The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 9 June 2011

Spring Snow

Hello Gentle Reader

It certainly does feel like summer is finally among me. Maybe not for you all, but it certainly is among me. It is both hot, and the bugs are out. Their beating vibrating wings fill the air with their humming sounds of life. Thanks to the all the rain last week, the ditches are flooded with rain. The frogs are enjoying that though. I can hear them every evening and night – usually around dusk the most; croaking. It is as if they are saying goodbye to one more day. The ducks also appear to be enjoying the excess of water all around. Though he is an ironic part of this “watered down world,” – there is actually a fire ban in place. It is ironic I know. But it looks like it is a necessary, with quite a few fires had already been started. That is not good indeed. Hopefully they will be extinguished so people, who enjoy camping can go out and enjoy the weather, and enjoy getting “in tune,” with nature. Personally camping is not my personal aspect of a holiday. I don’t recall liking it as a kid, and in all honest I do not recall liking it now either.

Anyone who knows a bit about Japanese Literature knows who Yukio Mishima is. The Japanese Post-War writer, whose nihilistic works, and experimental blending of style of traditional Japanese writing and western influence, made him herald in his day as one of the greatest Japanese writers. However his success has also overshadowed some other great Japanese writers. I would say that the success of Yukio Mishima and his novels overshadowed other authors like Junichiro Tanizaki. Yukio Mishima also had a mentor early in his career – and it could be stated that this author probably even jump started the career of Yukio Mishima. This author was none other than Yasunari Kawabata, the Nobel Laureate in Literature of 1968 and the first Japanese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yukio Mishima had such appreciation for the great Japanese author, that he had published a series of essays on Yasunari Kawabata. However I don’t think personally that Yukio Mishima will ever surpass the greatness of Yasunari Kawabata. In fact in this case the master will certainly be greater than the student. Another case of debatable origin would be James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Personally I have only read Samuel Beckett, because for some reason or another James Joyce’s large book and most likely magnum opus “Ulysses,” is just a bit of a large and overwhelmingly large book.

For those who have read the previous review of another one of Yukio Mishima’s novels “The Sound of the Waves,” on March the eleventh of two-thousand and eleven (2011) you’ll remember the brief discussion of Yukio Mishima’s very public attempt at over throwing the government and attempt at re-instating the law of the emperor and his divine rule. This attempt at a coup did fail, and Yukio Mishima then committed ritual suicide.

All of this happened after his publication of his final and probably greatest work of four novels all connected, in a tetralogy titled “The Sea of Fertility.” Which the first novel in this tetralogy is “Spring Snow.”

I can’t say personally that “Spring Snow,” on the superficial levels, not entirely different than other Yukio Mishima’s novels. The character Kiyoaki for one is much like the unnamed narrator of Yukio Mishima’s breakthrough novel “Confessions of a Mask.” Kiyoaki is both a pessimistic pain, and very introverted character. His eyes are turned inward not outward. Personally I found Kiyoaki to be an insufferable character. That being said, I do not mind an introverted and very introspective character, but Yukio Mishima appeared to have taken this to an extreme with his character of Kiyoaki.

However Yukio Mishima has made some great contrast with the character Honda. A young, smart man roughly the same age as Kiyoaki. The friendship between Kiyoaki, a member of an old aristocrat family, while Honda (I think – I could be wrong) is a member of a wealthy family but not of aristocrat origin. There is great contrast between these two characters. Honda is a man, who is/or is stated of, going to study law, while as he points out in a conversation about fate and human destiny and history that Kiyoaki would never leave a mark on history, much like others. This is when the two are talking about the different periods. As the novel of “Spring Snow,” is set during the final years of the Meji period and the early years of the Taishō period.

To describe the friendship – as odd as it is; between Honda and Kiyoaki the following quote would be of great satisfactory description:

[Honda] “Treat him [Kiyoaki] as warily as one would a freshly painted wall, on which the slightest careless touch would leave an indelible fingerprint.”

Yes the entire novel is as melodramatic as that description makes it sound. But the extremes of the emotions that the characters display and act in are also quite typical of youth and such young people – though it appears to be quite more extreme, with young people who have a sense of entitlement.

But the real heart of this story is the love affair – or rather the doomed love affair of Kiyoaki and Ayakura Satoko. I do confess personally, that reading this novel, it was hard for me to tell if Kiyoaki loved Satoko, or just loved hating her. Though eventually it does become clear that Kiyoaki loves Satoko. But the love is doomed. Satoko becomes engaged to a royal prince. I suppose that royal prince did feel a sense of entitlement, and certainly felt entitled to have Satoko. Though by the time that Kiyoaki figures out his emotions, he decides to make a move and express his deep emotions towards Satoko. But by this point she is already engaged to the royal prince. However a certain incident occurs. Satoko is pregnant. With (I think) Kiyoaki’s child.

The events unfold in a strange obscure way after this. The affair is soon found out. The pregnancy is discovered, and the love and very raw hateful relationship that both Kiyoaki and Satoko share, is brought to its final endings.

Here is an important detail that one should remember, from earlier on in the novel, that Satoko has a great aunt, who is an Abbess. Satoko has her abortion, and her mother and her on their way back to Tokyo, decided to stop at the Gesshu Temple where Satoko’s great aunt is the abbess. It is here that Satoko hides from her mother, and her mother learns that her daughter has decided to become a nun. The mother of Satoko a very weak willed woman, and retreats to Tokyo but neither Kiyoaki’s father or Satoko’s father can do anything to release her from the grasps of the convent. Satoko at long last, meets her tragic end. She goes insane.

Kiyoaki goes then to the convent, which had become a prison of Satoko and now her mental asylum. Kiyoaki wishes to see Satoko, but every attempt to see her at the convent is refused. He is refused every time. In a wallowing despair, Kiyoaki begins his trudge of a walk from the in towards convent. A somewhat symbolic, gesture of repentance.

Honda eventually travels to the area of the convent where Kiyoaki and Satoko are worlds apart. He is shocked to find his friend in such ill shape. Seeing that Kiyoaki is in desperate need to see Satoko, Honda meets with the abbess. Who openly and abruptly refuses such a request. That same night Honda takes Kiyoaki back to Tokyo, seeing that seeing Satoko is nothing but a futile game, and his friends help needs medical attention, and perhaps he hopes to make sure his family can see their son once more. The novel then ends with Kiyoaki proclaiming his dream that he’ll see Honda once again, and leaving his mother a note requesting that she give Honda his dream diary.

Dreams, symbolism, omens – all of these things, foreshadow, and play an important part into the novel. But with anything all these things can be left open to the reader’s interpretation, which can often at times lead to confusion, of what each symbolism means. Such as the time when Honda and Kiyoaki walking home and a dead mole, is in front of their walking path. Which is obviously a bad omen. Then there was the dream of Kiyoaki having the crown, which had the emerald that was encrusted on the ring of one of the Thai princes. Which may foreshadow or elude to the ring later going missing, when the Prince is at a boarding school.

In all “Spring Snow,” is an alright novel. A bit heavy with Kiyoaki’s constant introspective personality and always looking into himself. Not to mention that Yukio Mishima writes sometimes with a very heavy hand, that sometimes clouds the atmosphere of the novel, and can cloud the novel, and make it a bit of a drudgery task to get through at times. The melodrama though does work well for this kind of novel, of such young people, who have no concept of love. It is a great work of a novel, by Yukio Mishima because he does tackle the themes of the old Japan (the Aristocracy) with the new Japan (Westernization and Modernization). Even the title of the novel could be seen as a hint of the theme. “Spring,” as in the new era, a new Japan; and then the old being “Snow,” as the old aristocracy the old Japan. Together the novel is the swirl of the two of the parts of Japan circling each other in a dance.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
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