Kawabata Minoru was born in Tokyo. His grandfather Kawabata Gyokusho (1842-1913) was a well-known painter of the traditional Japanese school. Kawabata studied with Fujishima Takeji (1865-1943) who himself had been a pupil of Kawabata Gyokusho. He graduated from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts in 1934, spent several years traveling, and resumed his studies in France and Italy from 1937-39. His first one-man exhibition was held in Tokyo in 1940 at the Mitsukoshi Gallery and he won the Saburi Prize the same year. A professor at Tama University of Fine Arts in Tokyo from 1950-55, he was active in the creation of the Shin-Seisaku Kyokai [the New Creation Association], a professional artists' society that held annual exhibitions of its members' work. Kawabata represented Japan in the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil in 1951 and in 1952 his work was shown in the International Art Exhibit of Japan. In 1958 he won the Guggenheim International Award in New York, and the Kamakura Prize in Tokyo. He represented Japan in the 1962 Venice Biennial. From 1960 until the 1980s he had numerous solo exhibitions at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York.
Kawabata's work is in numerous museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, the National Museum in Tokyo, and the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York.