Spring Snow

Spring Snow

Tokyo, 1912.

Coming of age, he is caught up in the tensions between the old and the new, and his feelings for the exquisite, spirited Satoko, observed from the sidelines by his devoted friend Honda.

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He was descended from samarais and believed that this code, advocating complete command of one's body and soul combined with a complete loyalty to the emperor, was necessary for Japan to return to prominence. Mishima then stepped onto a balcony outside the commandant's office and gave an impassioned speech to the government troops to join his cause. He returned to the commandant's office and committed seppuku, a ritual suicide. It must be the fact that Hondo was one of my favorite John Wayne movies when I was a kid combined with the fact that I really liked Honda, by far my favorite character in the book, that I kept changing his name in my head to Hondo. Kiyoaki as a young lad of 13 was asked to participate in a ritual ceremony that brought him in close proximity to the princess. The princess turned her head slightly, and, as a sign that she was not at all annoyed, smiled gently at the youthful offender. Honda proves himself time and time again helping Kiyoaki with insane plans to get unsupervised time with Satoko. Jaw dropping, unexpected moments of blackmail with a dash of spicy intrigue keep the pages turning even when the main characters are off the stage.

They have 40 servants and the boy doesnt know all their names even though some of them who have worked there for years. The boys own room is in a Japanese-style house but its decorated with western furniture. So the boys family has money, but its not one of Japans traditional 28 noble families, like the one next door. So his father creates an alliance between those two families and the boy spends much time at the neighboring residence absorbing the noble ambiance. The plot revolves around a love story between this boy and the daughter of the neighboring household. Finally she gives up on him and becomes engaged to a son of a noble family, actually a member of the Emperors household. At this point (shes is 21; hes 19), and after the engagement has been approved by the Emperor himself, finally he decides he loves her and begins to pursue her. When the boys father learns what is going on, after spending his whole life ass-kissing the emperor and the nobles, to say he is apoplectic is putting it mildly.

In Spring Snow Kiyoaki Matsugae is sent as a child be raised on the estate of a Count where he learns all the worst habits of a decadent court. When 18 years of age he is so self-involvedthe familiar disaffectedness of many Mishima protagoniststhat even when kissing the woman who loves him he thinks only of how he feels. Meanwhile, he stubbornly let's go of Satoko when she is courted by an imperial prince, and thinks good riddance. Unable to read his own emotions, he takes grief for delight; his "strength of will," as he terms it, when tearing up a letter from Satoko unread, he begins to sense may be cowardice, for she is just about to marry the imperial prince. Long ago he had resolved to recognize his emotions as his only guiding truth and to live his life accordingly, even if meant a deliberate aimlessness. 177) I won't go into Kiyoaki and Satoko's love affair or the novel's tragic denouement. Suffice it to say that Kiyoaki's comeuppance is quite a spectacle and Honda is there to puzzle over it. The book has a very long fuse.

Adolescent law student Shigekuni Honda is an impassive friend to Kiyoaki Matsugae, a baron's son of distant samurai descent. When Satoko gets engaged to a prince, Kiyoaki is suddenly consumed by an inspired passion for her, and the two fall into an illicit affair that proves the undoing of them both. Honda accepts the job of go-between for the lovers, but can only watch as Satoko renounces the world and exiles herself to a remote, wintry nunnery. Dying, clutching Honda's hand, Kiyoaki murmurs that they will meet again someday, beneath the falls.

Mishima, like other great writers, has a way of implanting memories in our heads, echoes of other lives. A young woman clung to the coffin, her long black hair trailing from her drooping head, her slender shoulders wracked with sobs. Kiyoaki seemed to be watching this from a great height, though he was convinced that his body lay inside the coffin. In her own mind, she had fashioned their sin into a tiny, brilliant, crystal palace in which she and Kiyoaki could live free from the world around them.

The book served as a mirror to me, reminding me of a befuddled young man blind to the workings of his heart, prone to exaggerating the simple nuances in the actions of a woman devoted to him, a woman he doubted because of childish fears. Kiyoaki, a beautiful yet lethargic young man, is at odds with his equally beautiful childhood friend Satoko. And it is in this manner that young Kiyoaki realizes the gravity of his passion for Satoko. At the very core of this tragic romance Spring Snow serves as Yukio Mishimas statement against elegance. And so by embodying the object of his scorn, Mishima ironically succeeds in mirroring the very relationship of Kiyoaki and Satoko.

I should point out, however, that I do not think that the reader is meant to like him; I believe that, as a product of two conflicting eras, or ways of life, the effete and ineffectual Kiyoaki is, for Mishima, a necessary failure as a human being. Yes, it details a troubled relationship between two young people the aforementioned Kiyoaki and the equally beautiful Satoko, the daughter of the noble family who raised the boy but it is a strange kind of love that continually rejects someone and then suddenly wants that person at the point at which it has become impossible to have them. Perhaps Satoko does love Kiyoaki, but there is abundant evidence that the same is not true for the young man. Having said that, I guess you could argue that fate or destiny is also an obstacle to the couples love, and this is certainly not something that Kiyoaki and Satoko can control. In Spring Snow, the first volume, there are numerous hints and suggestions that what is happening, specifically to Kiyoaki, is, in a sense, meant to be. One may ask then, if Kiyoaki is so unpleasant, and Spring Snow is not the tragic or tear-jerking tale of adolescent love it is billed as, why should you read the book? In contrast, something like Tanizakis acclaimed novel The Makioka Sisters may be wonderful, but it is at times interminably slow and uneventful; I cant imagine that, when reading that book, there are people that have stayed up late into the night, desperate to reach the end of a chapter, so as to find out what happens next, but I can certainly see that being the case with Spring Snow. I wrote at the beginning of this review that Mishima to some extent embodied the conflict that he wrote about, that of the traditional and the modern ways of life; what is most interesting about Spring Snow is that this conflict, this tension, is not only apparent thematically, it is in the style too. So, while the prose is undeniably graceful, as you would expect from a great Japanese novel, it lacks simplicity; indeed, Mishimas style, with its extended metaphors, extreme emoting, and psychological depth, is, I would say, closer to Western writers, like Flaubert, Proust, and Dostoevsky, than Kawabata or Tanizaki. I would also argue that Mishimas characters are easier to understand and relate to for a Western audience; again, one may not like their behaviour, or admire their motivations, but they are more familiar to us; Kiyoaki is a brat, for example, but we all have known brats. Satoko is perhaps more a mystery, more like the enigmatic women you find in Kawabata, but even her actions can be viewed in terms of a young girl having the hots for a great-looking guy.

In 1970, at the age of forty-five and the day after completing the last novel in the Fertility series, Mishima committed seppuku (ritual suicide)a spectacular death that attracted worldwide attention.