek. The oldest nominee was the Spanish philologist Ramón Menéndez Pidal (aged 99) and the youngest was Sławomir Mrożek (aged 38). Five of the nominees were women namely Marie Under, Anna Seghers, Marianne Moore, Mildred Breedlove, and Katherine Anne Porter.[6]

The authors Karl Barth, Charles Bean, Joaquín Edwards Bello, Enid Mary Blyton, Max Brod, Abel Bonnard, Anthony Boucher, Helen Cam, León Felipe Camino, Jacques Chardonne, Donald Davidson, Pablo de Rokha, Margaret Duley, Edna Ferber, Romano Guardini, Germaine Guèvremont, D. Gwenallt Jones, Fannie Hurst, Anna Kavan, Helen Keller, Alexandre Kojève, Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, Donagh MacDonagh, Dorothea Mackellar, Thomas Merton, Harold Nicolson, Mervyn Peake, Sixto Pondal Ríos, Conrad Richter, Marah Roesli, and Tian Han died in 1968 without having been nominated for the prize.

Official list of nominees and their nominators for the prize
No. Nominee Country Genre(s) Nominator(s)[a]
1 Jorge Amado (1912–2001)  Brazil novel, short story
  • Antônio Olinto (1919–2009)
  • Jean Subirats (?)
  • Brazilian Writers Association
2 Jean Anouilh (1910–1987)  France drama, screenplay, translation
  • Emil Ernst Ploss (1925–1972)
  • Paul Pédech (1912–2005)
3 Louis Aragon (1897–1982)  France novel, short story, poetry, essays
  • Jean Gaudon (1926–2019)
  • Pierre Angel (?)
  • Robert Ricatte (1913–1995)
  • Jacques Proust (1926–2005)
4 Alexandre Arnoux (1884–1973)  France screenplay François Bar (?)
5 Wystan Hugh Auden (1907–1973)  United Kingdom
 United States
poetry, essays, screenplay
6 Agustí Bartra (1908–1982)  Spain poetry, songwriting, translation
7 Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)  Ireland novel, drama, poetry
8 Henri Bosco (1888–1976)  France novel, short story
9 Mildred Breedlove (1904–1994)  United States poetry United Poets Laureate International
10 Luis Buñuel (1900–1983)  Spain screenplay
11 Heinrich Böll (1917–1985)  Germany novel, short story Gustav Korlén (1915–2014)
12 Paul Celan (1920–1970)  Romania
poetry, translation
13 André Chamson (1900–1983)  France novel, essays
14 René Char (1907–1988)  France poetry
15 Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970)  France memoir, essays
16 Joseph Delteil (1894–1978)  France poetry, novel, short story, essays
17 Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–1990)   Switzerland drama, novel, short story, essays Gustav Siebenmann (born 1923)
18 Gunnar Ekelöf (1907–1968)  Sweden poetry, essays
19 Mircea Eliade (1907–1986)  Romania
 United States
history, philosophy, essays, autobiography, novel, short story Stig Wikander (1908–1983)
20 Konstantin Fedin (1892–1977)  Russia novel, poetry, essays Union of Soviet Writers
21 Edward Morgan Forster (1879–1970)  United Kingdom novel, short story, drama, essays, biography, literary criticism Georg Roppen (1919–1983)
21 Max Frisch (1911–1991)   Switzerland novel, drama
22 Jean Giono (1895–1970)  France novel, short story, essays, poetry, drama
23 Witold Gombrowicz (1904–1969)  Poland short story, novel, drama
24 Robert Graves (1895–1985)  United Kingdom history, novel, poetry, literary criticism, essays
25 Graham Greene (1904–1991)  United Kingdom novel, short story, autobiography, essays Karl Ragnar Gierow (1904–1982)
26 Jorge Guillén (1893–1984)  Spain poetry, literary criticism
27 Zbigniew Herbert (1924–1998)  Poland poetry, essays, short story, drama Karl Ragnar Gierow (1904–1982)
28 Alberto Hidalgo Lobato (1897–1967)  Peru poetry, essays
29 Vladimír Holan (1905–1980)  Czechoslovakia poetry, essays Gunnar Jakobsson (1886–1972)
30 Hans Egon Holthusen (1913–1997)  Germany poetry, literary criticism, essays
31 Taha Hussein (1889–1973)  Egypt novel, short story, poetry, translation
32 Eugène Ionesco (1909–1994)  Romania
drama, essays
  • Paul Vernois (1920–1997)
  • Walter Mönch (1905–1994)
33 Marcel Jouhandeau (1888–1979)  France short story, novel
34 Pierre Jean Jouve (1887–1976)  France poetry, novel, literary criticism
35 Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972)  Japan novel, short story Eyvind Johnson (1900–1976)
36 Miroslav Krleža (1893–1981)  Croatia
poetry, drama, short story, novel, essays
37 Erich Kästner (1899–1974)  Germany poetry, screenplay, autobiography PEN Centre Germany
38 Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–2008)  Belgium
philosophy, essays
39 Robert Lowell (1917–1977)  United States poetry, translation
40 Hugh MacDiarmid (1892–1978)  United Kingdom poetry, essays David Daiches (1912–2005)
41 Compton Mackenzie (1883–1972)  United Kingdom novel, short story, drama, poetry, history, biography, essays, literary criticism, memoir
42 André Malraux (1901–1976)  France novel, essays, literary criticism
43 Gustave Lucien Martin-Saint-René (1888–1973)  France poetry, novel, essays, literary criticism, drama, songwriting, short story
44 Segismundo Masel (1895–1985)  Argentina essays Antonio de Tornes Ballesteros (?)
45 Ramón Menéndez Pidal (1869–1968)  Spain philology, history
46 Yukio Mishima (1925–1970)  Japan novel, short story, drama, literary criticism Henry Olsson (1896–1985)
47 Eugenio Montale (1896–1981)  Italy poetry, translation
48 Henry de Montherlant (1895–1972)  France essays, novel, drama
  • Barthélémy-Antonin Taladoire (1907–1976)
  • Adrien Fourrier (?)
  • The Greek PEN-Club
49 Marianne Moore (1887–1972)  United States poetry, literary criticism, essays, translation Erik Lindegren (1910–1968)
50 Alberto Moravia (1907–1990)  Italy novel, literary criticism, essays, drama
51 Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977)  Russia
 United States
novel, short story, poetry, drama, translation, literary criticism, memoir
52 Pablo Neruda (1904–1973)  Chile poetry
53 Junzaburō Nishiwaki (1894–1982)  Japan poetry, literary criticism
54 Germán Pardo García (1902–1991)  Colombia
  • James Willis Robb (1918–2010)
  • Kurt Leopold Levy (1917–2000)
55 Konstantin Paustovsky (1892–1968)  Russia novel, poetry, drama
56 Katherine Anne Porter (1890–1980)  United States short story, essays
57 Ezra Pound (1885–1972)  United States poetry, essays
58 Tadeusz Rózewicz (1921–2014)  Poland poetry, drama, translation
59 Anna Seghers (1900–1983)  Germany novel, short story
60 Jaroslav Seifert (1901–1986)  Czechoslovakia poetry
61 Claude Simon (1913–2005)  France novel, essays Lars Gyllensten (1921–2006)
62 Pierre-Henri Simon (1903–1972)  France essays, novel, literary criticism, poetry
63 Gustave Thibon (1903–2001)  France philosophy Édouard Delebecque (1910–1990)
64 Friedebert Tuglas (1886–1971)  Estonia short story, literary criticism The Finnish PEN Club
65 Pietro Ubaldi (1886–1972)  Italy philosophy, essays
66 Marie Under (1883–1980)  Estonia poetry The Finnish PEN Club
67 Mika Waltari (1908–1979)  Finland short story, novel, poetry, drama, essays, screenplay Esko Pennanen (1912–1990)
68 Peter Vansittart (1920–2008)  United Kingdom novel, essays, memoir Herbert Howarth (1900–1971)
69 Erico Verissimo (1905–1975)  Brazil novel, short story, autobiography, essays, translation
70 Tarjei Vesaas (1897–1970)  Norway poetry, novel
  • Otto Christian Oberholzer (1919–1986)
  • Karl-Hampus Dahlstedt (1917–1996)
  • Carl-Eric Thors (1920–1986)
  • Sigmund Skard (1903–1995)
  • Johannes Andreasson Dale (1898–1975)
  • Harald Noreng (1913–2006)
71 Simon Vestdijk (1898–1971)  Netherlands novel, poetry, essays, translation
72 Patrick White (1912–1990)  Australia novel, short story, drama, poetry, autobiography Muriel Clara Bradbrook (1909–1993)
72 Kazimierz Wierzyński (1894–1969)  Poland poetry, essays
73 Thornton Wilder (1897–1975)  United States drama, novel, short story
  • Hans Peter Wapnewski (1922–2012)
  • Frederick Albert Pottle (1897–1987)
74 Angus Wilson (1913–1991)  United Kingdom novel, short story, essays Nicholas Brooke (1924–1998)
75 Edmund Wilson (1895–1972)  United States essays, literary criticism, short story, drama Wiktor Weintraub (1908–1988)
76 Sławomir Mrożek (1930–2013)  Poland drama, essays Karl Ragnar Gierow (1904–1982)

Prize decision

The leading contenders for the prize in 1968 were the French novelist André Malraux and the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett (awarded in 1969). The third proposal by the Nobel Committee was the British poet W. H. Auden and Kawabata was the fourth. Anders Österling, chair of the committee, and committee member Eyvind Johnson pushed for the choice of Malraux, while the other three members of the committee supported a prize for Beckett. Eventually Kawabata was the candidate that could be agreed upon, following the Swedish Academy's ambition in the 1960s to award authors from different language areas and parts of the world.[8] While supporting a prize for Malraux, Österling admitted that a prize for Kawabata "should prove justified and welcome."[5]

Nobel lecture

Kawabata's Nobel Lecture was titled Japan, The Beautiful and Myself (美しい日本の私―その序説). Zen Buddhism was a key focal point of the speech; much was devoted to practitioners and the general practices of Zen Buddhism and how it differed from other types of Buddhism. He presented a severe picture of Zen Buddhism, where disciples can enter salvation only through their efforts, where they are isolated for several hours at a time, and how from this isolation there can come beauty. He noted that Zen practices focus on simplicity and it is this simplicity that proves to be the beauty. "The heart of the ink painting is in space, abbreviation, what is left undrawn." From painting he moved on to talk about ikebana and bonsai as art forms that emphasize the elegance and beauty that arises from the simplicity. "The Japanese garden, too, of course symbolizes the vastness of nature."[9]

In addition to the numerous mentions of Zen and nature, one topic that was briefly mentioned in Kawabata's lecture was that of suicide. Kawabata reminisced of other famous Japanese authors who committed suicide, in particular Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. He contradicted the custom of suicide as being a form of enlightenment, mentioning the priest Ikkyū, who also thought of suicide twice. He quoted Ikkyū, "Among those who give thoughts to things, is there one who does not think of suicide?" There was much speculation about this quote being a clue to Kawabata's suicide in 1972, a year and a half after Mishima had committed suicide.[10]


  1. ^ Some names of the nominators for the 1968 Nobel Prize in Literature was not present in the list released by the Swedish Academy.[7]


  1. ^ The Nobel Prize in Literature 1968 nobelprize.org
  2. ^ Yasunari Kawabata – Facts nobelprize.org
  3. ^ Yasunari Kawabata britannica.com
  4. ^ Nomination archive – Yasunari Kawabata nobelprize.org
  5. ^ a b c Alison Flood (10 January 2019). "Samuel Beckett rejected as unsuitable for the Nobel prize in 1968". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  6. ^ Nomination archive – 1968 nobelprize.org
  7. ^ "Nobelarkivet 1968" (PDF). svenskaakademien.se. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  8. ^ Kaj Schueler (8 January 2019). "Väcker frågan – syftet med Nobelstiftelsens rävspel?". Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish).
  9. ^ Kawabata, Yasunari (12 December 1968). "Japan, the Beautiful and Myself". Nobel Media. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  10. ^ Donald Keene (June 2005). Five Modern Japanese Novelists. Columbia University Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-231-12611-3.