Title: Spring Snow
Author: Yukio Mishima
Translator: Michael Gallagher
Not only is Spring Snow one of the ultimate classics in Japanese literature, but it also marks the beginning of the end of one of Japan’s most classic authors, Yukio Mishima. Spring Snow is the first novel in The Sea Of Fertility, the four part story that would ultimately be the end of Mishima, as he stated that when he finished it’s last installment, The Decay Of The Angel, he would commit suicide.
Because of the books grave importance to Yukio Mishima he made it's content extra personal. Within it's binding he including his personal philosphy on life, which came through the protagonist Kiyoaki, who very closely resembles Mishima himself. Also with held in the novel is Mishima's commentary on the state of Japan, something which Mishima felt very stronly about and would later kill himself over.
Spring Snow was also considered the "comeback" for Yukio Mishima by critics because it brought back a lot of credibility that he had lost. His book sales had steadily declined over the years leading up to Spring Snow’s release, so much so that Mishima felt the need to apologize to his publishers over it. Mishima had also just posed for erotic pictures, and many people thought he was losing his mind. But once Spring Snow was released all of that was forgotten and Mishima was back on the top of his game.
Spring Snow takes place just after the Russo-Japanese War, circa 1912, when rich, aristocratic families are pushing aside ancient Japanese tradition and trying to take over the country for themselves. One of these families trying to cash in on the new Japan are the Matsugae’s, of which the main character, Kiyoaki, is apart of.
Kiyoaki is just finishing up with high school, as the novel beings, and he is beginning to study for his college entrance exams. He curbs all of his studies to the side, however, after a chance meeting with Satoko, a daughter in the traditional Ayakura family. Satoko and Kiyoaki had known each other since childhood, since Marquis Matsugae had sent Kiyoaki to the Ayakura household for early education.
At another meeting Satoko tries to confess her feelings for Kiyoaki, by saying asking him, "What would you do if I was no longer around?" Kiyoaki gets angry at this question because he feels that it is Satoko trying to trick him into a false sense of security, or something of the like. Needless to say, Kiyoaki gets angry with Satoko and lashes out at her.
Later on he feels massive regret for his temper and invites Satoko on a rickshaw ride one snowy morning. During the ride the two embrace each other and have a brief sexual encounter. With that move the two become lovers but are unable to tell their families about it.
A few days afterward the rickshaw incident a letter arrives at the Ayakura home asking for Satoko’s hand in marriage. Unfortunately the letter has come from the Emperor himself, asking Satoko to marry his son. This causes deep heartbreak in Kiyoaki, but the two continue to see each other in secret anyway.
Because of these secret meetings Satoko becomes pregnant with Kiyoaki’s child. Satoko then decides to run away to a temple and join the convent. Without her family knowing, Satoko takes the sacred vows and becomes a member of the temple.
When Kiyoaki discovers where Satoko has gone he takes a trip to the temple with hopes of meeting with Satoko and convincing her to leave Japan with him. Unfortunately when he arrives at the temple the abbess will not allow him to see Satoko. Kiyoaki comes back for many days and waits outside of the temple, but to no avail: he eventually becomes sick from exhaustion and waiting in the cold. Shortly after becoming sick, Kiyoaki dies.
Kiyoaki’s noble death, in a way, symbolizes Yukio Mishima’s desire to die as a hero. If you look at Satoko as resembling Japan it’s even more relevant, as Yukio would die in honor of Japan. And just as Kiyoaki’s dead doesn’t change anything in the story, Mishima’s death would not change the condition of Japan either.
The Sea of Fertility
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