Spring Snow is the first of four novels in Yukio Mishima's tetralogy, the Sea of Fertility
Author: Yukio Mishima, pen name of Kimitake Hiraoka, Japanese
Yukio Mishima spent five years writing his tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility - a saga of 20th century Japan. On the day of its completion, January 25, 1970, he mailed the manuscript to his publisher, then headed to Tokyo headquarters of Japan's Eastern Army where he made a speech urging the troops to impose martial law in the emperor's name, then performed a ritual seppuku (ritual suicide). Mishima was 45 years old.
Author was nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature three times.
Mishima believed in the samurai way of life, traditional medieval Japanese ideals, and abhorred the materialistic post-war Japanese lifestyle.
A brilliant story! An existential dramatic love story that looks at the changes and conflicts in 20th century Japan. The first half of the book deals with political and existential philosophies, as the story builds. The second half is sheer and eloquent drama, which unfolds beautifully.
Setting and Plot
Tokyo, 1912 in the shadow of the Russo-Japanese war. The Meiji era was ending and Taisho democracy was beginning. Japan was yielding to western influence. The old aristocracy was giving way to the newly upward mobile middle class - the new rich- resulting in a quiet antagonism. Yet one seemed hard pressed to exist without the other. The newly wealthy wanted to possess the essence of the noble class, while the old aristocratic families were falling on hard times, requiring financial help from their wealthy countrymen.
The bringing together of these two social classes are portrayed by the tragic love affair between Kiyoaki and Satoko. Kiyoaki belongs to a wealthy family with a middle-class samurai background, and Satoko is from a noble family experiencing financial difficulties. Kiyoaki was brought up in Satoko's home to gain noble mannerisms. In return, the Matsugae's provide the Ayakura family with financial assistance, and help secure their financial position by arranging their daughter's marriage to a wealthy Prince, Prince Harunobu Toin.
Major and Minor Themes
Japan in conflict: old vs. new, the social vs the personal life. Materialism. Death, reincarnation and isolation. Beauty, love, sexuality, elegance versus brutality, aesthetics, and indifference.
Writing: Lyrical, highly visual - scenic- emotional, not historical, although historical aspects are accurate and the story is meant to reflect a specific period of time. The focus is on internal lives of Kiyoaki & Honda - essentially, their essence.
Kiyoaki Matsugae (Kiyo) - the Marquis' son of distant samurai descent. Protagonist.
Kiyoaki is 18 yrs when story begins. Physically beautiful, effeminate in mannerisms, he is a dreamer who wants to shape the world into his ideals. He has an introspective, melancholy nature, and is capricious and impulsive. He is incapable of hiding his true feelings, rendering him defenseless against societies ills. Kiyoaki lives for his emotions. His self image is that of a, " plant without roots" (p. 15). He has no self-purpose, other than not to soil his beautiful hands. "The only thing that seemed valid to him was to live for the emotions - gratuitous and unstable, dying only to quicken again, dwindling and flaring without direction or purpose." (p. 15) Very self absorbed.
Kiyoaki's parents have become wealthy and are among the new rich. They have gained their fortune by work. Despite their riches, they are not descendant's of the noble class. They have courser mannerisms, speak and act differently. This sets them apart from nobility, an ideal in their eyes. Kiyoaki's father, "embarrassed by the humble position of their forebears," (p. 5) arranges for him to live with the Ayakura's, a noble family, to learn and adopt noble "sensibilities" - elegance being key to their way of life. Hence, he is more effeminate than his father, whose traits reflect his samurai background. (Interesting to note: author's parents had aristocratic grandparents who raised him, like Kiyoaki.)
Kiyoaki develops a number of beliefs as a result of the Ayakura influences. He hates anything to do with war, which defies his father's samurai philosophy. His father cannot stand his son's effeminate dreamy nature and despises his behavior. Hence, the noble upbringing has backfired on his parents. Especially as it relates to his father's expectations. Kiyoaki's philosophy: "I'll never shed real blood. I'll never wound anything but hearts." this is the antithesis of the samurai's lifestyle.
Satoko Ayakura, the daughter of the Ayakura household where Kiyoaki lived in his formative years, grows up playing with Kiyoaki. They develop a close-knit friendship which changes after he moves back home. A sense of total indifference develops between the two, marked by a latent sexual tension. This changes when Satoko becomes engaged to Prince Toin. The pair suddenly realize their affection for one another, and wind up having an illicit love affair.
MarquessTsujiko Matsugae- Kiyoaki's mother. Very insensitive.
Marquis Matsugae- Kiyoaki's father. The Matsugae's are an old samurai family. In home, day to day life is lived in Japanese tradition, but the spirit of their lives is Western. They love western food & wine, and are ostentatious in manner and lifestyle.
Since gaining wealth, the Marquis has always had the feeling of being an "impostor" (p.10). But, when Emperor Meiji chooses the Marquis' home to celebrate the New Year, the festivities include a successful exhibition of sumo wrestling: "This triumph dispelled completely his lingering fears of still seeming an impostor, for all his attempts to establish himself as someone fit to receive the Emperor in his own home...The Marquis had seen the ultimate fusion of the aristocratic and the samurai traditions, a perfect congruence between the old court nobles and the new nobility." (p. 10) He felt this fusion was represented by his son's participation in the festivities, and would be furthered by his future actions. Thus begins the rift that divides father and son.
Father has a mistress who lives on the Matsugae property. It bothers Kiyoaki and his mother. The Marquis would take Kiy by the hand and have him walk the path there with him p.40 "Kiyoaki had been quick to detect his father's covert desire to make him an accomplice in this mother's betrayal". Using children against a spouse seems to be a reoccurring theme in history.
Concerned about his son's masculinity, he tried to get Kiy to go to a brothel.
Paternal Grandmother (former Marquise Matsugae) - Kiyoaki's grandmother lives in a separate house on the Matsugae property/park. Her husband and two of her sons were killed in the Russo-Japanese war. She leaves their pension check in the shrine in her home, unopened. Her husband was revered as a "fierce and powerful god in Kagoshima" (p. 10).
Shigekuni Honda- 18 yrs when story begins. Kiyoaki's best friend, and only friend, by choice. They are different both physically and mentally, and have little in common otherwise. Honda has a pompous air. Kiyoaki likes Honda for his quiet self-controlled and dispassionate nature. He is not coarse or crude, or rough like his peers. Honda lives with purpose and prefers a constructive life. He is more mature than Kiyoaki. Honda is the ground to Kiyoaki's air. p. 33 "Those who considered Kiyoaki and Honda to be friends were not mistaken, for as it stood, their relationship gave to each of them exactly what he desired."
Honda's father is a Supreme Court Justice who trains Honda with German Logic. Honda studies law (like Mishima) at School of Jurisprudence.
Honda's thoughts and theories may reflect many of the same ideas as Mishima espoused.
When Kiyoaki and Satoko begin their illicit affair, Honda serves as a go-between.
Satoko Ayakura - Daughter of Count & Countess Ayakura. Ayakura's are a noble family. Kiyoaki and her grow up together in same household as if siblings. Later, Kiyoaki and Satoko have an illicit love affair, which is prompted by her arranged engagement to Prince Toin. At the time of her engagement, Kiy and Satoko's feelings for one another were not acknowledged. Satoko, unlike Kiyoaki, is impenetrable -her inner life- to both Kiyoaki and the reader throughout the story.
The love affair between Kiy and Satoko began too late and comes to a tragic ending. Had Kiyoaki and Satoko expressed their feelings before her engagement to Prince Toin, their marriage may have been possible. Kiyoaki's father even gives Kiy the chance, beforehand, to acknowledge his feelings for Satoko, thereby preventing the engagement arrangements he is about to make on behalf of the Ayakura family. Satoko pregnant, and without feelings for the Prince, feels there are no other options but to renounce the world and become a nun. Satoko moves to the cold, snowy convent on the hill, and studies to become a nun. Kiyoaki, hopeless, tries to get her back before she is initiated, by requesting to see her at the convent. His please are made to the Abbess in vain. His many treks up and down the snowy hill cause him to contract pneumonia. He dies, while clutching Honda's hand, and professing that they will meet again someday, "beneath the falls" (p. 389). Thus, making reference to, the beginning scene (pp. 25-27, see also these pages below) when Kiy, Honda & Satoko see and bury a dead dog found in the Matsugae park while the Abbess is visiting (foreshadowing Kiy's death and Satoko's life as a nun).
Count & Countess Ayakura - Family of nobility experiencing financial difficulties. Father of Satoko. Lector at Imperial Poetry Recitation. Lives very different life from Matsugae's. Raises Kiyoaki for noble influence.
The Abbess of Gesshu - Satoko's great aunt
Tadeshina - Satoko's maid servant/attendant
Prince Harunori Toin - 3rd son of Prince Toin. Prince's parents met Satoko at Matsugae's Cherry Blossom Festival. A picture of Satoko was shown to the Toinnomiyas. Prince Harunori wants to marry Satoko. The Matsugae's, being indebted to the Harunori's for raising Kiyoaki and friends of the Toinnomiyas, help arrange the marriage.
Prince and Princess Toin (Toinnomiyas) - Prince Harunori's parent's. Very Wealthy. Have adopted the English living style in dress, mannerisms (dry), customs. Their house is decorated in English style as well. They believe that people living the lifestyle of the English are enlightened.
Iinuma- When 17 years old, he became Kiyoaki's personal tutor (during Kiyoaki's middle school years). He came from the village of Kagoshima. Therefore, he is very aware of Kiyoaki's samurai grandfather and wants to live within his powerful influence. Yet, his experiences are not what he anticipates. He is disappointed and frustrated by Kiyoaki's elegance and dreaminess. The Matsugae lifestyle mimics the English in numerous way. It is the antithesis of the samurai life.
Mine- Matsugae maid servant Iinuma likes.
Two Siamese Princes' who come to live with Matsugae family. The Siamese King, "had been concerned about their becoming too Westernized that he decided upon Japan for their university studies." They study at Peers School, the same school Mishima attended. (p. 44) (Irony-Japan is dealing with the same issue):
- Prince Pattanadid aka Chao Praong or Chao P. is engaged to Princess Chantraja, Kri's younger sister, who gives him an emerald ring as a farewell gift before he left for Japan. Devout Buddhist. He wears western style clothes, and speaks English fluently. The self-centered lives of Kiyoaki and Honda surprise him. Kiy relates to Chao P. because of his similar dreamy nature like his own.
- Prince Kridsada (Kri) - Grandson of King Rahma IV. His younger sister, Princess Chantraja (aka Ying Chan) is engaged to Chao P. Devout Buddhist. Wears western style clothes, and speaks English fluently.
- Both of the young men are physically fit and exercise daily to Kiy and Honda's surprise. They are very disciplined and never miss a day. This excessive regard for the body reflects the authors.
- As devout Buddhists, both young men pray daily, another element missing in Kiy's and Honda's life.
- Both young men attend Peers School with Honda and Kiyoaki, the same school Mishima attended.
- Emperor Meiji
- Princess Kasuga: Kiyoaki holding train of her dress, experiences his first sexual awakening (See above under pp. 8-9).
- Itsui - Honda's friend who owns a car
- Mr. Mori - driver
- Fusako - Honda's 2nd cousin
- The Monster - Marquis' deformed son. p. 350-1. A boy at Peers school with an unknown disease that some thought was leprosy. Physically effected, he was very ugly. After Satoko is in the convent, Kiyoaki, at school, befriends him. "Kiyoaki felt that he was looking at a caricature of his own misery..."
- Yamada - the Marquis' steward. (p.41): "Kiyoaki wondered at this man, loyal beyond a doubt, allowing almost nothing to pass his lips. How many passions lay spent within his body like a tangle of rusted springs?" Mishima is a master at portraying his characters. They become real, visually and tangibly.
p. 5 Matsugae Compound - 100 acre park of buildings and a park. Main house built with traditional Japanese architecture. They also have a large Western-style house designed by an Englishman in their park. The park is filled with Japanese symbolism. A few of these symbols are listed below:
p.5 iron cranes (3)-symbolizing longevity and good fortune.
p. 5 maple trees - The backdrop to the pond on the Matsugae property is a hill covered with maple trees, the Japanese symbol for beauty, elegance and grace (broadly).
p. 6 The pond on the Matsugae property is filled with carp and snapping turtles, is surrounded by maple trees, and filled with cherry trees, wisteria, and other important Japanese symbols from nature.
- Carp (koi)- signifies perseverance, evocative of faithfulness in marriage and general good fortune. Carp depicted in an upward arched form suggests the virtues of a determined warrior and is often associated with qualities desirable in young males. (Reference: http://www.cherryblossom.co.nz/Articles+of+Interest/Symbology.html.) It is used as a masculine symbol signifying strength and bravery.
- Snapping turtles - A question I cannot find an answer to: If turtles are symbolic of longevity in Japanese symbolism, are snapping turtles symbolic for cutting life short, or are all turtles included under longevity? Note: Kiyoaki, influenced by scary stories servants told him as a child, always feared these turtles that monopolized his family's pond.
wisteria- A climbing and clinging plant, it is associated with love and affection.
p. 4 Photograph of soldiers in Russo-Japanese War, including Marquise father and two brothers who were killed in that war. Foreboding of death. There is wooden cenotaph in the center of the photo, with an altar of flowers, both symbols of death. Mishima's story opens and closes with death. First with Kiyoaki observing the essence of death through the photograph, and then with his death at close of story.
p. 6 There is a shrine for Kiyoaki's grandfather and two uncles killed in the Russo-Japanese War within the Matsugae park. The grandfather is highly revered and, along with his dead sons, they are celebrated yearly and prayed for daily.
p. 9: Kiyoaki's sexual awakening experienced as he held the train of Empress/Princess Kasuga during a New Years Festival hosted by the Matsugae's for the Emperor Meiji, when he had, "honored the Matsugae residence with his presence". A sumo wrestling exhibition was staged for entertainment.
- "Beautiful, elegant, imposing, she was like a flower at its moment of perfection."
- "She held herself erect, and walked straight ahead with a firm step, betraying no tremor to her trainbearers, but in Kiyoaki's eyes that great fan of white fur seemed to glow and fade to the sound of music, like a snow-covered peak first hidden, then exposed by a fluid pattern of clouds. At that moment, for the first time in his life, he was struck by the full force of womanly beauty-a dazzling burst of elegance that made his senses reel."
- "She had allowed Kiyoaki a glimpse of a corner of her mouth. At that moment, a single wisp of hair slipped over her clear white cheek, and out of the fine-drawn corner of an a eye a smile flashed in a spark of black fire."
p. 8 The sumo wrestling exhibition signifies the bringing together of the two forces: aristocracy and new wealth. (See related quote under Characters for Marquis Matsugae.)
p. 16 Kiyoaki keeps a dream journal. The following dream symbolizing death: " The very night before, he had dreamed of his own coffin...it stood in the center of an empty room with large windows and predawn darkness was shading to a deep blue; it was filled with the sound of birdsong. A young woman clung to the coffin, her long black hair trailing from her dropping head, her slender shoulders wracked with sobs." Foreshadowing Kiyoaki's death and Satoko's, grief. p. 17 "Kiyoaki seemed to be watching this from a great height, he was convinced that his body lay inside the coffin. But sure as he was, he still felt the need to see it there by way of confirmation. However, like a mosquito in the morning light, his wings lost all power and ceased beating in mid-air; he was utterly incapable of looking inside the nailed-down coffin lid." Amazing writing...I italicized my absolute favorite line here. The empty room signifying Kiyoaki's sense of loneliness without Satoko, and/or his sense of isolation from the world.
p. 26-7 After burying the dog found under a rock of the falls and the Abbess having said a prayer for it (see above under Characters/Satoko A.), Quote: "Goodness, the dog is blessed to have your Reverence offering a requiem for it. Surely, it will be reborn as a human being." Italicized sentence makes reference to reincarnation, a reoccurring theme.
p. 34 Kiyoaki, looking back on his fifteenth birthday ceremony, his Otachimachi, a divination ritual, remembers the basin filled with water that was to catch the reflection of the moon, foretelling a future of fortune: "That rim of blond cyprus wood had become a frontier where this world ended and another began. Since this ceremony during his fifteenth year was to determine his lifetime fortune, Kiyoaki felt as though his very soul, naked, had been set there on the wet grass. The wooden sides of the basin expressed his outer self; the disk of water, which they in turn defined, expressed his inner."
p. 35 In continuation of the above ceremony, the water in the basin does reflect the full moon, promising Kiyoaki a fortunate life, which caused great relief among all present. "But still he felt a certain dread. ...he kept looking down into the basin and into the water contained by its curved sides, the reflection of his innermost self, into which the moon, like a golden shell, had sunk so deep. For at that moment he had captured the celestial. It sparkled like a golden butterfly trapped in the meshes of his soul...Once caught, would the butterfly not slip out soon and fly away? Even at fifteen he feared its loss....The oppression of such fear!" Beautiful metaphors! I italicized my favorite parts of the quotes.
p. 46 Prince Pattanadid speaking to Honda, Kiyoaki, and Kri: "For everything sacred has the substance of dreams and memories, and so we experience the miracle of what is separated from us by time or distance suddenly being made tangible. Dreams, memories, the sacred - they are all alike in that they are beyond our grasp. Once we are even marginally separated from what we can touch, the object is sanctified; it acquires the beauty of the unattainable, the quality of the miraculous. Everything, really, has this quality of sacredness, but we can desecrate it at a touch. How strange man is! His touch defiles and yet he contains the source of miracles." Expresses the idea that, what is attainable has an allure, or power over man. Once attained, it loses its value and significance.
p. 49-50 Kiy's horrid letter to Satoko, that eventually must prevent her from reading when he realizes he has feelings for her:
"Geisha, or princess, virgin or prostitute, factory girl or artist - ther is no distinction whatsoever. Every woman without exception is a liar and 'nothing but a plump, lascivious little animal.' All the rest is makeup and costumes. And I must say that I see you as being just like all the others. .. Please believe that gentle Kiyo, whom you considered so sweet, so innocent, so malleable, is gone forever."
He also notes that the Meiji era is old-fashioned with its puritanical views, and that he is in favor of more enlightened ones of lust and lasciviousness. This reflects authors support for the old ways.
Western Power of Reason vs. Asian Cosmic Lawp. 58-9 Honda's study of law and his thoughts (note: it is believed that the author depicted much of himself through Honda: "...Western Law was inevitable based on man's power of reason. The Laws of Manu (the foundation of Indian law, Hindus- philosophy in which all things are one, in contrast to the natural law & Christian world view which makes distinction between things) were rooted in a cosmic law that was impervious to reason - the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. This is set out in the Laws:
p. 56 Western/"traditional European faith in the power of reason", has not held, "off the assaults of darkness and barbarism."
p. 209 Modern law: conscience and reason rule man. This negates passion. (see p. 209 note)
p. 209 Modern law: conscience and reason rule man. This negates passion. (see p. 209 note)
"Deeds proceed from the body, speech, and the mind, and result in either good or evil."
"In this world, the soul in conjunction with the body performs three kinds of act: good, indifferent, and evil."
"That which proceeds from a man's soul shall shape his soul; that which proceeds from his speech shall shape his speech, and deeds that proceed from his body shall shape his body."
Reincarnation "He who sins in body shall be a tree or grass in the next life, he who sins in speech shall be a bird or a beast, and he who sins in soul shall be reborn at the lowest level of caste."
"The man who retains a proper guard over his speech, his mind, and his body with regard to all living things - the man who bridles his lust and his anger - shall achieve fulfillment. Total liberation shall be his."
"Every man should employ his inherent wisdom to discern how the fate of his soul depends on his adherence or non-adherence to the law and that he should exert himself wholeheartedly in the faithful observance of the law."
Transmigration of the souls, this doctrine short-circuits the normal ration inquiry." And rather than making an appeal to human reason, the Laws seemed to play of the threat of retribution. As a doctrine of law, it placed somewhat less trust in human nature than did the Roman law with its reliance on the powers of reason."
Honda...was persistently troubled by doubts and misgivings about the operative system that was his subject. He fell somewhere in between, incorporated a little of each law. "From this vantage point, he could enjoy two worlds - the clear blue of midday or the star-filled night."
I am not sure why I copied all of the above, but that it seemed important for Mishima to add this and other related sections. That is, the concept of reincarnation. So, it clearly had its purpose to him. I feel compelled then to add one or two thoughts of Mishima's as referenced from: http://madmonarchist.blogspot.com/2013/01/monarchist-profile-yukio-mishima.html. I found similar writings, to corroborate these, on other sites:
Mishima: "They cannot understand as yet that we are not fighting a political party but a sect of murderers of all contemporary spiritual culture."
Mishima: "was a staunch monarchist though in a way very unique to his own culture and background and he held to a style of monarchism that was bound up in his artistic view of beauty and the timeless, sacred aspects of existence that mankind cannot fully grasp, and would only destroy if he tried. He was a complex individual but his priorities can be clearly seen in the manner in which he exited this life, calling for a full restoration of the Emperor in the traditional style."
Mishima: "He deplored how outside influences in the culture were overriding traditional values, ideals and even works of art but he was never a simple reactionary but rather favored a fusion of the old and the new in a way that could be seen as very in keeping with what Japan had been through in the past. Mishima wanted a return of, if not the warrior spirit as it had been before the war, at least a proper respect and appreciation for it as he felt like the denial of this by the post-war pacifists was not only harmful but not even genuine. He greatly admired the old samurai image of the warrior that was, at once, brutal and elegant."
The above is, obviously not all inclusive as to Mishima's thoughts, but it does show how they relate to his writing in Spring Snow.
p. 62 Kiyoaki with Fusako in intimate moment: "While her cheek was on his lap, he had been able to look down into her wide, dark eyes. They were small and vulnerable, as glistening as raindrops, like dancing butterflies momentarily at rest. The flutter of her long lashes was the flutter of their wings, which were as beautifully speckled as the pupils of her eyes."
A fleeting moment of nonsexual physical contact. A beautifully lyric description of Fusako's eyes. They become visually tangible, but from a distance.
p. 82 Kiy's dream which he records in his dream diary: "I dreamed about Siam recently. I was sitting on a splendid chair in the middle of a room. I seemed to be held there, unable to move. Throughout the dream, I felt as if I had a headache. And this was because I was wearing a tall, pointed gold crown set with all sorts of precious stones. Above my head, a huge flock of peacocks were perched on a maze of beams just under the roof. And from time to time white droppings fell on my crown...
Then I looked down at my hand and saw that I was wearing an emerald ring. This was Chao P.'s, but somehow it had been placed on my finger...
I stared at the ring glinting in the sun pouring in from outside, my eyes held by a pure, flawless white light that sparkled like frost crystals in the center of the emerald. And as I did so, I became aware of the face of a woman, young and beautiful, which had gradually formed with in it...Now the face in the emerald moved slightly and its expression changed. Where it had been serious, it was now smiling. At that moment, the back of my hand began to itch as one of the swarm of flies hovering above me settled on it. Annoyed, I shook my had to get rid of it and then looked at the ring again. But the woman's face had vanished. An then, as I began to feel an indescribable sense of bitterness and loss, I woke up..."
I italicized some of the key points here. The theme of loneliness, or sense of isolation from the world, again expressed in a large empty room as in p. 16 dream. The headache which signifies the pressure he is under as it relates to his beautiful precious stones - Satoko. He, or they or crapped on, which seems to relate to their families and society, how they will view this affair, or that such an affair is dirty as feces.
The woman in his dreams, a reoccurring theme as seen also in p. 16 dream. The woman being Satoko. She smiles - their happiness and love for one another . Then, the gnawing itch by the dirty flies, and finally the woman's disappearance from stone. Foreshadowing what is to come of this pair.
p. 88 Kiyoaki and Satoko's sleigh ride in the snow and first? kiss? p. 89 The moment when a kiss ends-it was like awakening reluctantly from sleep, struggling drowsily against the glare of the morning sun as it struck their eyelids, as they yearned to hold on to the fragment of unconsciousness left to them. That is the moment when sleep is sweetest.
When their lips parted, an ominous silence seemed to fall, as though the birds had suddenly stopped their attractive song."
Snow: Re-occurring symbol. Signifies their isolation. They cannot express their love openly. Later, when she is in the convent and Kiyoaki tries to reach her, there is much snow again which contributes to his death.
p. 95-6 Honda to Kiy regarding personality and the times and style in which we live in: "What happens in a hundred years? Without us having any say in the matter, all our ideas will be lumped together under the heading, 'The Thought of the Age.' Take the history of art, it proves my point irrefutably, whether you like it or not. Each period has its own style, and no artist living in a particular era can completely transcend that era's style, whatever his individual outlook. To live in the midst of an era is to be oblivious to its style....we're like goldfish swimming around in a bowl without ever noticing it...As time goes by, you and I will be carried inexorably into the mainstream of our period even though we're unaware of what it is..We'll all be lumped together."
Something I have thought about a great deal. History is never complete or entirely accurate, or fully reflective of an era. It is simply the mainstream of ideas people summarized that they felt identified an entire era. History is often rewritten. For example, over the 20th-21st century, history has come to include women, minorities, et al. We also gloss over many violent or dangerously prudent times, romanticizing them, as in the civil war.
Mishima uses Honda to express some of his personal, political, theoretical and philosophical thoughts.
On p. 97 Kiyoaki being so much different than Honda responds to the above, "Well that's history." It shows his immaturity and ignorance to such thoughts, but does try to relate: "In other words, no matter what we think, or hope for, or feel - all that has not the slightest bearing on the course of history: Is that what you mean?" Honda: "That's it exactly." and continues on with these thoughts.
p. 100 Honda to Kiy relating some of his thoughts: "'Chance is dead. There's no such thing as chance. Hear me, Will: you have lost your advocate forever'. And with that, the Will fees his substance begin to crumble and dissolve. His flesh rots and falls away. In an instant his skeleton is laid bare, a thin liquid spurts from it, and the bones themselves lose their solidity and begin to disintegrate The Will still stands with his feet planted firmly on the ground, but the final effort is futile . For at that very moment, the bright , glaring sky is rent apart with a terrible roar, and the God of Inevitability stares down though out the chasm."
Speaks of European God's. Same idea as Nietzsche's, "God is dead".?? Philosophy of the Will. Choice vs. Chance.
p. 101 Honda continues with his above philosophy: "For if Chance ceases to exist, then Will becomes meaningless - no more significant than a speck of rust on the huge chain of cause and effect that we only glimpse from time to time. Then there's only one way to participate in history, and that's to have no will at all - to function solely as a shining, beautiful atom, eternal and unchanging. No one should look for any other meaning in human existence."
Is this meant to be a defeatist philosophy?
p. 102 For if Chance ceases to exist, then Will becomes meaningless - no more significant than a speck of rust on the huge chain of cause and effect that we only glimpse from time to time. Then there is only one way to participate in history, and that's to have no will at all - to function solely as a shining, beautiful atom, eternal and unchanging. No one should look for any other meaning in human existence.
p. 109 Satoko's love note to Kiyo: "Here in Japan, we think of the spirit of snow as a woman - the snow fairy...I think of you as overwhelming me. To feel myself dissolve into your beauty and freeze to death in the snow - no fate could be sweeter."
p. 155 Prince Toin. He is all yours Satoko! "...sword clattering, boots squeaking, the martial figure of His Imperial Highness Prince Harunori appeared on the porch." His mother's complimentary precursor to his entrance: "...he has the look about him of a rough sort of fellow. But please don't be upset by it. He's truly quite gently beneath it all." (p.156) "As for hobbies, His Imperial Highness Prince Harunori was devoted to his record collection of Western music." Satoko: "She closed her eyes and waited for the music to begin. She felt the first stirrings of ominous premonition, and the faint sound of the phonograph needle falling into place echoed like thunder in her ears." Shortly after meeting him, the formal marriage proposal is brought to the Akakura's (p. 156-157)
It kind of makes your heart cringe - the thought of His Imperial Highness Prince Harunori!
p. 163-4 Black beetle on Kiy's windowsill. He thought, "...how absurd that this tiny dot of richly concentrated brilliance should endure in a secure world of its own." He watched fascinated by the "glittering body" that edged closer to him "as if its pointless progress were a lesson that when traversing a world of unceasing flux, the only thing of importance was to radiate beauty. Suppose he were to assess his protective armor of sentiment in such terms."
p. 183-4 Kiyoaki, requests another visit with Satoko through Tadeshina. He threatens to show her love letter to Prince Toin in if she will not arrange this meeting. He has really ripped the letter up.
p. 191 Kiyoaki and Satoko committed their "unpardonable sin", and made love in the boarding house in Kasumicho. Tadeshina hopes this will bring their relationship to an end, that they got it out of their system and now would do the honorable thing - get married to Toin and never look back. But, their mutual decision.
p. 202 As Honda struggles with his conscious over what to do about Kiyoaki's affair with Satoko and the dangerous position Kiy is putting himself in he thinks:
"There's no doubt that he's heading straight for tragedy. It will be beautiful, of course, but should he throw his whole life away as a sacrificial offering to such a fleeting beauty - like a bird in flight glimpsed from a window?"
It is almost comedic when he says this - it will be beautiful of course. Can it truly be beautiful in real life, or just on paper?
Mishima uses bird imagery in his descriptions throughout the book.
p. 202 Throughout the novel, Mishima adds moral statements without coming off as moralizing that reflect the Laws of Manu: "That which proceeds from a man's soul shall shape his soul..." :
*In this scene, Honda is at a court house waiting for a murder trial to begin:
*"He watched as those who had been drawn by nothing more than base curiosity hid their interest behind masks of sober propriety...It was an instructive sight, and one that, more than anything seen previously, opened his eyes to the moral ugliness of the belief that 'Oh, I'm in no danger of ever committing a sin.' Whatever the future might hold, he was determined never to fall prey to that kind of attitude."
p. 204 As the above trial continues:
*"The spectators stared at this small woman in fascination, as if she might perhaps have the translucent body of a silkworm that had somehow excreted a thread of inconceivable complexity and evil...This body had spun threads without number until they were finally wrapping her in a sinister cocoon."
p. 209 "Once passion was set in motion according to its own laws, then it was irresistible. This was a theory that would never be accepted by modern law, which took it as self-evident that conscience and reason ruled man." Love can cause impassioned responses, which takes on a law of its own, as with this woman who murdered her lover, and with Kiy and Satoko. They are not using logic, their passion influences and directs their behavior.
p.235 As Kiyoaki thinks up plans to rendezvous with Satoko, he again, has a fascinating dream. Starts in middle of road as others start in a large room. Both = isolation.
"Kiyoaki, began to dream...If one flounders in the shallows of sleep, wading where the water is tepid and full of all sorts of flotsam that has come in from deeper water to pile up with the land debris in a tangled heap, one is liable to slash one's feet."
"A strange, somber light permeated the entire scene... and was so diffuse that it could more easily have sprung from the ground rather than the sky...and the veins of his bare feet stood out with brilliant uncanny clarity.
At that moment, the light filmed over and a huge flight of birds appeared in the sky...with their squawking cries, he aimed his rifle upward and pulled the trigger. He did not fire in cold blood. It was rather that he was seized by an unfathomable anger and grief, and he fired, aiming not so much at the birds as at the great blue eye of the sky itself.
The whole flock plummeted earthward in a single mass, a tornado of screams and blood that linked heaven and earth. Countless shrieking birds, their blood spurting out, tumbled down in an unending stream, gathered into one thick column that formed the cone of the whirlwind. The cascade of book and fury never slackened...Down the road appeared a new silver bicycle without a rider and made its way unsteadily toward him." (Then men in white come down the street carrying a sakaki branch)..."and point their branch toward him and began to wave them in the rite of purification"...he recognizes Iinuma, who says, "You are heedless and intractable. You have proved it beyond all question."
Note: Instead of singing birds, it was more like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's movie, The Birds.
p.244 Kiyoaki and Satoko on beach:
"Everything that framed the two of them- all these boded destruction. Just beyond the merest flicker of time there boomed a monstrous roar of negation. Its message was carried in the sound of the pines. She felt that she and Kiyoaki were hemmed in, observed, guarded by an unforgiving spirit, just as a single drop of balm that has fallen into a bowl of water has nothing to sustain it but the water itself. This water was black, vast, silent, and the single drop of balm floated in a world of total isolation."
The "balm" was their own isolated sense of calm they brought to one another as a couple. It was not something they were able to experience outside their little bubble. The unforgiving spirit being their guilty conscience, or at least the knowledge that their actions were immoral. They had no support outside of themselves, "nothing to sustain it but the water itself". No marriage or love to celebrate before their friends and family.
p. 245 Honda to Satoko: And when their affair does end, "won't it be too late to make a decision about the consequences? Or, alternatively, will your acceptance of the consequences somehow bring about the end, of itself."
An augur of what is to come, Satoko's pregnancy.
p. 262 Tadeshina: "A firm advocate, of the philosophy that what is unknown does not exist...She was able to help along this love affair and be the lovers' ally, just as if she were conducting an experiment in chemistry...she believed that she had been born into this world to fulfill the role of savior of every critical situation."
But, there is more to this than meets the eye. See p. 305.
p. 291 Kiyoaki's parents received a note from Tadeshina indicating that Satoko was pregnant and the Count & Countess Ayakura unable to make a decision as to how to proceed. The Marquis begins to beat his son when his mother shows up with his wife to intervene. There, the grandmother plots out, with some help from the Marquis, Satoko's abortion, which will be covered up by a visit to the Abbess Gesshu's Temple, in Nara - a trip before she is married to Prince Toin. Kiyoaki stood in shock as these plans were made.
"Kiyoaki felt that he had become part of the background and that his life and love for Satoko were being treated as things already terminated. Before his very eyes, his father, mother, and grandmother seemed to be carefully planning the funeral, quite unconcerned that the corpse could hear every word. Even before his funeral, something seemed already to have been buried. And so on the one hand he was like an attenuated corpse and, on the other, severely scolded child who had no one to turn to."
A great analogy! The consequences of Kiy and Satoko's actions have unfolded and referenced on p. 245.
p. 302-3 A great story or parable from a pornographic scroll, as viewed by Count Ayakura 14 years before. Especially when the raped whore comes back as a vengeful ghost. This ultimately led to:
p. 303-4 Count Ayakura's fornication with their servant, Tadeshina. He had feelings of self-loathing that Tadeshina did not. Her, "evident pride she took in her exhaustive knowledge of sexual technique..."
p. 305 Now, a surprise, the great unexpected is revealed regarding Satoko. The Marquis Matsugae visited the Ayakura's eight years ago, and having imbibed in perhaps too much sake, he said to Satoko in front of her father, seemingly boasting: "What a beautiful little princess you have become! When you grow up...I'll get you a bridegroom without equal anywhere in the world. Your father won't have a thing to worry about. I'll line up a trousseau on golden satin for you when you become a bride..."The Count had remained silent and smiled. He told Tadeshina all of this. "If elegance was to have its revenge, he was thinking, how was it to be accomplished?...like the revenge in which incense was inserted into the flowing sleeve of a court robe and allowed to burn slowly to a fine ash while showing hardly a trace of flame? A revenge such as this, that would leave a subtle, fragrant poison permeating the material, so that its potency would remain undiminished down the years?"
The Count asks Tadeshina the unthinkable. After the Marquis has arranged a marriage for Satoko, "he wants her to guide his daughter into bed with some man she likes, a man who knows how to keep his mouth shut...I have no intention of handing Satoko over as a chaste virgin to any bridegroom for whom I have Matsugae's benevolence to thank...And there's one more aspect to it: since you are the equivalent of a master of arts in all sexual matters...instruct Satoko thoroughly in two rather different accomplishments. The first is to make a man think he's taking a girl as a virgin when he's not. And the second, on the contrary, is to make him think that she's already lost her virginity when in fact she has not."
"You need to say no more, master," Tadeshina replied."
p. 307 What he had not planned for, was Satoko becoming engaged to a prince of the Imperial Family.
"The circumstances were very different from those he had envisaged eight years before when he had given Tadeshina his instructions in a burning rage."
p. 308 The Matsugae's plans for Satoko are revealed to the Ayakura's. They easily acquiesce with one request from Satoko: that she be allowed to have one more visit with Kiyoaki before she leaves for Osaka for her abortion by Dr. Nori. Family could be on hand. Granted.
p. 313-5 Kiyoaki and Satoko's final farewell takes place on the train that will take Satoko to Osaka.
"Then, as though nothing could be more casual, he said to Satoko, 'Well, take care of yourself now.'..he met her gaze in its full intensity.
Her large, beautiful eyes were certainly wet with tears, but tears quite different from those he had been dreading up to now. They were something living that was being cut to pieces. Her eyes held the terrible glance of a drowning man, and he could not bear this gaze. Her lovely long eyelashses spread wide like a plant bursting into flower."
"You too, Kiyo. Good-bye, she said in one breath, her tone quite proper."
Oh my word, Gone With the Wind make room for this beautiful drama! No worry, there is plenty of room for great novels, such as Mishima has written here.
p. 328 The inept Count Ayakura who was incapable of initiating any productive actions now, or anytime.: "He believed that only a vulgar mentality was willing to acknowledge the possibility of catastrophe. He felt that taking naps was much more beneficial than confronting catastrophes."
Taken out of context, some of the statements in this novel are comical, such as this one - taking naps being more beneficial than confronting catastrophes. Or when:
p. 331 the two families conspire to save the already lost situation with Satoko. Satoko had her hair cut off - the tonsure - and had determined that she would devout her life to being a nun. Still not grasping her resolve, the two sets of parents continue with their planning, determined to remedy this situation.
" But what about her hair?" was the Marquis's immediate retort.
"Well, as to that, if we are quick and arrange to have a wig made, it would mislead the public eye for a while..."
"A wig! the Marquis exclaimed, breaking in...I never thought of that."
And from then on, as the others were infected with the Marquis's enthusiasm, the wig was all they could talk about...
"Even if the young prince gets a bit suspicious about Satoko's hair, said the Marquis, lowering his voice to a forced whisper while he laughed, "he's certainly not going to touch it to see for himself."
"Each of the foursome in the parlor contributed whole-heartedly to the discussion of the nonexistent hairpiece." (p.333)
It is the voice of hysterics, by the parents, and the readers perspective. The sheer absurdity of the situation is both unnerving and a bit comical.
p. 335 Satoko had, "plunged herself, of her own volition, into the disciplined routing of convent life. The distinctive character of Hoss Buddhism was in placing greater emphasis on the cultivation of the mind than the practice of religious austerities. Gesshu Temple, furthermore, was traditionally dedicated to praying for the welfare of the whole nation."
p. 336-7 The premature tonsure ceremony. Satoko's hair fell to the ground, "As irrevocable as the amputation of a limb, the ties that bound her to the world of transience were being severed."
p. 338 Again, the wig! None of the four parents, "was prepared to give up, no matter how shattered they were by Satoko's transformation. After all, there remained the wig, a potent weapon still held in reserve."
A little dry humor for an, otherwise, serious writer.
p. 340 The new plan is hatched. The betrothal ceremony was a week away, and the Toinnomiyas were in the dark about Satoko's situation. The Marquis decided, and told the Count, that they would get a certificate signed by a reputable doctor indicating Satoko had a severe nervous breakdown. In fact, the united secret by the three families may tie them closer together.
The plan works out, the Toinnomiyas are summoned. The Prince is nonplussed. Kiyoaki, not being privy to these machinations, learns about it in the newspaper - that the wedding was off and Satoko was convalescing in a convent.( pp. 344-5) No one ever found out about Kiyoaki's and Satoko's affair. (p. 346-7)
p. 348 Kiyoaki is in constant pain. He is isolated even further by the secret of everything that had passed: "There had been a time when idleness and melancholy seemed to be the intrinsic elements of life as he wanted it to be. How had he happened to lose his capacity for such enjoyment, his ability to luxuriate in it without ever getting bored? It was gone, as unnoticed as an umbrella forgotten at someone's house."
p. 351 Kiyoaki suffering : "His own heart seemed to him to be much like an arrow stri[[ed of the flashing white feathers that gave it direction."
p. 353-4 Iinuma publishes an article in the paper, exposing the Marquis's involvement in the broken marriage between the Prince and Satoko; hat he had hid from it, and now he was exposing him because, "Marquis Matsugae today was going tranquilly about his business, thus displaying not only a brazen disloyalty to His Majesty the Emperor, but also a lack of reverence toward his own father, one of the pillars of the Meiji Restoration."
Interestingly, he does not identify Kiyoaki's responsibility in the whole matter. Thus, Kiyoaki felt it was a hidden sort of note meant for him stating, "Don't be like your father." Nothing comes of it.
p. 358-359 Kiyoaki unknowingly drinks the blood of a snapping turtle taken by the cook, from their pond. His intention was to make Kiy stronger. Kiyoaki finds it strange that he was eating the blood of a dead turtle, the turtle that had scared him so much as a child. He sees it as symbolic of the death of a whole era - his era. He is filled with terror.
p. 361 Kiyoaki is becoming paranoid. At a New Years poetry recitation in which His Majesty attends, as does Kiyoaki. Kiy starts to imagine, or think, that, "His Imperial Majesty was in fact suppressin an anger that was directed at him."
"I've dared to betray His Majesty. There's nothing to do but to die." Foreboding.
p. 363 Kiy: "As he lay in bed, he told himself that the next day would surely bring a letter from Satoko. She would set a time and place for them to meet so that they could run away together."
"His dreams ceased to tell stories objective enough to be recorded in his journal. Hope and despair, dream and reality, now came together to cancel each other out, the border between them as vague as the shoreline against which the rolling waves break without cease. There for an instant, on the surface of the water that lapped back over the smooth sand, he saw the refection of her face. Never had she seemed more lovely nor more grief-stricken."
This poor, disillusioned boy.
p. 366 Kiy runs away to see and speak with Satoko. His grandmother blames his parents for their strictness, disallowing him to visit Satoko.
p. 369 Already feeling out of sorts, his head was stuffy and he was tired, Kiy resolves to go see Satoko. As a form of self-punishment he decides that he must undergo any penance required on this journey. Instead of hiring a rickshaw he walks the two miles to the convent. He is turned away. The next day, he is fevered and sick. Kiy orders a rickshaw, and again is turned away from the convent.
p. 370-1 Weakened, Kiy summons Honda for help. While he waits for his arrival, he became more ill. It was snowing, and despite the Inn's attempts to keep the fevered, hallucinatory boy in, Kiy takes off again in a rickshaw to summon his beloved Satoko. He remembers their first ride through the snow that they took just one year ago. Four Hundred yards from the door, he decides he must walk up the snowy drive to the convent. If he does not, the nuns will not take him seriously and will not let him see Satoko. It is a difficult trek. He is spitting blood and pains are piercing his chest. He hallucinates a vision of Satoko, then one during his 13th birthday when he held Princess Kasuga's
train - his sexual awakening. In essence puberty.
Mishima draws out Kiy's hike up the hill. The snow pelts him, his hallucinations continue, as he gets sicker and sicker. The nun takes him in, but only to tell him he was doing this in vain. She has him carried back to his rickshaw.
p. 376-87 Honda arrives. Despite the fact it is final exam time, his father allows him to go to Kiy. The Judge wants to teach him the value of friendship. Their final time together is spent with Kiy in his hallucinatory, fevered dream world and Honda in his intellectual rational world, pondering old and new Logic. Thus, the story ends highlighting this major difference between the two boys: the dreamer and the rational logician.
Mishima's character descriptions are flawless. This one being about the character of the spectators.
p. 380 Example of author's use of symbolism covering sexuality, birth, life: Honda is in the convent waiting for the Abbess to effect a meeting with Satoko and the dying Kiyoaki, when he becomes aware of his surroundings. "The flower arrangement in the tokonoma alcove combined rape blossoms and peach buds. The bright yellow flowers seemed to pulse with the vigor of the spring countryside, and the dull bark and pale green leaves of the peach branch brought out the beauty of its swelling buds. The sliding doors were plain white, but he noticed a folding screen by the wall that seemed to be something precious, and he walked over to it."
Note: The peach is symbolic of Mother Goddess, the fruit of which contains her ” life substance (Reference: http://japanesemythology.wordpress.com/the-peach-as-a-kami-and-mother-goddess-and-symbol-of-fertility-and-immortality/)
p. 388: The author's concept of a beautiful death is portrayed through Kiy's death. Also possibly the idea that, should one be compromised, death is better than living with shame, regret and sadness? (See below, p. 389)
Right before his death, Kiyoaki writes a note to his mother asking hims to give Honda his dream journal. He know he is the only one that will value and understand it.
p. 388-9: Kiyoaki's beautiful death: " Despite the contortions, however, it was beautiful. Intense suffering had imbued it with an extraordinary character, carving lines into it that gave it the austere dignity of a bronze mask. The beautiful eyes were filled with tears. Above them, however, the eyebrows were tightly puckered, and the masculine force they conveyed made a striking contrast with the pathos of the flashing dark, wet pupils. As he fought the pain, his finely chiseled nose jutted upward as if he were trying to probe the darkness around him, and his lips, parched with fever, were drawn back to reveal the palely gleaming mother-of-pearl of his teeth."
p. 389: "He (Honda) wondered about the tortured look he had seen on his friend's face just a moment before. Hadn't it in fact been an expression of intense joy, the kind to be found nowhere but at the extremity of human existence?"
p. 389: "Just know I had a dream. I'll see you again. I know it beneath the falls." Kiyoaki's last words to Honda before he died, at age 20, two days later. Reveal the concept of reincarnation. Also refers back to the beginning of the book where the love affair was foreshadowed.
A beautiful work of art.