Kawabata was orphaned when he was four, after which he lived with his grandparents. His grandmother died in 1907, his sister in 1909, and his grandfather in 1914. Along with the deaths of all his family when he was young, Kawabata suggested that World War II was one of the greatest influences on his work.
In 1968 Kawabata became the first Japanese writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Kawabata apparently committed suicide in 1972, but this is disputed by his widow and many of his close friends who consider his death to have been accidental.