The Old Capital

The Old Capital (translated English title of the Japanese Koto 古都, which refers to the city Kyoto 京都) is a novel by Yasunari Kawabata originally published in 1962. It was cited by the Nobel Committee in their decision to award Kawabata the 1968 Prize for Literature. A number of movie adaptations have been made of it, including Twin Sisters of Kyoto, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1964.[2]

The Old Capital
Front cover of The Old Capital, 1961 Novel by Yasunari Kawabata.jpg
AuthorYasunari Kawabata
Original title古都
TranslatorJ. Martin Holman[1]
PublisherShoemaker and Hoard Press
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (paperback)

It was first translated into English in 1987 by J. Martin Holman. Holman's newly revised edition of his translation was published in February 2006 by Shoemaker and Hoard Press.


Chieko Sada is the daughter of Takichiro and Shige, who operate a wholesale dry goods shop in the Nakagyo Ward of Kyoto. Now twenty, Chieko has known since she was in middle school that she was a foundling adopted by Takichiro and Shige. However, as told by Shige, they snatched Chieko when she was a baby "Under the cherry blossoms at night at Gion Shrine". The discrepancy on whether Chieko was a foundling or stolen is part of the plot and is revealed later in the story.

Soon after a chance encounter at Yasaka Shrine, Chieko learns of a twin sister Naeko, who had remained in her home village in Kitayama working in the mountain forests of cryptomeria north of the city. The identical looks of Chieko and Naeko confuse Hideo, a traditional weaver, who is one potential suitor of Chieko. The novel, one of the last that Kawabata completed before his death, examines themes common to much of his literature: aging and decline; old culture in the commercial new Japan; the muted expression of strong yet repressed emotion; the role of accident and misunderstanding in shaping lives.

The story is set in Kyoto, and incorporates various festivals celebrated there. One of these is the Gion festival which occurs in the book during July. As part of the Gion festival, there is a parade of floats constructed by various neighborhoods in Kyoto and one of Chieko's fond memories is of Shin'ichi, who is also interested in Chieko, participating as a festival boy. The Festival of the Ages is another important festival and this is where Hideo takes Chieko's twin, Naeko, to view the parade.[1]


Although Kawabata did not consider it his best work, it shares the same themes as his other novels. The Old Capital was one of only three novels cited by the Nobel Committee in awarding the 1968 Prize for Literature to Kawabata.[3] The other two were Snow Country and Thousand Cranes.


The novel was adapted in 1963 into a Japanese feature film known in English under the title Twin Sisters of Kyoto. Directed by Noboru Nakamura, it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. A second film adaptation was made in 1980 by director Kon Ichikawa. The movie was the last in which actress Momoe Yamaguchi appeared before she retired to marry her co-star, Tomokazu Miura.

Another film adaptation, titled Koto (or The Old Capital | 古都[4]) is directed by Yuki Saito and was released on December 3, 2016.[5] It stars Yasuko Matsuyuki, Ai Hashimoto, and Riko Narumi.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Solter, Mary Jo (August 2, 1987). "Kimonos and lonely violets". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "The 36th Academy Awards (1964) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-11-03.
  3. ^ "". Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  4. ^ a b "JICC | Special Screening: The Old Capital". 2018-02-28. Archived from the original on 2018-02-28. Retrieved 2018-02-28.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  5. ^

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