The Conflicted Japan of Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow
Yukio Mishima was a revolutionary author. His dramatic public suicide is the perfect capstone to a life full of turmoil and unrest. Mishima himself was as conflicted as his many stories and plays, which tend to play out the problem of which direction is Japan heading, and should the nation be developing that way. Mishima romanticized the samurai and nurtured a lifelong affair with traditional Japanese theater. At the same time, he admired the West and studied Western art and literature avidly. The influence is evident, from the decidedly 19th Century British feel of his novel, Spring Snow, to the many references therein to Western art, literature, film, and philosophy. Mishima was not the only Japanese citizen to feel their country was in danger of becoming too Westernized, and his novels reflect the conflicted state of Japan’s national consciousness during the Meiji era.
Before the Meiji Restoration the idea of blending Japanese and Western culture was prevalent in the land of the rising sun. It was generally thought that Japanese ideology was superior to its Western counterpart, but that Western technology would be essential to Japan’s success as a modern nation. While the pros and cons of the differing ideologies are almost impossible to get to the bottom of, Japan could not succeed in an industrial global society without adopting Western technology. But along with steam engines and steel mills came Western food, fashion, and customs, threatening long-established Japanese tradition. The Shishi samurai ushered in the Meiji Restoration, and they preached the motto, "Japanese thought, Western technology." Mishima identified with this philosophy, and does his best to support it in his writing.
Spring Snow revolves around Kiyoaki, a sort of Japanese "everyman" who is at once within and outside of mainstream Japanese society. Kiyoaki is he son of the Marquis Matsugae, a sort of nouveau-riche during the reign of the Meiji Emperor. Kiyoaki, a beautiful young man on the path to success in the new Japan, is in love with his childhood friend, Satoko, the beautiful daughter of the Ayakura family. The Ayakuras are very prominent, of higher aristocratic class than even Kiyoaki’s family, and the Matsugaes view the closeness of the families as a fortune. Kiyoaki is a moody, pensive boy who gets a thrill out of alternately rejecting and accepting Satoko’s demure advances. Eventually the Ayakuras will wait no more for Kiyoaki to make his approach for Satoko’s hand in marriage, and, faced with another offer from an impressive suitor, Satoko becomes engaged to be married. Kiyoaki realizes only as the situation escalates beyond any reparation that he truly loves Satoko. With the help of his friend, Honda, the son of a judge in the Japanese court system, Kiyoaki begins an affair with her. The two meet cladestinely for sex, and Satoko eventually becomes pregnant. Having violated multiple social barriers,...